Generational Shift in Attitudes about Sex

New research finds that acceptance of premarital sex is at an all-time high along with an acceptance of homosexuality.

Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D., from San Diego State University along with Ryne Sherman from Florida Atlantic University and Brooke E. Wells from Hunter College analyzed data from the General Social Survey, a nationally representative survey of more than 33,000 U.S. adults taken between 1972 and 2012.

The researchers found substantial generational shifts in attitudes toward non-marital sex and number of sexual partners.

The results have been published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.

“The changes are primarily due to generation — suggesting people develop their sexual attitudes while young, rather than everyone of all ages changing at the same time,” said Twenge, who is also the author of “Generation Me.”

“This has caused a large generation gap in both attitudes toward premarital sex and number of sexual partners,” she said.

To paraphrase Bob Dylan, the times are changing with significant changes in the way sex and sexuality is viewed and accepted.

The biggest change in the way generations view sex was between the generation born in the early 1900s (“Greatest Generation”) and the Boomers born in the 1940s-1950s.

However, 1980s-1990s born Millennials are more accepting of premarital sex than their 1960s-born GenX parents.

Overall researchers discovered that after barely changing at all during the 1980s and 1990s, acceptance of premarital sex increased from 42 percent in 2000 to 58 percent in 2012. Acceptance of same-sex sexual relations more than tripled from 13 percent in 1990 to 44 percent in 2012.

The number of sexual partners (controlled for age) also shifted substantially, from 2.16 for the Greatest Generation to 11.68 for 1950s-born Boomers and 8.26 for Millennials.

“Millennials are more accepting of premarital sex than any previous generation, yet have had fewer sexual partners than GenX’ers. This is consistent with their image as a tolerant, individualistic generation accepting others’ choices and making their own,” Twenge said.

Twenge theorizes that these shifts in sexual attitudes and behavior are linked to growing cultural individualism in the U.S. “When the culture places more emphasis on the needs of the self and less on social rules, more relaxed attitudes toward sexuality are the almost inevitable result,” Twenge said.

Source: San Diego State University/EurekAlert!