Sex Across America: The Millenial Generation

(10/28/13)  As the poet said, “Every generation blames the one before…”  This might have been valid when Mike Rutherford penned that line for a tune in the late 80s, but we may actually be encountering an era where the upcoming generation should be sending out thank you baskets instead of seeking fault, especially when it comes to attitudes about sex and relationships.

The “Millenial Generation” is coming into an adulthood that was preceded by a lengthy period of civil and gender rights struggles–much of which resulted in significant shifts in social values that this new generation benefits from.  Say what you want about how they appear on the surface, but according to data published by the Pew Research Center, it’s a generation that’s much more culturally diverse, more highly educated as compared to previous generations in the same age range and much more connected globally.  As that translates to societal and sexual attitudes, they are the first generation to have a majority view that accepts working moms, same sex parenting and unmarried cohabitation as absolutely routine.

As with all things, there are pluses and minuses to how all of that might play out, of course, but there does seem to be room for optimism.  As Baby Boomers are winding down and sucking Social Security dry while Generations X & Y are stumbling through middle age, Millenials–being the first fully digital bunch–are now slowly emerging as the social and economic drivers of the future.  All of the major pieces to position themselves as one of the most significant generations in history are in place.  The issue is:  What will they do with all that’s be given to them?

While predicting the future is always a dicey enterprise (okay, we have the wrist-video-phones that were projected but whatever happened to the rocketpacks we were promised?), it’s pretty clear that regardless of what’s been lined up for them, Millenials fully intend to carve out paths based on their own rules–particularly when it comes to sexuality and relationships.  We covered an example of this a few weeks back when we discussed the burgeoning “hook-up culture” but even that just barely nicks the surface.  Case in point:  The Pew study found that those in the Millenial generation are still generally focused on the institution of marriage, with over 70% saying they want to get married, but trending towards waiting significantly longer to do so than prior generations (comparing the age range of 18-29 with a married rate of 59% in 1960 to about 20% today).  Ultimately–and without any attempt to stick a “good” or “bad” label on such things at this point–it’s often the domino effect that accompanies these kinds of shifts that contributes to unanticipated outcomes, so it will be tremendously important for sex educators and relationship coaches to keep up with–and fully understand–these “new rules” as they become more evident with this group.

Trying to get ahead of that curve may indeed be of some benefit, particularly since the resulting landscape is likely to be much different than what exists today, but falling behind–especially when this generation innately operates at digital speeds–could create an insurmountable gap.  For those committed to sex-positive relationships and education, the time to be proactive is now.  One thing seems pretty certain:  This appears to be a growing case where just because something worked well in the past doesn’t equate to it working in the future.

‘Til Death Do Us Part? Well, Maybe.

(10/21/13)  It’s a question that seems to come up a lot lately:  Has the institution of marriage become obsolete?  In the U.S., you might easily think that’s the case, particularly with all the hubbub in recent years over what even defines a marriage these days along with over 40% of marriages failing.  Yet even with the increasing divisiveness and high failure rate associated to the institution, a significant majority (over 80%)1 of Americans believe the basic concept itself is not outdated.  Is there any actual rationale behind this belief or is it just a matter of stubbornly clinging to a tradition out of blind habit?  Let’s tug at that thread a little and see what unravels.

Pragmatically, modern marriage in America is specifically about the state defining a legal protocol of behaviors regarding property, benefits, legitimacy of children/heirs and rights of survivorship.  Sure, many complicate the matter by factoring in romantic, religious or social elements, but it’s important to remember that for a marriage to be legally recognized, the state has to sanction it through licensing and it has to be performed by someone who has been vested with the power to do so by the state.  In other words, at its most basic level, it’s about the government’s power over people, plain and simple.

Now, there’s certainly no reason why there shouldn’t be certain legal protections for people involved in relationships where livelihoods and other significant responsibilities are at stake, but does that necessarily mean those protections need to occur specifically through the legal proceeding of marriage, per se?  Ah.  Therein lies the sticky wicket–and likely the reason why most still believe in the validity of the concept.  While there are plenty of other strategies for ensuring that relationship participants can enjoy legal protections similar to marriage, none are as simply codified, broadly accepted and generally inexpensive as the original recipe.  For a couple of signatures, a few bucks and a pronouncement from someone fitting the aforementioned state power-vestment thingie, you’re in.  So, what’s the boggle?

The legal aspects may be the ground level and the basis for maintaining the institution, but the “expected behaviors” within the relationship have changed so dramatically within the past 100 years that today’s manifestations barely resemble their predecessors–with the legalities themselves gasping to keep pace.  Male-led, female-nurtured nuclear families have given way to gender irrelevant roles and blended structures (yet it’s interesting to note that women are still significantly favored in child custody scenarios).  Agrarian-heavy lifestyles of the past have been supplanted by industrial and technological market economies that have greatly expanded the opportunities for self-reliance and individual security.  In a growing number of cases, one’s “need for legal protection” is less about the abilities of a chosen partner and more about an individual’s own potential to achieve.  In other words, the dynamics of modern marriages have shifted tremendously away from what was once considered the “traditional” rationale–rendering them obsolete simply through their own evolution.

Dying (or dead) principles and traditions aside, one major positive is that new trends regarding marriage are increasingly based on individual choice.  While the jury may be out as to whether the institution itself and associated legalities are outdated, we think it’s clear that the best chance it has for survival is if it can be increasingly tailored to fit the specific needs of those choosing to be in a given marriage.  Indeed, government should protect, but let’s never forget that it also exists to serve.

