One may assume that young people would be having more sex than ever before, with the emergence of ‘hookup culture’ and increasingly progressive views around sex. In reality, it’s actually the opposite. A study done by UCLA shows that nearly 38 per cent of Californians aged 18 to 30 reported having zero sexual partners in the year 2021, in comparison to 22 per cent of Californians in the same age bracket a decade prior. This trend seems to extend beyond California since many countries other than the U.S. have noticed this change in behaviour too.
There is general consensus among researchers that Gen Z is having less sex than older generations did at our age. While the pandemic might be playing a role, I think that the younger generations — Gen Z and Millenials alike — may simply feel less pressure to adhere to many societal norms, resulting in the decrease in sexual intercourse.
Less judgement around sex and not having sex
In an age of dating apps and a plunging number of people ‘settling down,’ casual sex seems to be more commonplace. Clearly, our notions of sex have come a long way since the Victorian era. With a change in times and further steps in the sexual liberation movement, Gen Z lives in an era where we feel less judgement around what we do with our lives.
Consequently, our views on people who have sex versus people who don’t have also changed. Young people might not feel as pressured to be chaste and fearful of sex as much as older generations did — and on the other side of the coin, they might not feel pressured to explore sex early on either. With this, I believe that Gen Z finds more freedom in the rejection of society’s ideas around sex.
Renouncing general societal norms enables the younger generation to feel free of expectations and less pressured to succumb to constraints of ‘promiscuity’ or ‘purity culture.’ I believe the pressure young people face from society and from their peers to have sex at a certain age has decreased because of this generational progress.
Less pressure to appeal to expectations around relationships
Sex is not the only life event that young people are feeling less pressured to partake in — fewer young people are getting married too. Although there’s an array of factors that could explain this, I believe that one of them is that young people feel less pressured to appeal to societal expectations of marriage. A 2019 survey showed that 44 per cent of millennials were married versus 53 per cent of Gen Xers and 61 per cent of Boomers at a comparable age. The trend in older generations may mean that the number will continually decrease for Gen Z as well.
Similarly, the goal of having a ‘nuclear family’ is dying, and it seems as though there’s no rush to follow modern society’s timeline of when you should lose your virginity, get married, and have kids. Times are changing and so are attitudes around fitting into society’s idea of how you should live your life. With longer life spans, better education and quality of life, and more people focusing on their personal goals, young people’s lifestyles are changing.
Gen Z generally strays from tradition because we live in a world where we can. We are able to question societal expectations and ask ourselves about what we truly want these days. What makes this generation different is that most Gen Zers have had access to the internet for the majority of their lives. There is no shortage of information, ideas, and philosophies being spread across the web, and I see young people feeling more confident in questioning and formulating their own opinions about our society. There is less pressure to abide by social constructs in general, which is why I believe young people are also delaying ‘the deed.’
Dismantling heteronormative ideas around sex
So far, society’s notions of sex have been heteronormative in nature. Concepts like ‘virginity’ and ‘purity culture’ have been held over our heads, traditionally dictating how we should view intercourse. In recent years, however, more progressive views on sex continue to garner interest and foster growing sexual liberation in younger generations. The idea that there is no need to fit into society’s expectations of sex or appeal to gender roles is becoming ever so prevalent.
Recently, the increased acknowledgement of diverse gender expressions and sexual orientations has been a large part of younger generations feeling more free from the constraints of society. I think this has helped people move away from exclusive ideologies surrounding sex. In general, people are not so closed-minded when it comes to sex compared to the past, and over time we are straying from the sentiment that sex should be defined by gender roles and limited by societal norms.
Lastly, young people are more willing to challenge the patriarchy and find its faults. I think that as more young people learn how systems of oppression like patriarchy are flawed, the less we feel the need to align with them and the less power they have over us. As I see the patriarchy slowly losing importance in younger generations and in generations to come, I think less young people feel pressured or threatened to appeal to its ideology.
Alyssa Villar is a second-year student at UTSC studying human biology and biochemistry.