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

Abstract

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.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    With the first iGen’ers turning 18 in 2013, most datasets (including the one we analyze here) include only the first few birth years of this generation, and other studies do not include them at all. Thus, some results will refer to Millennials only, and others to Millennials and iGen.

  2. 2.

    We also considered a model including a cubic effect for age, but did not have confidence in its reliability due to small sample sizes among participants over age 82 (when sample sizes by year of age dip below n = 100).

  3. 3.

    APC analyses do not employ traditional statistical significance testing, though they can generate 95 % confidence intervals. Therefore, where appropriate, we examined whether the 95 % confidence intervals for two different means overlapped or not and used that as the determination of whether a difference was statistically significant.

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Correspondence to Jean M. Twenge.

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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.

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Twenge, J.M., Sherman, R.A. & Wells, B.E. 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. Arch Sex Behav 46, 433–440 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-016-0798-z

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Keywords

  • Sexual inactivity
  • Virginity
  • Generations
  • Birth cohort differences
  • Millennials
  • iGen