No dating, please, we are Generation Snowflake
Irish 20-year-olds may be having lots of sex but the thought of dating terrifies them
Part of the University College Dublin campus: the students’ union recently ran a campus survey on consent. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Sex is all around us. We are the society in which Tinder and Grinder have become household names. Porn culture has infiltrated every facet of our lives, breaking free from the confines of specialist DVD shops.
We are the generation that coined the terms Netflix and chill. Yet, according to Prof Jean Twenge of San Diego State University, the stamp of promiscuity placed on the infamous Generation Snowflake might be based more on narrow-minded assumptions than fact.
A study published in the journal the Archives of Sexual Behavior has indicated that 6 per cent of Generation Xers (those born in 1960s and 70s) reported having no sexual partners since turning 18. Whereas 15 per cent of their millennial counterparts aged 20-24 reported having no sexual partners since turning 18.
However, it also discovered that acceptance of former taboo areas such as premarital sex and homosexuality is higher than ever. This shift has not been a slow-burning phenomenon; according to the findings, attitudes towards premarital sex barely changed throughout the 1980s and 1990s but acceptance of the practice went from 42 per cent in 2000 to 58 per cent in 2012. Likewise, the acceptance of homosexuality went from a strikingly low 13 per cent in 1990 to 44 per cent in 2012.
Despite this universal sexual awakening, the current generation reportedly has fewer sexual partners than its predecessors. “This is consistent with their image as a tolerant, individualistic generation accepting others’ choices and making their own,” Prof Twenge said. Apparently our assumed role as social rebels promoting casual sex and equality actually equates to having less sex.
As an Irish millennial I was baffled by these findings. Does this concept of “you no longer want what you can have” also apply to Irish millennials? It seems not.
The students’ union in University College Dublin recently ran a consent survey on the campus, gathering evidence regarding students’ relationships with sex. In the survey, in which 51 per cent of participants were male and 49 per cent were female, it found that 80 per cent of participants had had sexual intercourse and 59 per cent of those participants were single.
Two-thirds – 67 per cent – of participants had been sexually active within the previous month of responding to the survey. It appears a large proportion of college students attending Ireland’s largest university are engaging in frequent sexual activity. Whether or not they are having less sex than their predecessors is difficult to quantify. However, it would be difficult to imagine they were.
The absence of a proper dating culture in Ireland could explain the discrepancy between both sets of results.
Debatably, my generation increasingly harbours issues with emotional intimacy. There is a new category emerging between single and being in a relationship. It is a gaping grey area of an undefined situation.
Many of us believe that before entering a relationship, or even dating, it is necessary to casually interact in a physical manner.
This new step in millennial courtship has become not just more prevalent but, almost expected in Irish society. Dating culture in Ireland is not only in decline but is practically nonexistent.
It is here that things between the Irish and American millennial appear to splinter. When talking with American friends living in Ireland about the lack of dating culture in this country, it is obvious that the notion of going out on a date with an acquaintance is a far more respectable practice in the US. The thought of being asked out by a stranger with whom one has had little interaction would horrify most Irish youths. To be concise, it is not normal.
This study and the comparison to the Irish millennial may startle some. However, the media’s reaction and the fascination with this and similar studies identify a key problem: we appear to only be able to converse about sex and its implications when scandalised or sensationalised.
Our focus on sex within society and the media’s interpretation needs to move past our obsession with the promiscuity of the youth or lack thereof. Rather, it needs to focus on sex in terms of education, and eradicating the numerous problems our society is riddled with as a result of our inability to communicate about sex outside of the confines of controversy.
Anna Joyce was gender equality co-ordinator with UCD students’ union 2015-2016