Thursday 21 June 2018

Are today's youth more sexually responsible?

Stock image
Stock image

Patricia Casey

Two recent research publications caught my eye in the past week. One was a US study headed by Jean Twenge, Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University, and recently published in Child Development.

The authors examined seven large, nationally representative surveys of US adolescents between conducted between 1976 and 2016. This amounted to 8.4 million teenagers aged between 13-19, focussing on adult activities, such as dating, having sex and working for pay. It compared adolescents of the same age at different points in time.

In 1991, the majority of teens in high school (54pc) were having sex. By 2015, that had fallen to 41pc. Since 1993, the percentage of 8th graders who have tried alcohol fell by 59pc while the number that had earned money from working dropped from 76pc to 55pc over the same period.

So does this mean that today's young people are simply more responsible? Perhaps so, or perhaps they are more cosseted by their parents and so delay these adult activities.

In other words they are more immature than their counterparts were in the 1990's.

Others speculate that the rise of the internet is a factor, causing young people to have a preference for gadgets rather than humans. But perhaps the innate reticence around such adult activities is resurfacing because of contact online with others who have similar attitudes.

Whatever the cause of this new puritanism, it is certainly remarkable and may explain the dramatic fall in teen births over the past two years.

Another study related to sexual activity and published in the October-December 2016 issue of Evolutionary Psychology (lead author De. Leif Kennair from the University of Trondheim, Norway) explored the question that many believe has been answered by women's emancipation and the sexual and reproductive changes that this has brought with it.

The study asked whether regret occurs in respect of casual sex in highly egalitarian cultures, such as Norway, and whether there are sex differences in this?

It also set out to explore what psychological variables might explain sex differences in this, if regret does exist.

The study was conducted on 263 Norwegian students (ages 19-37) who reported how much they regretted having either engaged in, or passed up, their most recent casual sexual experience.

The pattern of regret showed strong gender differences.

More women (34.2pc) than men (20.4pc) regretted their most recent sexual encounter while far more men (28.9pc) than women (3.6pc) regretted passing up casual sex the last time they had the chance.

Only 43.3pc of the men were glad they passed up casual sex compared to 79.3pc of the women.

The researchers then explored the reasons for regret after sex and found that whether the person was single or in another relationship did not affect this.

Among women, neither worry about pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease featured. They worried more about reputation, experiencing less sexual pleasure, having low levels of sexual desire. For men, regret after casual sex was attributed to low levels of sexual pleasure and desire.

For both men and women who regretted a missed opportunity for a sexual encounter, the physical act of sex was the principal reason.

The belief that if the social roles of men and women were equalised, then the traditional differences between the genders towards casual sex would diminish or disappear, have not been substantiated.

The authors concluded that "these sex differences show no evidence of diminution in this sexually liberal, secularized, and highly gender egalitarian culture" when compared to those found in an earlier study by the same authors.

It would be interesting to evaluate the gender differences in regret in less liberal societies and how these are changing over time. The two studies discussed here, one among teens from the US, the other in young adults from Norway perhaps prove the age old point, that when it comes to sexual behaviour there is a degree of reticence that is unrelated to the perceived norms of these liberal societies.

Such views are currently deemed old-fashioned in most Western societies and derided by commentators.

But we should be mindful of the adage "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose".

Health & Living

Style Newsletter

Stay on top of the latest fashion, beauty and celeb gossip in our Style newsletter.

Editors Choice

Also in this section