Barely a day seems to pass without one of the ‘wise old men’ who dominate the editorial columns writing a dubiously- researched opinion piece on how the Millennial generation is dangerously apathetic, hedonistic, and lazy. The American Conservative recently published an article bemoaning the fact that over a quarter of men and women under 30 don’t bother to affiliate with any religion and are therefore, in their words, the “decadent” generation. They’re absolutely right. By the standards of our parents, we’re all little Caligulas – and that’s our greatest strength. As the generation with the least up-tight views on sex since the ’60s, our sexual laissez-faire is changing the way society treats both sex and identity, entirely for the better. Here’s how.
1. Pornography and masturbation are now things that normal people do.
Did you know that masturbation will make you go blind? And causes hair to grow on your hands? And will even cut your life short? It doesn’t, but a hell of a lot of people before us grew up with all the guilt and self-loathing that those beliefs will bring. Rumors like these were passed around frequently back in the day, and judging by their longevity (some of them can be dated to Victorian-era health handbooks) a good portion of people believed them. Short of asking your doctor whether it was healthy to have a wank, there was very little way of getting an objective opinion on the issue. With the invention of the internet, we are the first generation to grow up without having to wonder, “Is touching myself going to kill me?” Judging by the stats released by the sort of people who would know these things, Millennials are enjoying guilt-free masturbation in record numbers – and if that doesn’t lead to a more well adjusted society, I don’t know what will.
2. Millennials are more likely to experiment with the same gender – and overwhelmingly support gay marriage.
You don’t need to have a thing for members of your own sex to support gay rights, but it’s no coincidence that a generation that is more willing to fool around with the same gender are also overwhelmingly in favor of letting people marry whomever they’re in love with. The surprisingly detailed OkCupid dating insights data suggests that over 34% of young men and women have either had a same-sex encounter or would like to – an increase that dovetails nicely with the 81% of people under 30 who now support gay marriage. Coincidence? We think not.
3. Sex is no longer necessarily between two people, and love doesn’t need to be either.
According to an ABC survey, over 21% of Americans have had a threesome and a further 14% would like to – and that’s counting all generations. Factor out people over 30, and this percentage rises dramatically. So why does it matter? One of the last remaining forms of legal discrimination against consenting adult relationships is with men or women who choose to involve themselves with more than one partner. Note that polyamorous people are not necessarily going around throwing orgies – but, much like homosexuality, a generation that is willing to reinterpret traditional notions of monogamy is far more likely to support the right of others to live the lifestyle of their choice.
4. We’re having more sex than anyone since the 60s – but not having unwanted kids.
Abstinence-only education has proven as useless as everyone expected it to, since preventing teens from having sex with 30-minute courses is about as likely as holding back the sea with a bucket. But despite the worst efforts of legislators and educators, our generation has the lowest teen pregnancy rate in history – because we’re smarter about condom use and birth control than any generation before us.
5. Kink is the new mainstream – and it’s leading to intelligent discussions about consent.
While harder to quantify than some of our other choices, the fact that an erotic S&M romp sold over 70 million copies in the US alone should clue anyone into the fact that people are becoming more sexually adventurous, if only in their reading choices. Despite suggestions that books like 50 Shades are middle-aged escapism, sales figures show that women under 30 are equally (if not more likely) to be picking it up. Does someone’s reading choices mean they’re more likely to engage in kinky behavior? The fact that sex shops in the US are now selling out of ropes and handcuffs suggests that the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. The mainstream success of kinky porn is also leading to intelligent discussions of how popular depictions of sex, like those seen in 50 Shades, raise questions over ideas of boundaries and consent.
6. The stigmas around sex work are lessening as attitudes about sex become more relaxed.
We’ve come a long way from the 70s, baby. A generation ago, prostitution was widely seen as a moral failure by lusty women who would lead honest men astray. Logically then, prostitutes would frequently be fined or thrown in jail while their customers would get off with a stern warning. Today, it’s hard to find a person under 30 who views sex work as a moral issue rather than an economic one. That’s why states from Germany to Canada are decriminalizing prostitution or, in a partial victory, criminalizing the purchase of sex rather than the selling of it. That means less crime, less persecution of the vulnerable, and less stigma for those men and women who choose to do sex work. So next time you see an out of touch columnist rushing to label the youth as decadent, embrace it. Overthrowing the backwards sexual morality of yesteryear can be our greatest accomplishment.