Generation Chaste: Why Are Millennials Are Having Less Sex?

Mobile phones, busy work schedules, gym sessions... What's behind the sex slump, asks Anna Silverman.

Millennials having less sex

by Anna Silverman |
Updated on

It usually happens towards the end of a night, after a bottle of wine or two, when one thing leads to another during a heart to heart... I’m talking about the hushed conversations that take place between friends about how little sex they are having.

Research suggests that Millennials are going through what The Atlantic has called ‘a sex recession’, with the most recent research by the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal-3) suggesting young Brits are having less sex now than the generation before them did at the same age. After years of fights for sexual liberation, now that we can order sex like Ubers from our phones, it’s hard to believe the ‘hook-up generation’ are far from ripping off each other’s clothes.

Zoe May, 33, an author from Oxford, is single and says the longest she has gone without sex is two years. She finds dating distracts from her goal of focusing on her career. ‘I’ve worked really hard over the past few years and had five book deals; I’ve put my work first,’ she says. ‘I was on dating apps for a while, but they’re really time-consuming. If I wanted casual sex it wouldn’t be hard to find, but I find the men on apps predatory and I’d rather wait for someone who is higher quality and makes me feel good about myself.’

She thinks people her age are fussier than they used to be. ‘You feel like there is an endless amount of choice, and then dream images on Instagram make you feel you’re entitled to that perfection,’ she adds.

Her 29-year-old friend is a virgin and she’s not surprised to hear people aren’t having sex all the time. Even if she had met someone she wanted to settle down with, she believes a lot of people her age don’t have the time for a serious relationship. ‘Sometimes, even friends stress me out when they start texting me too much,’ she says. ‘I think you have to prioritise; do you want a relationship or a successful career? I can’t imagine juggling all of it right now.’

Daisy Frank*, 31, an architect, has been single for six years and last had sex 11 months ago. ‘I don’t really want to tell my friends in case they pity me. But I don’t really miss it,’ she says. ‘I have a full life and I had too many bad dates in my early twenties. If single people aren’t having sex as much now, it’s probably a backlash to the awful sex we had when Tinder first started. I’m not willing to put up with something average any more. I’d rather focus on other areas of my life.’

And it’s not just singletons – what seems to be common among those in relationships is finding the time, energy and headspace to fit sex in. Anneke George, who works in fashion, and her boyfriend, Rob Lawrenson, cite being busy, a clash of schedules and the fact there’s always something good to watch as getting in the way.

‘By the time we finish work, go to the gym, have a shower and make dinner, we’re knackered. All we want to do is watch an episode of something. We’re in the middle of about three series at any one time,’ says Anneke, 30, from London.

‘I’m a night owl and Rob’s an early bird. By the time we get to bed, Rob’s already stressing about the next morning when he has to get up at 6.30am,’ she adds.

The fact our lives are now lived online doesn’t leave much room for human connection, either. Last year, a study by global tech solutions firm Asurion found those who take their phones to bed with them are twice as likely to use it rather than engage romantically with their partner. ‘Our heads are so much busier because we have so much constant stimulation now,’ says Rob. ‘It’s a lot harder to clear your head and be in the moment these days.’

Anneke adds, ‘Sometimes, I’ll do text admin in bed, and by that point Rob might have fallen asleep. We’re doing up our house at the moment and I’m constantly putting pressure on myself to order things and get tasks done straight away. I prioritise these things, thinking we’ll have more time together once that’s out of the way, but then there’s always more life admin to do.’ Harley Street psycho-sexologist Dr Karen Gurney at The Havelock Clinic sees a lot of couples and single people who are concerned they’re not having enough sex. Millennials make up the majority of her clients. ‘Certainly, in my clinic in central London, I see a lot of people whose lives

are too busy to fit sex in,’ she says.

Referring to the Natsal study, she adds, ‘It could also be that women, especially, are feeling more empowered to not have sex when they don’t want to and that’s actually a good thing.’

Dr Gurney believes people, especially couples in long-term relationships, need to make space to cultivate desire. But with busy lives, there’s only a few minutes here and there where sex can happen over the course of a week. Add to that the chances of both people feeling in the mood at the same time and the forecast doesn’t look great.

But she offers a solution. ‘Distraction is one of the key elements getting in the way of people’s enjoyment of sex, so we often recommend mindfulness,’ she says. ‘It helps you be in the moment. I’m not into the idea of scheduling time for sex, but scheduling time away from distraction to connect is often what people need in order to nurture desire.’

Maybe we’ve always over-reported the amount we have sex and recent studies are now revealing an accurate picture. ‘Someone once told me people are always having less sex than they say they are because there is a stigma attached to it,’ says Ellie Neville, 30, who works in PR. Like Annie, Rob and Zoe, she says a busy life gets in the way of sex with her fiancé, James*.

‘If we say to our friends, “We only had sex once last month,” people would assume our relationship was on the rocks.’

A recent preoccupation with tracking her sleep using an app was also to blame, before Ellie started leaving her phone in the kitchen overnight. This made room for them to focus on each other more in bed. ‘How often we have sex comes and goes: people worry when they have a dry spell, but it’s just a phase of life and we won’t always be working as hard as we are right now,’ she points out. ‘As long as it comes from a place of having other things going on in our lives, rather than us losing interest in each other, I think it means we’ve got nothing to worry about.’ Rob says he and Anneke are starting to realise they don’t need to have sex all the time to keep the other person happy. ‘We have so much to do already, the added pressure we felt, that we had to have sex, sometimes made it feel like a chore,’ he says. ‘The more we realise it’s fine to just do it when we feel like it, means we can relax.’

Whether we have sex every night or once a year, the only thing that matters is whether we are having less than we’d like to – and no one appears to be gagging for more. The fact we’re not settling for bad sex can only be a good thing.

And, as we increasingly understand the importance of switching off from the digital world, perhaps an end to this ‘recession’ is just around the corner? In the meantime, it would seem we’re far too busy to think about sex for a minute longer.

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us