Millennials and sex


What do you assume about millennials and sex?

A new Harvard University study, “The Talk: How Adult’s Can Promote Young People’s Healthy Sexual Relationships and Prevent Misogyny and Sexual Harassment” gives insight into the sexual lives of the millennial generation. Some findings challenge common stereotypes, like claims that millennials are sex-obsessed and prefer “hooking-up” over lasting relationships. ABC’s Good Morning America summarized the research findings, and conducted their own interviews with a group of young adults.

You can view the full Harvard report here.

Here are five key discoveries:

  1. Teens and adults tend to greatly overestimate the size of the “hook-up culture” and these misconceptions can be detrimental to young people.

  2. Large numbers of teens and young adults are unprepared for caring, lasting romantic relationships and are anxious about developing them. Yet it appears that parents, educators and other adults often provide young people with little or no guidance in developing these relationships. The good news is that a high percentage of young people want this guidance.

  3. Misogyny and sexual harassment appear to be pervasive among young people and certain forms of gender-based degradation may be increasing, yet a significant majority of parents do not appear to be talking to young people about it.

  4. Many young people don’t see certain types of gender-based degradation and subordination as problems in our society.

  5. Research shows that rates of sexual assault among young people are high. But our research suggests that a majority of parents and educators aren’t discussing with young people basic issues related to consent.

Researchers also found that millennials are more conservative in their attitudes toward sex, and prefer hanging out with friends or dating seriously over hooking up.

But millennials expressed disappointment regarding lack of preparation for serious relationships. Researchers reported that 70% of the 18 to 25-year-olds who responded to their survey wished they had received more information about the emotional dynamics involved in romantic relationships, “including ‘how to have a more mature relationship’ (38%), ‘how to deal with breakups’ (36%), ‘how to avoid getting hurt in a relationship’ (34%), or ‘how to begin a relationship’ (27%).”

Regarding sex education, most millennials felt their preparation focused more on the physical aspects of sexual union and “disaster prevention,” but neglected to provide instructions on how to develop “mature love” or a “healthy, mature relationship.”

The report includes a few suggestions on how to best move forward, recommending that parents and other caring adults talk about love, helping young people discern the difference between infatuation or other intense emotions and mature love. Researchers also recommended helping young people identify healthy and unhealthy relationships, talking in-depth about healthy sexuality and problems like misogyny (“beyond platitudes”), stepping in when there are problems, and initiating discussions about what it means to be an ethical person.

These are all steps that churches can take. Millennials are looking for guidance on how best to make moral choices about sex and sexuality. Christians are too often afraid of those conversations. There is no need to fear. Our biblical, moral, ethical, and theological traditions have much wisdom to offer, and our churches likely contain at least a few examples of mature, committed love.

Millennials are already open to the conversation. Push past the awkwardness. Have the talk.