Why are millennials having less sex?

A major new US study finds that those born in the 1980s and 1990s are having less sex than their predecessors

To judge from the culture of sexting, nude selfies and dating apps, it would be easy to assume that millennials are the most sexually liberated generation yet, enjoying a libidinous hook-up culture at the swipe of a smartphone screen.

Of course, most generations assume the next cohort of young people are living far more adventurous sex lives than they were ever able to, but a major new study in the US suggests that those born in the 1980s and 1990s are actually more chaste than their predecessors.

According to a report published in the surprisingly staid-sounding Archives of Sexual Behaviour, more than twice the number of millennials between 20- and 24-years-old reported having no sexual partners than their equivalent born in the 1960s, a very significant 15 per cent as opposed to just 6 per cent of so-called Generation X.

So what’s happening? There has been a deluge of think-pieces diving in to the research over the past week, filled with anecdotal accounts of celibate twentysomethings renouncing the need for sex.

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But actual evidence for what is causing the change in sexual behaviour is slim. The increased proportion of young people living with their parents well in to their 20s was cited as one possible explanation.

It is safe to suggest, however, that technology is playing at least some part in all this – millennials, after all, are the first digital natives.

"Online dating apps should, in theory, help millennials find sexual partners more easily," said lead researcher Prof Jean Twenge. "However, technology may have the opposite effect if young people are spending so much time online that they interact less in person, and thus don't have sex."

It’s important not to overstate this, but meeting people and having sex are very much “in real life” activities, and if significant numbers of people are spending significant amounts of time online, necessarily some degree of “IRL” activities will decrease. Ultimately, those smartphones might not be quite the windows to temptation we imagined.