Changes in American Adults’ Sexual Behavior and Attitudes, 1972–2012
- 7.1k Downloads
In the nationally representative General Social Survey, U.S. Adults (N = 33,380) in 2000–2012 (vs. the 1970s and 1980s) had more sexual partners, were more likely to have had sex with a casual date or pickup or an acquaintance, and were more accepting of most non-marital sex (premarital sex, teen sex, and same-sex sexual activity, but not extramarital sex). The percentage who believed premarital sex among adults was “not wrong at all” was 29 % in the early 1970s, 42 % in the 1980s and 1990s, 49 % in the 2000s, and 58 % between 2010 and 2012. Mixed effects (hierarchical linear modeling) analyses separating time period, generation/birth cohort, and age showed that the trend toward greater sexual permissiveness was primarily due to generation. Acceptance of non-marital sex rose steadily between the G.I. generation (born 1901–1924) and Boomers (born 1946–1964), dipped slightly among early Generation X’ers (born 1965–1981), and then rose so that Millennials (also known as Gen Y or Generation Me, born 1982–1999) were the most accepting of non-marital sex. Number of sexual partners increased steadily between the G.I.s and 1960s-born GenX’ers and then dipped among Millennials to return to Boomer levels. The largest changes appeared among White men, with few changes among Black Americans. The results were discussed in the context of growing cultural individualism and rejection of traditional social rules in the U.S.
KeywordsBirth cohort Generations Millennials Sexual attitudes Sexual partners
- Bedard, P. (2014). Census: Marriage rate at 93-year low, even including same-sex couples. Washington Examiner. Retrieved September 22, 2014 from http://washingtonexaminer.com/census-marriage-rate-at-93-year-low-even-including-same-sex-couples/article/2553600.
- Bersamin, M. M., Zamboanga, B. L., Schwartz, S. J., Donnellan, M. B., Hudson, M., Weisskirch, R. S., … Caraway, S. J. (2014). Risky business: Is there an association between casual sex and mental health among emerging adults? Journal of Sex Research, 51, 43–51.Google Scholar
- Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power in the behavioral sciences (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
- Eaton, D. K., Lowry, R., Brener, N. D., Kann, L., Romero, L., & Wechsler, H. (2011). Trends in human immunodeficiency virus—and sexually transmitted disease–related risk behaviors among US high school students, 1991–2009. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 40, 427–433.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Fukuyama, F. (1999). The great disruption: Human nature and the reconstitution of social order. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
- Howe, N., & Strauss, W. (1993). 13th gen: Abort, retry, ignore, fail?. New York: Vintage.Google Scholar
- Howe, N., & Strauss, W. (2000). Millennials rising: The next great generation. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
- Kost, K., & Henshaw, S. (2014). U.S. teenage pregnancies, births, and abortions, 2010: National and state trends by age, race and ethnicity. Guttmacher Institute. http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/USTPtrends10.pdf.
- Lelutiu-Weinberger, C., Pachankis, J. E., Golub, S. A., Walker, J. J., Bamonte, A. J., & Parsons, J. T. (2013). Age cohort differences in the effects of gay-related stigma, anxiety and identification with the gay community on sexual risk and substance use. AIDS and Behavior, 17, 340–349.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Mannheim, K. (1952). The problem of generations. In K. Mannheim (Ed.), Essays on the sociology of knowledge. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. (Original work published 1928)Google Scholar
- Myers, D. G. (2000). The American paradox: Spiritual hunger in an age of plenty. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
- Penke, L. (2011). Revised sociosexual orientation inventory. In T. D. Fisher, C. M. Davis, W. L. Yarber, & S. L. Davis (Eds.), Handbook of sexuality-related measures (3rd ed., pp. 622–625). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Scott-Sheldon, L. A., Huedo-Medina, T. B., Warren, M. R., Johnson, B. T., & Carey, M. P. (2011). Efficacy of behavioral interventions to increase condom use and reduce sexually transmitted infections: A meta-analysis, 1991 to 2010. Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, 58, 489–498.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Smith, T. W., Hout, M., & Marsden, P. V. (2013). General Social Survey, 1972–2012 [Cumulative File]. ICPSR34802-v1. Storrs, CT: Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, University of Connecticut/Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributors], 2013-09-11. http://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR34802.v1.
- Stepp, L. S. (2007). Unhooked: How young women pursue sex, delay love, and lose at both. New York: Riverhead.Google Scholar
- Strauss, W., & Howe, N. (1991). Generations: The history of America’s future, 1584 to 2069. New York: Morrow.Google Scholar
- Sumner, A., Crichton, J., Theobald, S., Zulu, E., & Parkhurst, J. (2011). What shapes research impact on policy? Understanding research uptake in sexual and reproductive health policy processes in resource poor contexts. Health Research Policy and Systems, 9, S3. doi: 10.1186/1478-4505-9-S1-S3.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Twenge, J. M. (2014). Generation Me: Why today’s young Americans are more confident, assertive, entitled—And more miserable than ever before (2nd ed.). New York: Atria Books.Google Scholar
- Twenge, J. M., Exline, J. J., Grubbs, J. B., Sastry, R., & Campbell, W. K. (in press). Generational and time period differences in American adolescents’ religious orientation, 1966–2014. PLoS One.Google Scholar
- U.S. Bureau of the Census. (2012). Statistical abstract of the United States. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
- Walsh, R. (1989). Premarital sex among teenagers and young adults. In K. McKinney & S. Sprecher (Eds.), Human sexuality: The societal and interpersonal context (pp. 162–186). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.Google Scholar
- Wentland, J. J., & Reissing, E. D. (2011). Taking casual sex not too casually: Exploring definitions of casual sexual relationships. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 20, 75–91.Google Scholar