A gaggle of sociologists and think-piece writers have been saying that young adults don’t have time to invest in relationships and therefore are treating their romantic lives with reckless abandon and having sex with random strangers. But despite pundits’ outcries that the moral fiber of America is decaying as college students ditch dating in favor of “hookup culture,” it turns out the sexual practices of millennials aren’t that different from those of their parents.
A new study published in the Journal of Sex Research compares a survey on sexual practices from 1988-1996 to one from 2004-2012. Researchers from the University of Portland found that respondents from the later survey did not report more sexual partners after the age 18, more frequent sex or more partners during the past year than respondents from the earlier survey. “We find no evidence of substantial changes in sexual behavior that would indicate a new or pervasive pattern of non-relational sex among contemporary college students,” the researchers conclude.
In fact, most people are still having sex with a regular partner rather than with random people. According to the new study, 78.2% of those recently surveyed reported that their sexual partner was either a spouse or a significant other, compared to 84.5% in the survey from the ’80s and ’90s. The researchers chalk up the differences in responses to the earlier set of people surveyed containing a higher proportion of married people. This isn’t surprising news since marriage rates are going down and people are getting married later.
We’ve known for a while now that the media hype surrounding hookup culture is overblown: Less than 15% of college students “hook up” more than twice per year—and that definition of “hook up” ranges from kissing to intercourse. Almost a year ago I wrote that the sex lives of college students today aren’t all that different from their parents and their grandparents, citing surveys from the 1960s and 70s that show students were having as much sex then as they are now. But despite all the evidence to the contrary, there’s been so much coverage of this nonexistent new hookup culture that some students are feeling left out if they are not having tons of casual sex.
So parents, don’t worry. Your kids aren’t doing anything you didn’t do in college…Well, except for maybe sending naked SnapChats.