Illustration by Dave van Patten

Why Millennials Aren’t Getting It On as Much as People in the 1930s

Hookup culture, you’re a constant disappointment to us

All of modern human progress is just inventing new distractions so we don’t have to sit around and talk to each other too much, and a new study in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior illustrates this perfectly: American adults have sex nine fewer times per year than adults did in the late 1990s, USA Today reports, and millennials born in the ‘90s have less sex than their peers born in the 1930s did.

According to the study, people (aged 18 to 29) used to get it on about 87 times a year around the late 1990s/early 2000s. Now? Just 79 times per year. The USA Today piece took the temperature of a couple college students to get their take on this hot revelation. One woman said it was perfectly logical that we’re having less sex — after all, people actually used to date back in the olden days of the 2000s. But another student told USA Today he thought the study was shocking. “Maybe it’s just because I’m in a college town and hookup culture is alive and well,” he said.

The thing is, we know that hookup culture is not so alive and well — at least not to the degree that the prevailing narratives would have us believe. Sociologist Lisa Wade, who recently published American Hookup, a look at the realities of hookup culture in colleges in the United States, recently told MEL that her research found that while the culture of hooking up something everyone is doing is certainly pervasive, the prevalence of actual hooking up is more inflated than a freshman’s blow-up doll. College students actually only report casually hooking up about eight times over their entire college experience — just once per semester — not quite the Bacchanalia of free love we typically think of.

But here’s where the study gets interesting: They found that, controlling for age and time period, that people born in the 1930s had more sex than millennials do now. This is being touted on the internet as a sick burn to the libidos of millennials who need to “step it up” in the Generational Sex Wars.

But we should pause before delivering that TKO. In an era of ubiquitous porn and pervasive kink, you might think millennials should be out there humping anything that moves, but you can’t really blame them for their comparatively blasé attitudes about sex. But the 1930s produced a generation of people out of arguably the first sexual revolution in this country — most college parties would have centered entirely around Greek life, with the sexes still segregated, Prohibition in full swing, and an era of new liberation for women. It was also a completely new era of sexual exploration and relaxed taboo. Petting parties were scandalous yet allegedly chaste, but it’s hard to believe they were as chaste as reported. Sex researcher Alfred Kinsey found out in 1938 that there was a big difference between what college students of the era reported doing, and what they were really up to (hint: they were up to sex). Sorry, kids, but all the fisting videos in the world don’t come close to living through that new dawn of sexual excitement.

So back to that study: When the researchers drilled down, they actually found two clear reasons for the decline in annual humps: One is that today’s singletons aren’t having less sex in terms of frequency than their forebears; there are just more of them. Two is it’s actually married or cohabiting people of all genders, races and backgrounds who are doing it less and responsible for the decline. This is the group we should be thinking about.

And that decline is most significant in one particular subset of people, and it’s not at all a shocker (no, not the sex move): People in their 50s who don’t watch porn and have school-aged children — what we might call a trifecta of hardcore adult responsibility. And since the ‘90s, I think we can all guess why that demo might have a harder time making time to get it up: the internet, email, Netflix, Skype, all those episodes of The Golden Girls on Hulu. iPads. These people’s lives are defined by Common Core math and cooking shows, so if any of you are still managing to get laid on the regular, publish a book. Tell us your secrets. The world needs you.