Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 46, Issue 2, pp 433–440 | Cite as

Sexual Inactivity During Young Adulthood Is More Common Among U.S. Millennials and iGen: Age, Period, and Cohort Effects on Having No Sexual Partners After Age 18

  • Jean M. TwengeEmail author
  • Ryne A. Sherman
  • Brooke E. Wells
Original Paper


Examining age, time period, and cohort/generational changes in sexual experience is key to better understanding sociocultural influences on sexuality and relationships. Americans born in the 1980s and 1990s (commonly known as Millennials and iGen) were more likely to report having no sexual partners as adults compared to GenX’ers born in the 1960s and 1970s in the General Social Survey, a nationally representative sample of American adults (N = 26,707). Among those aged 20–24, more than twice as many Millennials born in the 1990s (15 %) had no sexual partners since age 18 compared to GenX’ers born in the 1960s (6 %). Higher rates of sexual inactivity among Millennials and iGen also appeared in analyses using a generalized hierarchical linear modeling technique known as age–period–cohort analysis to control for age and time period effects among adults of all ages. Americans born early in the 20th century also showed elevated rates of adult sexual inactivity. The shift toward higher rates of sexual inactivity among Millennials and iGen’ers was more pronounced among women and absent among Black Americans and those with a college education. Contrary to popular media conceptions of a “hookup generation” more likely to engage in frequent casual sex, a higher percentage of Americans in recent cohorts, particularly Millennials and iGen’ers born in the 1990s, had no sexual partners after age 18.


Sexual inactivity Virginity Generations Birth cohort differences Millennials iGen 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Jean M. Twenge declares that she has no conflict of interest. Ryne A. Sherman declares that he has no conflict of interest. Brooke E. Wells declares that she has no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


