No sex, please, we're millennials. I guess I missed the memo.

While this headline has been appearing around the world since early August, it's left me perplexed.

Apparently, us sad 20-somethings are living lives of near-celibacy compared to our parents and the younger the millennial, the less sex they're having.

Really?

Advertisement

I'm 26. The most common surname on my phone is "Tinder".

How could those of us born in the 1980s and 90s be having less sex when even an anxiety-riddled idiot like me managed to nearly double the amount of people I've hooked up with in the last year through the magic of the internet?

A recent American study found twice as many millennials said they'd had zero sexual partners since the age of 18 compared with GenXers.

Another study by the same researchers also found the average number of partners for millennials was eight people - three less than the generation before them.

Obviously thinking about how many people my parents and their friends were getting it on with in their heyday is repulsive and I have no intention of comparing tallies over Sunday dinner, but don't we all tacitly assume we're worldlier than the people who raised us?

Tinder, the world's most popular dating app, is revolutionising the casual hook-up and, as boring as the hand-wringing about it is (how important is a surname anyway?), it's true that sex is just a swipe away for a lot of us.

Add to that the growing awareness that having sex with a lot of people actually doesn't decrease your value as a woman and these findings just didn't seem possible.

Annoyingly, I realised my sample size of one person probably wasn't as scientifically sound as the nationally representative data used by the American researchers whose study prompted those slightly smug "no sex, please" headlines.

Staying true to my millennial roots, I sent a tweet out - was this ringing false to anyone else or am I just a bit slutty?

Twitter led me to Simon, 22, a student at Victoria University in Wellington. He grew up in Christchurch and didn't lose his virginity until he was 21.

He's quite happy to tell me this and it was something he was very open about with his friends during high school, who - far from the macho teasing you might expect teenage boys to dish out - didn't care.

"It was never a particularly big deal," says Simon, who nevertheless preferred to keep his last name out of things.

"I feel like historically there's always been this big deal of people losing their virginity."

Being tarnished by association with a pushy, macho culture is something Simon says he and his friends are keen to avoid.

"You get men who become very uncomfortable with the idea of wanting to sleep with women, because you don't want to be one of those shitty men your friends complain about."

Sexual Abuse Prevention Network general manager Fiona McNamara points to this rise of "consent culture" as a possible reason young people's numbers of sexual partners are lower.

SAPN works with schools, businesses and community groups to educate people about sexual violence and how to prevent it.

Tinder, the world's most popular dating app, is revolutionising the casual hook-up and it's true that sex is just a swipe away for a lot of us. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Tinder, the world's most popular dating app, is revolutionising the casual hook-up and it's true that sex is just a swipe away for a lot of us. Photo / Michael Cunningham

"When we go into schools now, we find that young people are more aware of the concepts of consent and often it's something they've thought about and talked about before.

"It's become a bit of a buzzword, which it wasn't 10 or even five years ago, so I think it's possible that's having an influence on how much sex people are having."

This explanation got me thinking about some of the less savoury experiences I'd had when I was younger - when a "yes" had been reluctantly given because I didn't realise a "no" was an option.

If there's less sex happening because more people are choosing to say no - and having that "no" listened to - then it's not that we're becoming more conservative.

Rather, it indicates we're becoming more clued-up and respectful.

Turns out researchers didn't actually intend for their findings to paint millennials as prudes who were more enamoured with their iPhones than other people.

In an interview with the International Business Times, associate professor at Florida Atlantic University and study co-author Ryne Sherman said: "While attitudes about pre-marital sex have become more permissive over time, a rise in individualism allows young American adults to have permissive attitudes without feeling the pressure to conform in their own behaviour."

Progressive attitudes toward relationships, intimacy and what constitutes 'sex' also meant people were exploring ways of knowing each other beyond the biblical.

"People are still having sexual and intimate relationships but I think that maybe what the idea of what those are is changing," McNamara says.

Basically, intercourse as the gold standard might be getting knocked off its pedestal.

Nicole Skews is a community liaison and feminist blogger who, at 29, sits at the older end of the millennial cohort.

Skews says the changing milieu that makes it easier for younger people to opt out of sex they're not comfortable with is only half the picture.

"I find it quite hard to believe older millennials aren't having much sex, because I know people who have been married for 10 years who are having sex with five [different partners] on the regular."

People in their mid-late 20s are operating in a world that caters better than ever before to people whose tastes lie outside heterosexual monogamy, Skews says.

"We're starting to feel more empowered around sex and sexuality, and claiming our own preferences.

"I think that's really cool to see people say 'okay. I've only got one life and this is the sort of sex I want to have and these are the sorts of relationships I want to have', and trying to make that happen for themselves in an open and consensual way."

Which brings us back to Tinder and all those saved contacts.

Last Friday I was out with friends, pontificating on social issues with the misplaced confidence several glasses of bubbles brings. As tipsy single people are wont to do, I sent out a couple of texts testing the waters to see where, or which bed, I might end up in later.

One of the mononymous men swung by to pick me up, but by the time we got home I had changed my mind. I was too tired from coming up with the solution to the housing crisis to want to get down.

No sex, please, I'm sleepy.

He tucked me up in bed, kissed me on the forehead and left me to dream.