Mal Fletcher comments on the results of a new study of British Millennials sexual behaviour.

Mal Fletcher
Mal Fletcher

"No Sex Please, We're Only 26", said yesterday's online headline from one of Britain's leading newspapers.

A new study has revealed that British Millennials are less sexually active, at least by their mid-20s, than were the generations immediately preceding them.

The study has tracked 16,000 young people since 1989-90, when they were aged 14. The most recent results were collated from questionnaire data collected in 2016.

The Next Steps project is overseen by the Institute of Education, part of University College London. It was first instituted by the Department for Education.

In these results, one in eight 26 year-olds said they had never had sex. If those who refused to answer the survey had not had sex, the final figure could be one in six. This compares with one in 20 for the two previous generational cohorts.

Looking for reasons behind the findings, the researchers have pointed first to a culture of hypersexuality, in which young people find it harder to be intimate and are more fearful of not matching up to the pop-culture image of sexual desirability or experience.

There is certainly good reason to believe that this is a contributing factor. Arguably, no generation before the Millennials has had to endure such a constant bombardment with sexualised imagery.

In its childhood, Generation X was the first cohort to be exposed to a constant drip feed of sex on TV. They inherited the fall-out of the much vaunted but, in the end quite grubby, "sexual revolution" of the 1960s and 70s.

"Make love not war" became, in many instances, nothing more than a hippy-like mantra for those who wanted cheap sex, without the hard but rewarding work of achieving real intimacy or pursuing secure commitments.

Ironically - or perhaps predictably - many of the Baby Boomers who advocated free love in their '60s youth later advocated much more conservative mores for their children or grandchildren.

Despite the fact that hippiedom's vision of sex didn't necessarily fulfil the need for intimacy, television, advertising and ever-more gratuitously sexualised movies kept sex ever before young Gen-Xers.

It wasn't until the AIDS crisis of the late 1980s and 90s that pop-culture began to rethink its mores. Even then, though, it largely treated the outbreak as if it had little or no connection to hypersexualised values and behaviour.

Sexual experience continued to be presented to young people as an indispensable badge of maturity and the ultimate expression of self-assurance. All in the name of either ultra-liberal social agendas or old-fashioned commerce.

For young Millennials, the impact of cultural sexualisation was exacerbated further by the arrival of the internet.