LIFESTYLE

Millennials Are Having Less Sex -- Or Are They?

Apparently, terms and conditions apply.

20/03/2017 04:41 SAST | Updated 20/03/2017 06:45 SAST

Forget the brouhaha about millennials and hook-up culture. Recent studies in the U.S. have found that millennials are having less sex than young people were in previous generations.

In a 2016 study from the University of Chicago, published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behaviour, 15 percent of 20-to 24-year-olds surveyed reported they had not had a sexual partner since they were 18. The figure for their Generation X predecessors was just six percent.

This was consistent with data from the US Centre for Disease Control's Youth Risk Behaviour Survey, which found the percentage of high-school students who had had sex was 41 percent in 2015, compared to 51 percent in 1991.

Researchers attributed the change to the high prevalence of millennials living with their parents due to the increased cost living, growing up with a strong emphasis on safety, increasing awareness of sexual violence, the widespread availability of pornography and the amount of time millennials spent online.

But Rachel Jewkes, director of the Gender and Health Unit at the Medical Research Council based in Pretoria, told HuffPostSA there's no reason to believe the trend holds true in South Africa.

"There isn't much indication that sexual behaviour [in South Africa] has changed much. We still have a very high incidence of HIV infections in teenagers and we also have a very high instance of teenage pregnancies", she said. Neither of these indicate a move towards celibacy.

Though teenage pregnancy in South Africa has been dropping consistently since the 1980s', research attributes this to increased access to contraception and safe abortion.

Although there is no research showing that young South Africans are having less sex overall, Jewkes says that, in her personal capacity, she's met middle-class millennials who are celibate - something she says was almost unheard of among people the same age 10 years ago.

Some young South Africans have been quite open about turning away from sex and dating. Earlier this year, writer Lebo Matshego blogged about why she chose celibacy. "So far, being celibate has been great as I'm happier with not having to deal with the emotional roller coaster of dating," she wrote. "However, it's not all plain sailing because like anyone else, I'm a sexual being and do crave intimacy at times."

Kate Donaldson*, a 23-year-old from Johannesburg, says her celibacy is linked to her Christian faith but that it's also a question of trust. "I've met people who have either been emotionally damaged by their sexual experiences or they're numb to them," she says, adding "I'm waiting for someone who I know will commit to me for the long term."

But for Nontobeko Khumalo* a 24-year-old, also from Johannesburg, reports of a move towards celibacy among millennials overseas don't align with what she's seen in her social circle.

"I think I can count two people in my circles who are actively not having sex. The one is Christian and is a virgin, the other is just taking a break to clear her mind and find herself, but it's a pause from a very active sex life," she said.

"We're in our 20's and we're loving the agency of having sex responsibly. If you're pulling back that's also a choice, but it's uncommon."

* Names have been changed

HIV, unplanned pregnancies and rape are frequent concerns in South Africa. What we don't do enough of is talk about safe, healthy, consensual sex. This March, HuffPost SA looks at women and sex - what we want to know, what we wish we'd known earlier, and what those who come after us won't have to wonder about after all. You can find all the articles and blogs here or try some of these:

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