science of us

Why Are All Stories About Millennials and Sex Like This?

Photo: John Lund/Getty Images

In its latest cover story, The Atlantic asks: “Why Are Young People Having So Little Sex?” The same old answers: porn, masturbation, our families, our schedules, our shame, our lack of courage. Maybe we will go extinct.

And although I know the point of this and other stories like it (and there are a lot of them, like a lot) is ostensibly to help young people — as if we were captive pandas — put down our phones long enough to experience the pleasures of true intimacy, I can’t help but sense a secret undercurrent. Namely, that older people are a little bit psyched at the opportunity to rubberneck our bizarre and seemingly pathetic spectacle of sexlessness and feign concern while also getting a chance to grab the mic and talk about how much they used to get laid back in the day.

No? Okay, maybe not, but if they were I wouldn’t begrudge them that; I’d probably do the same thing myself. If I were that old. And I almost am. As anthropologist Helen Fisher (a sexless-millennials expert/quote staple) told The Atlantic’s Kate Julian:

“The data is that people are having less sex,” she said, with a hint of mischief. “I’m a Baby Boomer, and apparently in my day we were having a lot more sex than they are today!”

As Julian urges (addressing me and my cohort, I suppose): “True, nobody ever died of not getting laid, but getting laid has proved adaptive over millions of years: We do it because it is fun, because it bonds us to one another, because it makes us happy.”

Fair enough — but has an internet joke ever seemed so smart and funny that it left you spiritually breathless? It’s almost like having sex with millions of people at once, lightly.

I started that thought as a joke, but I’m ending it in earnest: I’d argue that while old people might’ve had more sex, young people are making better jokes online. And while both are sources of connection and pleasure (and they’re not mutually exclusive), engaging with internet jokes is arguably less selfish and more thrilling. Given the opportunity to either create a successful meme (alone with my computer) or have the best sex of my life, I’m not sure which I would choose. Actually, yes, I am. Well, no, I’m not.

Anyway, maybe that’s all a crazy aside, but I wanted to end on a positive note after how profoundly unsexy that article made me feel, and I was already feeling pretty unsexy.

I Could’ve Had Sex 3 Times Instead of Reading This Article