December 24, 2018

Millennials, Sex, and the Economy: The Sociological Imagination in Action

12_01446By Angelique Harris

Although the exact definition of a millennial may vary, roughly speaking millennials are those born between 1981 and 1996, and are between 22 and 37 years of age in 2018. This is the first generation to come of age after the technology boom, having grown up with the internet and mobile phones. This is also the generation most impacted by the economic downturn. many of them graduated from college and entered the workforce during and immediately after the Great Recession, thus impacting not only their lifestyles and career opportunities, but even career choices and college majors.

While the economy impacts everyone, it has had a particular impact on millennials’ lives. We know so much about the lives and experiences of millennials in part because of their use of social media to document their lives, preferences, and habits and because, as the largest demographic, they are a target audience for market research.

For example, we know that millennials prefer streaming services, preferably Netflix, over broadcast television. They do not like wine corks but prefer wine bottles with twist tops. They appear to love avocados, especially on toast, and prefer prepared meals to cooking. However, one interesting trait about millennials that has gained quite a bit of attention has been their sexual habits, or the lack thereof, as reports have consistently shown that compared to previous generations millennials are having less sex and are more likely to remain virgins into adulthood.

First, it is important to note that although many millennials many not be engaging in sexual activity, they certainly appear to have an understanding of their sexuality and sexual identity. Fewer millennials are likely to identify as heterosexual and are more likely to identify as LGBTQ compared to other generations. In fact, an estimated 20% of millennials identify as LGBTQ. This compares to the 12% of Generation Xers and just 7% of Baby Boomers who identify as LGBTQ.

Importantly, millennials understand sexual fluidity and are also not just likely to identify as lesbian or gay, but also as asexual (4%), pansexual (2%), and bisexual (6%). Clearly, millennials seem to have come to terms with sexuality and sexual identity in far more complex ways than their previous generations, so why are they engaging in less sexual activity?

There are a variety of explanations. Some blame the easy access to pornography which may make some not want to put forth the effort in finding a sex partner. Others blame the rise in STDs that do not respond to medications, which has scared many from sex all together. One article also suggests that since millennials are more in touch with their sexuality, they are simply having better sex and prefer to only have sex when they feel deep attraction for a partner.

However, as sociologists, we look to the large-scale structural changes that are impacting their ability (and desire) to form and maintain relationships. In the case of millennials and sex, we can see how social forces, in particular the economy, has influenced romantic relationships among millennials.

While millennials may have a reputation for participating in a hook up culture, research has found this to be largely a myth. Millennials are more likely to delay not just sex, but other types of relationships, such as dating, marriage, and childbearing. Many of them report that they neither have the money nor resources to marry and raise one or multiple children. Although the economy is “booming” and unemployment is low, this is not necessarily the case for millennials.

Many are left struggling to pay back student loans and are burdened by a high cost housing market. This is especially the case for those who live in high cost urban and suburban communities in and around New York City, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Seattle, and Chicago. This has not only impacted their desire to marry and have children, but it also has impacted dating styles and patterns.

For instance, dating for millennials (and anyone for that matter) can be quite expensive, with the cost of flowers, movies, dinner, dessert, drinks, and a Lyft all mounting up. Dating has become so costly that some would rather not go out and opt, instead, to grab coffee and stream a movie at home rather than go out for dinner and drinks.

Another way the economy has impacted the dating and relationship patterns of millennials is that they are more likely to live at home with their parents than on their own or with roommates, thus possibly hampering opportunities to bring people home or engage in sexual activity. Last year I wrote that millennials are returning home to live with their parents at higher rates compared to any other generation. On average, almost a quarter of millennials are returning home after college because of the high cost of living and student loan debt.

Acknowledging this trend and the challenges that young adults face when they live at home with their parents, articles offer millennials advice on how to date and have sex while in this situation. While some articles point out the humor in dating while living at home, others remind them that although they live with their parents, they are still mature adults who are allowed to engage in romantic relationships.

Sociologist C. Wright Mills argued that in order to understand how we live our lives and experience the troubles in our lives, we must look to social institutions, structures, and issues that influence our lives. He called this perspective the sociological imagination, and he explained that it provides us with a lens through with to view the social world and the impact that it has on our lives. Sexual activity, dating, and relationship patterns among millennials provides a great way to see the impact the economy, can have on even the most intimate and personal of human relationships and experiences.

In the end it doesn’t really matter whether or not millennials are having more or less sex, what is of interest is that sociology helps to provide us with the tools to better understand how social systems impact our lives and relationships.

Comments

Sociology will do a part of the change,

Informative. Its true millennials are more in touch of everything and have access to technology that can impact positive or negative.

I am a millennial baby, born in 82. This is so true, I never knew why I made the decisions I've made... But it seems like this explains everything to the T. Because a lot of the things that have been said in this article in the very reason why I made the decision I did. (Making Sense of The Senseless) Definitely true. As teenagers into adulthood most of us don't know that sociology has an impact on the decisions we make everyday.

As a millennial bornin 94, I can attest to the fact that technology and cost of living are huge issues we face every day. Technology being both good and bad.

I don't think this is necessarily true. I would be considered a millennial baby since born in 93 and a lot of people my age engage in sex. Most of my classmates as we speak are big and pregnant right now. People have their own way of expressing themselves sexually. Sociology sometimes impact these decisions.

Nice post

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