New Study Shows the Millennial ‘Hookup Culture’ Is a Myth

A young, millennial couple holding hands.

Millennials may have been raised with the ease and accessibility of dating apps, but that doesn’t mean they’re out there having sex left and right or are experts at dating and relationships. In fact, according to a new Harvard report, millennials often feel clueless about how to even begin a healthy dating relationship, often leaving them anxious about how to develop one.

The study, which polled 3,000 individuals aged 18-to-25 from across the U.S. about their attitudes on sex and relationships, also made another startling revelation about the romantic lives of millennials: they’re having way less sex than we think.

According to researchers, we tend to “greatly overestimate” the hook-up culture of millennials. This misconception is only doing more harm than good to young people, as it’s impeding their ability to navigate real dating relationships, while also forcing them to deflect the perception that they’re all about casual sex.

“We hope that this report is a real wake-up call,” Dr. Richard Weissbourd, lead author of the study, said in a statement. “While adults, and parents in particular, wring their hands about the ‘hook-up culture,’ research indicated that far fewer young people are hooking up than is commonly believed.”

So why are Millennials so “awk” about dating? Below are a few theories that might explain the dating world of millennials.

Too Many Options
Online dating, which is supposed to streamline the dating experience, might actually be complicating it for an inexperienced Millennial. With a potential match from a dating app easy at the ready, there’s a millennial mindset that another “better” option is always available. Meaning Millennials may not be as eager to invest in another person because they know there are plenty of fish in the sea.

Too Much Oversharing
Millennials are more comfortable sharing and talking about themselves, as evidenced by social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, and Facebook. They may feel camaraderie with others as they commiserate over cheating exes and lame lovers, but they are failing to reconcile that Internet connection with an IRL one?

Too Risky
Another study, this one from Florida Atlantic University, found that more and more young adults are forgoing sex. Dr. Ryne Sherman, the study’s co-author, believes that Millennials might be more cautious than previous generations. They grew up with AIDS awareness and sexual education, which might make them more hesitant to hook up. They also don’t do as many drugs or smoke as much as their parents or grandparents did.

Too Little Parental Support
When it comes to navigating their relationships what many wish for is that they’d grown up with their parents giving them better examples of how to do so. According to the Harvard study, a high percentage of young people want guidance from parents, mentors, or trusted adults when it comes to developing relationships. However,  according to the study, “Many parents may not see providing guidance on romantic relationships as their role, not know what to say, or feel hobbled in these conversations because of their own romantic failures.”

“Helping young people develop the skills to maintain caring romantic relationships and treat those of different genders with dignity and respect also helps strengthen their ability to develop caring, responsible relationships at every stage of their lives and to grow into ethical adults, community members, and citizens.”

With more than half of U.S. marriages ending in divorce, it doesn’t appear that many of the parents of Millennials know how to develop a healthy and committed relationship either. This might explain a lot about the dating dilemma of a Millennial. They’re not actually cavalier as we thought them to be—they just want to have the healthy love they may not have gotten an example of while growing up.

And then there’s always the explanation that Millennials are simply younger, haven’t lived as long, and therefore don’t have the knowledge or experience needed to find and nurture healthy relationships. They need to live more, have their hearts broken and break some hearts, make mistakes, and experience what it is to truly care for someone in order to learn what makes human relationships so complicated, worthwhile, and amazing. (Oh wait, isn’t that what we all need to do? Isn’t that something all people of all ages and generations continue to struggle with?)

By debunking the myth that Millennials and young people only want to hookup, and getting rid of this idea that they’re some kind of technology-crazed, pleasure-seeking race of humans, we might just help everyone out. In many ways, we are a product of our times and our environment molds who we become, but people will always seek out other people and close relationships with them. Millennials want the same things that everyone wants. They’re just figuring out how to find them.

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