  1. Arnett, J. J. (2005). Emerging adulthood. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Bates, D., Maechler, M., Bolker, B., & Walker, S. (2014). lme4: Linear mixed-effects models using Eigen and S4. R package version 1.1-7. Accessed 5 July 2016.
  3. Bennett, S. E., & Assefi, N. P. (2005). School-based teenage pregnancy prevention programs: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Adolescent Health, 36, 72–81.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Bersamin, M. M., Fisher, D. A., Walker, S., Hill, D. L., & Grube, J. W. (2007). Defining virginity and abstinence: Adolescents’ interpretations of sexual behaviors. Journal of Adolescent Health, 41, 182–188.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  5. Brückner, H., & Bearman, P. (2005). After the promise: The STD consequences of adolescent virginity pledges. Journal of Adolescent Health, 36, 271–278.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Byers, E. S., Henderson, J., & Hobson, K. M. (2009). University students’ definitions of sexual abstinence and having sex. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38, 665–674.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Campbell, W. K., Campbell, S., Siedor, L. E., & Twenge, J. M. (2015). Generational differences are real and useful. Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice, 8, 324–408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Centers for Disease Control. (2016). Trends in the prevalence of sexual behavior and HIV testing. National YTBS: 19912015. Accessed 5 July 2016.
  9. 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
  10. Fielder, R. L., & Carey, M. P. (2010). Prevalence and characteristics of sexual hookups among first-semester female college students. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 36, 346–359.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  11. Finer, L. B., & Philbin, J. M. (2013). Sexual initiation, contraceptive use, and pregnancy among young adolescents. Pediatrics, 131, 886–891.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  12. Grunseit, A., Richters, J., Crawford, J., Song, A., & Kippax, S. (2005). Stability and change in sexual practices among first-year Australian university students (1990–1999). Archives of Sexual Behavior, 34, 557–568.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Haydon, A. A., Cheng, M. M., Herring, A. H., McRee, A. L., & Halpern, C. T. (2014). Prevalence and predictors of sexual inexperience in adulthood. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43, 221–230.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Heywood, W., Patrick, K., Smith, A. M. A., & Pitts, M. K. (2015). Associations between early first sexual intercourse and later sexual and reproductive outcomes: A systematic review of population-based data. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44, 531–569.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Hoglund, J., Jern, P., Sandnabba, N. K., & Santtila, P. (2014). Finnish women and men who self-report no sexual attraction in the past 12 months: Prevalence, relationship status, and sexual behavior history. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43, 879–889.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Hull, S. J., Hennessy, M., Bleakley, A., Fishbein, M., & Jordan, A. (2011). Identifying the causal pathways from religiosity to delayed adolescent sexual behavior. Journal of Sex Research, 48, 543–553.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  17. Jemmott, J. B., Jemmott, L. S., & Fong, G. T. (2010). Efficacy of a theory-based abstinence-only intervention over 24 months: A randomized controlled trial with young adolescents. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 164, 152–159.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  18. Jung, J. H. (2015). A cross-national analysis of religion and attitudes toward premarital sex: Do economic contexts matter? Sociological Perspectives. doi: 10.1177/0731121415595428.Google Scholar
  19. Kaplan, D. L., Jones, E. J., Olson, E. C., & Yunzal-Butler, C. B. (2013). Early age of first sex and health risk in an urban adolescent population. Journal of School Health, 83, 350–356.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Kirby, D. B. (2008). The impact of abstinence and comprehensive sex and STD/HIV education programs on adolescent sexual behavior. Sexuality Research & Social Policy, 5, 18–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kohler, P. K., Manhart, L. E., & Lafferty, W. E. (2008). Abstinence-only and comprehensive sex education and the initiation of sexual activity and teen pregnancy. Journal of Adolescent Health, 42, 344–351.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Kuperberg, A., & Padgett, J. E. (2016). Partner meeting contexts and risky behavior in college students’ other-sex and same-sex hookups. Journal of Sex Research. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2015.1124378.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Lerner, J. E., & Hawkins, R. L. (2016). Welfare, liberty, and security for all? U.S. sex education policy and the 1996 Title V Section 510 of the Social Security Act. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 45, 1027–1038.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Magnusson, B. M., Masho, S. W., & Lapane, K. L. (2012). Early age at first intercourse and subsequent gaps in contraceptive use. Journal of Women’s Health, 21, 73–79.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  25. Martino, S. C., Elliott, M. N., Collins, R. L., Kanouse, D. E., & Berry, S. H. (2008). Virginity pledges among the willing: Delays in first intercourse and consistency of condom use. Journal of Adolescent Health, 43, 341–348.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  26. Monto, M. A., & Carey, A. G. (2014). A new standard of sexual behavior? Are claims associated with the “hookup culture” supported by General Social Survey data? Journal of Sex Research, 51, 605–615.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Petersen, J. L., & Hyde, J. S. (2010). A meta-analytic review of research on gender differences in sexuality, 1993–2007. Psychological Bulletin, 136(1), 21–38.Google Scholar