1.  World Values Survey:

Let’s Hear it for Eargasms


(10/14/13)  Music can have a tremendous impact on any sexual experience.  As a sensual prompt, some songs can soothe or calm while others can arouse or excite.  The basic physiology of this has to do with the natural release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in response to hearing music, causing an increased feeling of enjoyment.  There have also been studies that suggest music with a range of beats-per-minute that mimic a natural heartbeat produces elevated enjoyment levels in physical activities.  A sense of malaise or boredom may occur with beats in a lower range while someone may feel agitated or tense in response to songs with a higher range.

That said, while the physical part is pretty straightforward, factoring in the emotional is where it gets a little muddled.  For many people, music represents a firm psychological trigger–positively for some songs and negatively for others.  Advertisers capitalize on this significant detail all the time through their use of jingles (you know–those pesky little earworms that you cannot expunge no matter how many times you spit and spin around).  Perhaps it’s emotional manipulation, but it’s also a clear example of how using certain types of music can provoke a specific response.  It works with sex the same as it does with Big Macs.  (C’mon–you know you know all the ingredients.)

Beyond the obvious need to coordinate musical tastes (since, let’s face it: Not everyone gets off on polkas), it’s often important to consider music that helps synchronize specific moods as well.  If one person is feeling mellow while the other is coming off a day-long caffeine binge, this may not be a simple task but it’s pretty obvious that a type of music that normally works well with one mood extreme will likely not have the same effect on a disparate one.  Additionally, it’s not a bad idea to think about the lyrics of a potential selection.  Many songs have wonderfully sexy melodies but do you really think it’ll be a major turn-on if it features passages with violent or misogynistic fare?  All we’re saying is a little preparation goes a long way on this point.

No doubt, it’s an exceptionally individual thing, as it should be with all sexual things, but if you’re looking for suggestions for putting together a “sexy” playlist, there are many places that feature surveys of the “sexiest songs ever” and so forth.  The thing is, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any that have a true consensus though many do feature some pretty comical–and occasionally inane–debates about songs that were included/excluded.  However, and mostly because we’re so committed to going the extra mile for our beloved readers, we dug deeper just for you and managed to uncover one source that actually had a (somewhat) scientific system for ranking the most popular songs about sex:  The American wallet!

Using historical performance (i.e., commercial popularity) data of songs having “something to do with sex” from Billboard Hot 100 lists which have been around since the late 1950s, they came up with the songs listed below.  So, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, we present Billboard’s top 10 sexy songs :

10.  “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” – Rod Stewart (1979)

9.  “Kiss You All Over” – Exile (1978)

8.  “Like A Virgin” – Madonna (1984)

7.  “Do That To Me One More Time” – Captain & Tennille (1980)

6.  “Hot Stuff” – Donna Summer (1979)

5.  “Let’s Get It On” – Marvin Gaye (1973)

4.  “Too Close” – Next (1998)

3.  “I’ll Make Love To You” – Boyz II Men (1994)

2.  “Tonight’s The Night” – Rod Stewart (1976)

And, drum roll—–

1.  “Physical” – Olivia Newton-John (1981)

(Incidentally, an irony of the above date pattern is that the data dump used for it is actually fairly recent–compiled after the 2010 stat collection period.  While we intended to present the information to illustrate a point somewhat humorously, it does make us wonder–well, a little.  How about you?)

Granny and Gramps Still Got Their Groove On

(10/7/13)  It may not be something people think about often, but get used to it:  The elderly in America today are a pretty frisky bunch.  Averaging several studies carried out during the past five years, about 75% of adults aged 60-85 are not only active sexually, but a large portion also categorize themselves as “frequently active” and/or including “alternative activities” in their sex lives.  This might seem to be a bit counter-intuitive on the surface, but then again, real life often is.  The bottom line:  It’s good news.

Setting aside the associated social and political issues for a moment, one of the main reasons why some may be surprised at the high numbers is the prevailing assumption of diminished physical abilities among the elderly, particularly towards the higher end of the age range studied.  While that may have been a perfectly reasonable conclusion to draw in the past, recent advances in medicine and general care (not to mention our friend, the little blue pill) have resulted in Americans maintaining their sexual health and vitality well beyond previously considered age norms.  Additionally, it’s been found that maintaining a more active sex life sustains vibrancy, offers ongoing physical exercise and counters many negative psychological impacts associated to aging.  The emotional benefits in particular are significant when it comes to both an overall sense of well being as well as a positive physical state.  While it’s true that frequency does tend to decrease as age increases, a consensus among these studies found that interest remains high throughout the range.

Another reason why there may be some astonishment is simply because, until recently, there have been very few in-depth studies done on elder sex.  Politically, it’s been more popular to fund projects that focus on sex among teens and young adults.  Socially, there’s a general reverence for seniors that stereotypically disrupts any notion that they might actually be sneaking off for a little happy-nekkid-pagan-dancin’.  In other words, any perception that seniors have long since stopped getting jiggy with it is simply because, generally speaking, no one asks them.  The irony is that the few studies done report that senior citizens are genuinely quite happy to participate and they’re exceptionally forthcoming in their responses; most noting that the response rates were higher among seniors than any other age range.  Take that, youngins’.

Frankly, although it’s a subject that doesn’t usually come up as a priority when looking at sex trends in America, a highly sexed elderly population shouldn’t be so surprising given the specific life experiences of today’s seasoned generation.  For example, a 75 year old today likely developed their sexuality during the 1960s–an era of “free love” and social rebellion.  Having come through that wild ride of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll, it really shouldn’t be that much of a stretch to believe that they’re just as into it all now as they were then.  Perhaps it’s absurd to go so far as to claim that 80 is the new 20, but it’s great to know that “young at heart” actually has some real meaning today.

Yes, it may be a little uncomfortable to think about Grandma and Grandpa “that way” but too bad.  Apparently they could care less about what anyone thinks.  And to that we say:  Good for them.  Twice.