Here’s one less thing to worry about: today’s young adults aren’t actually having as much noncommittal sex as experts thought.
Which is to say, the notion of a burgeoning “hookup culture” might have been overblown all along.
A new study published by the American Sociological Association suggests that 18 to 25-year-olds are not any more sexually active than previous generations.
“We found that college students from the contemporary or ‘hookup era’ did not report having more frequent sex or more sexual partners during the past year or more sexual partners since turning 18 than undergraduates from the earlier era,” said the study’s Martin Monto, a sociology professor at the University of Portland.
Monto and co-author Anna Carey compared 1,800 responses from the General Social Survey, a nationally representative sample, from 1988-1996 and again between 2002 and 2010.
Over the first eight-year span, 65.2 percent of respondents aged between 18-25 reported having sex at least once per week over the course of a year. Compare that with a 59.3 percent result from the so-called hookup era from 2002-2010.
Monto did, however, note that the general inclination towards delaying marriage has affected the way students treat relationships.
“The idea of waiting until marriage to begin sexual behaviour is a less tenable narrative,” he is quoted as saying in the study’s press release. “These changes present a new unique set of challenges, but this study demonstrates that we are not in the midst of a new era of no strings attached sexuality. In fact, we found that, overall, sexual behaviour among college students has remained fairly consistent over the past 25 years.”
Salon rightly points out that the study has yet to be “published, peer-reviewed or substantiated with further research” so perhaps it’s best to take the findings at face value for now.
Still, other research has found evidence that a hookup culture does exist, so there’s also a chance that young people aren't sharing the full picture. Monto's study is promising, but what's to say that respondents aren't downplaying their sexual activity? Or, is it possible that today’s youth have a different definition of what a hookup is than previous generations?
There are two significant differences in sexual behaviour then versus today: it is now more widely discussed yet we refer to it in a more roundabout way (as in, “hooking up”). Both developments can dramatically alter our perception of who’s doing what, even if ultimately, little has changed statistically.