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When one thinks of youth and teen culture, there is often an element of jovial promiscuity attached to it. It is painted as a time to adventure; fall in love, fall out of love, and come to repeat the cycle just like the seasons. However, is that always the case? Are today's teenagers doing what we expect them to do? For instance, has the digital age changed the way young people date? Research is beginning to show that teens are not only doing it less in comparison to other generations, but they are also starting later.
Even though we may imagine that young people are becoming increasingly promiscuous, the average median age of first sexual contact has actually gone up over the years. Between 1990 and 1996, the median age was 14, and today, the median age at which young people lose their virginity is 16. Not only are young people starting later than before, they also seem to be having less sex than the generations before them. According to the General Social Survey, millennial and young Gen Zs are having less sex than their older generation counterparts (Forbes). The suspected reasons for this has also been all over the place. While some argue that this new trend shows that the younger generation is working harder (and hence does not have the time to get down), "[An expert] also pointed out that millennials on the whole have been working especially hard (often unpaid) to pursue professional development and their uniquely lofty goals, which can certainly cut into the time and effort required for romance" (Forbes). It has also been noted that young people are just becoming pickier about who they partner with. Others blame the rise of technology and claim that this trend will contribute to a declining birth rate. Some have blamed the use of dating apps. According to Jean Twenge, an expert on millennials, dating apps put way too much emphasis on first impressions from physical appearances and thus leaves out a whole swath of the population. It is hard to say, however, whether or not this really is a generation issue. In fact, according to a survey, 64% of people across the board notices someone’s appearance first (Allure). Does a dating app put that much more emphasis on appearance than school or a party? Maybe so, but it is ultimately difficult to say at this moment, especially since Generation Z has not even come fully into its own yet.
While it is commonly thought that the youth are naturally more likely to be sexually active, current research trends are starting to show otherwise. Teens are beginning to wait on their first experience. In general, they have been having less sex than generations before them. The question at this point is whether or not this is actually a bad thing. Hindsight is always going to be 20/20, but perhaps this generation is different but not any worse. Perhaps it is a trade-off that the younger generation is a bit more cautious with their encounters, but who knows, it may give way to a benefit we haven’t seen just yet.