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Sex in America: Some things never change - and some do

Boomers, GenX'ers, Millennials...How do different generations feel about sex?

Did the ‘60s really swing? Is hookup culture really a thing? New research puts aside the catchy phrases to look at what different generations of Americans really think about sex.

The study considers three generations: Baby Boomers (born between 1945 and 1964), Generation X (born 1965-1981), and Millennials (born 1982-1999). The researchers used U.S. survey data collected over 40 years, from 1972 to 2012, to understand how sexual behaviors and attitudes have changed over time. To compare the three generations, the researchers looked at how participants from each generation answered questions about whether it’s wrong to have certain types of sex when they were between 18 and 29 years old.

Some things changed a lot

Just under half of Boomers (47%) believed that sex before marriage is “not wrong at all” when they were young adults. That went up to 62% among Millennials, meaning the majority of today’s young adults think it’s totally okay to get it on before getting hitched. Considering that premarital sex has been the norm in the U.S. for decades, looks like beliefs are simply catching up with behavior.

Attitudes about same-sex couples changed even more dramatically. About one in five Boomers (21%) believed that two adults of the same gender having sex was “not wrong at all.” That more than doubled for Millennials, to 56%. (35% change in 20 years = BFD!)

Some things didn’t change that much

All generations have remained pretty conservative about teens having sex—only around 5% of adults (4% in 2006; 6% in 2012) said sex between young teens (14-16) is “not wrong at all.” Americans have actually gotten more conservative about married people having sex outside their marriage, with only 1% saying it’s “not wrong at all” in 2012 compared to 4% in 1973.

The researchers conclude that attitudes and behavior have shifted over time and that Millennials have “the most permissive sexual attitudes of any generation.” A multi-generational trend toward more open minds? It does get better!

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