  28. Pew Research Center. (2014). Millennials in adulthood: Detached from institutions, networked with friends. Retrieved March 7, 2014 from
  29. Pew Research Center. (2015). More Millennials living with family despite improved job market. Retrieved July 29, 2015 from
  30. R Core Team. (2014). R: A language and environment for statistical computing [Computer software]. Vienna: R Foundation for Statistical Computing.Google Scholar
  31. Regnerus, M., & Uecker, J. (2011). Premarital sex in America: How young Americans meet, mate, and think about marrying. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Reiber, C., & Garcia, J. R. (2010). Hooking up: Gender differences, evolution, and pluralistic ignorance. Evolutionary Psychology, 8, 390–404.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Rosenbaum, J. E. (2009). Patient teenagers? A comparison of the sexual behavior of virginity pledgers and matched nonpledgers. Pediatrics, 123, e110–e120.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  34. Rostosky, S. S., Regnerus, M. D., & Wright, M. L. C. (2003). Coital debut: The role of religiosity and sex attitudes in the Add Health Survey. Journal of Sex Research, 40, 358–367.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Rudder, C. (2009). Your looks and your inbox. Retrieved November 7, 2009 from
  36. Rudder, C. (2014). Dataclysm: Who we are (when we think no one’s looking). New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  37. Sales, N. J. (2015, September). Tinder and the dawn of the “dating apocalypse.” Vanity Fair.Google Scholar
  38. Sanders, S. A., & Reinisch, J. M. (1999). Would you say you “had sex” if…? Journal of the American Medical Association, 281, 275–277.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Sandfort, T. G., Orr, M., Hirsch, J. S., & Santelli, J. (2008). Long-term health correlates of timing of sexual debut: Results from a national US study. American Journal of Public Health, 98, 155–161.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  40. Schaie, K. W. (1986). Beyond calendar definitions of age, time, and cohort: The general developmental model revisited. Developmental Review, 6, 252–277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Sheeran, P., Abrams, D., Abraham, C., & Spears, R. (1993). Religiosity and adolescents’ premarital sexual attitudes and behaviour: An empirical study of conceptual issues. European Journal of Social Psychology, 23, 39–52.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Smith, T. W., Marsden, P., Hout, M., & Kim, J. (2015). General Social Surveys, 1972–2014 [machine-readable data file]. Chicago: NORC at the University of Chicago [producer]; Storrs, CT: The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, University of Connecticut [distributor].Google Scholar
  43. Sprecher, S. (2014). Evidence of change in men’s versus women’s emotional reactions to first sexual intercourse: A 23-year study in a human sexuality course at a midwestern university. Journal of Sex Research, 51, 466–472.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Sprecher, S., & Treger, S. (2015). Virgin college students’ reasons for and reactions to their abstinence from sex: Results from a 23-year study at a Midwestern US University. Journal of Sex Research, 52, 936–948.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Sprecher, S., Treger, S., & Sakaluk, J. K. (2013). Premarital sexual standards and sociosexuality: Gender, ethnicity, and cohort differences. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 1395–1405.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Stepp, L. S. (2008). Unhooked: How young women pursue sex, delay love, and lose at both. New York: Riverhead Books.Google Scholar
  47. Strauss, W., & Howe, N. (1991). Generations. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  48. 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
  49. Twenge, J. M., & Park, H. (2016). Generational differences in the speed of development during adolescence: The decline in independent activities, 19762015. Unpublished manuscript.Google Scholar
  50. Twenge, J. M., Sherman, R. A., & Wells, B. E. (2015). Changes in American adults’ sexual behavior and attitudes, 1972–2012. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44, 2273–2285.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Twenge, J. M., Sherman, R. A., & Wells, B. E. (2016). Changes in American adults’ reported same-sex sexual experiences and attitudes, 1973–2014. Archives of Sexual Behavior. doi: 10.1007/s10508-016-0769-4.Google Scholar
  52. Vazsonyi, A. T., & Jenkins, D. D. (2010). Religiosity, self-control, and virginity status in college students from the “Bible Belt”: A research note. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 49, 561–568.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  53. Wells, B. E., & Twenge, J. M. (2005). Changes in young people’s sexual behavior and attitudes, 1943–1999: A cross-temporal meta-analysis. Review of General Psychology, 9, 249–261.Google Scholar
  54. Yang, Y. (2008). Social inequalities in happiness in the United States, 1972 to 2004: An age-period-cohort analysis. American Sociological Review, 73, 204–226.Google Scholar
  55. Yang Y. & Land K. C. (2013). Age-period-cohort analysis: New models, methods, and empirical applications. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jean M. Twenge
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ryne A. Sherman
    • 2
  • Brooke E. Wells
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PsychologySan Diego State UniversitySan DiegoUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyFlorida Atlantic UniversityBoca RatonUSA
  3. 3.Center for Human Sexuality StudiesWidener UniversityChesterUSA

Personalised recommendations