Millennials’ Raucous “Hookup Culture” Is All a Big Myth

From the 80s to today, college-aged kids aren’t having any more sex than before

Bert Werk

Twenty-somethings running wild across America, done with love, hooking up with any attractive person who happens crosses their path—this, supposedly, is the millennials’ much-discussed “hook up culture.” Or is it? According to preliminary research, which sought to track changes in sexuality across generations, the idea that young people are having more sex than ever before is a farce.

Using survey responses gathered from 1988 to 1996 and a second set from 2002 to 2010,  Martin Monto looked at changes in frequency and diversity of college students’ sexual exploits. Scientific American:

College students from the contemporary or “hookup” era did not report having more frequent sex or more sexual partners during the past year than undergraduates from the earlier era, says Monto, who presented the findings at a meeting of the American Sociological Association in New York City on August 13. They also did not report having more sexual partners since turning 18.

Among the first cohort, 65.2 percent reported having sex weekly or more often in the past year, compared with 59.3 percent from the second, more recent, cohort. Additionally, 31.9 percent of the earlier cohort said they had more than one sexual partner in the past year, compared with 31.6 percent of the 2002–10 group. “College students overestimate the degree to which their peers are hooking up,” Monto says. “It feels like something new, but they might be surprised to know the actual frequency of sex, the number of sexual partners, etc. don’t appear to have increased from their parents’ generation.”

From the elder cohort to the younger, though, there have been some shifts. One, says Scientific American, is people’s openness. Kids these days aren’t having any more sex than their parents, but they are talking about it more. Also changing, says Slate, is how they characterize their sexual partners:

They are more likely now to have sex with a “casual date” or a “pickup” or a “friend.” (Which might explain why they don’t have sex once or more a week–that’s what boyfriends or girlfriends are good for). That’s how “hookup” 2010 is different from “hookup” 1996.

Older folk, in other words, don’t need to worry that their kids going crazier than they did. College students today are exactly as irresponsible (or responsible, depending on your viewpoint) as they’ve always been.

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