The thought of mom and dad rolling in the hay is possibly one of the most unsettling thoughts for any son or daughter. As young adults, we often choose to pretend that our parents have never been sexually active, and yet our very existence violates this conception.
As parents arrived to Rollins all last weekend, they tried to remember life on a college campus. From binge drinking, to pulling all nighters, to having causal sex, college is often romanticized as “the best four years.” And yet while these themes remain consistent across generations, this sexpert has to ask, “How has sex changed from the time our parent’s were our age?”
I am not going to weigh you down with a ton of numbers and sources, yet they do help analyze a cross-generational shift in sexual practice.
The primary shift in sexuality occurs most noticeably among women. They’re losing their virginities much younger than they used too. In 2010, 27 percent of women between the ages of 16 and 24 reported having sex before they were 16, a greater proportion of women than any previous generation according to The Information Center for Health and Social Care.
While the number of males having lost their virginities before 16 did increase, it was a smaller cross-generational difference than that among females. So why are we losing our virginities at a younger age than our parents? The answer seems obvious: we see sex far more often than our parents did. From sex on TV to reading entire magazines about it, (i.e. Cosmo has morphed women beyond happy housewives into scantily clad whores) sex is everywhere.
Meanwhile, men try to keep up with cultural values by sleeping with more partners than ever before (i.e. players). According to the HSC, men between the ages of 16 and 69 reported an average of 9.3 sexual partners in their lives so far, while women reported an average of 4.7 sexual partners.
So the stats prove things have changed, but questions of how and why remain.
The Hook-Up Culture.
According to many theorists, our generation has entered a new wave of the sexual revolution, a.k.a the hook-up culture. That is why we use the blanket term “hooking-up” to cover any of our sexual encounters.
The term means different things to everyone; for example most of my friends define a hook-up as doing anything sexual but having sex. In this way, oral sex and other forms of foreplay are not considered as severe as sex.
My friend Olivia’s mom once talked to her about why oral sex is still considered a form of “intercourse” (I hate that word because it sounds so clinical and gross and coming from parents or teachers, it makes me vomit). Olivia’s mom said giving a guy a blowjob was considered way more severe in her day than just having sex. She grew up in the 70s, when the sexual revolution was also changing. It’s so strange to think that an act that I feel is so common when hooking-up was once considered more radical than having sex.
Despite shifts in theory, other cross-generational differences emerge when we consider the effects of technology.
The Age of Technology.
Parents never grew up with the advantages of the Internet or cell phones to enhance their sex lives. After all, it is kind of nifty that through tools like sexting we are able to get off without even having our partners present.
The Internet has also changed the means of masturbation by providing our generation with loads of pornography and other explicit imagery. We are always two clicks away from our favorite porn stars or videos, where as our mothers and fathers were forced to search for sexual inspiration in the forms of dirty magazines or video stores. The Internet provides discretion and a greater form of variety.
Further, the web allows us to meet hook-ups in ways far different than those of our parents. Apps that use GPS help locate sexual partners in times of desperation, and chatrooms (ew, how 90s) may even provide the faux sense of companionship. For example, almost every gay man I know has used Grindr to meet guys, and heterosexual alternatives .
Technology has had a clear effect upon the way we perceive relationships and sex. Its use is now so common that it begs the question of how it will continue to affect future generations?
Overall, it is a combination of advancing technology and changed perceptions that has affected the way our generation perceives sex. And yet, this blanket statement may be applied to every generation, for example, how the mass production of the pill affected our parents’ sexuality.
So while we may hate to admit it, we share a consistent developmental theme with our elders in the sense that we are all byproducts of culture. Sexuality changes between each generation, and yet the physical process remains the same. Our parents do it. We do it. And even our kids will do it. Now that’s unsettling to think about.