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August 02, 2016

Millennials abstaining from sex at greater rates than Generation X

Study finds 15 percent of Millennials have not had a sexual partner during young adulthood

Sounds like Millennials must swipe left far more often on Tinder than they swipe right.

Despite media portrayals of a hookup culture — and the popularity of the dating app most closely associated with it — Millennials are abstaining from sex at greater rates than Generation X did at their age.

Millennials born in the 1990s are twice as likely as Generation Xers to have no sexual partners in young adulthood, according to a study published Tuesday in Archives of Sexual Behavior. Some 15 percent of Millennials, aged 20 to 24, reported having no sexual partners since turning 18, a rate that more than doubled the 6 percent of Generation Xers born in the late 1960s.

The findings fall in line with other data showing high schoolers are engaging in less sexual activity, said researcher Brooke Wells, an associate professor at Widener University's Center for Human Sexuality Studies. But she still found the findings somewhat surprising.

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"We tend to think of young adults of being part of a hookup culture and on Tinder all the time," Wells said. "What we're increasingly seeing is that's not necessarily true, at least in the way we think of popular culture."

The increased abstinence was most significant among women. The 16 percent of Millennial women who say they are sexually inactive is three times higher than the 5 percent reported by Generation Xers at that age.

Wells and two other researchers analyzed data from the General Social Survey, a national survey that has gathered information about sexual partners since 1989.

Their findings did not spell out exactly why more Millennials are remaining abstinent, but Wells wondered whether it was a product of delayed adulthood. Studies show that people in committed relationships have sex more frequently than single people, despite media portrayals of a hookup culture.

"Young adults are delaying adulthood in some ways," Wells said. "Even post-recession, they're more likely to live with their parents. That certainly makes it harder to have sex. They're delaying long-term relationships and they're delaying marriage. A lot of these developmental milestones are being pushed back."

But while Millennials may be abstaining from sex at greater rates than the previous generation, they are not reverting to the moral standards of previous generations.

Millennials are more accepting of premarital sex, casual sex and same-sex experiences than previous generations, Wells said. But they simultaneously are caught up in a "rise of individualism."

"I think it's a really interesting puzzle that we see much more 'liberal' and 'progressive' attitudes, yet behavior seems to be moving somewhat in the other direction," Wells said.

Or maybe they're all too busy catching Pokemon to pursue the beautiful man or woman sitting beside them at the bar.