The Pew Research Center clumps people born between 1981 and 1997 into the Millennial generation.
I (Jeremiah) reluctantly accept my place in this category.
Although Forbes recently complimented older millennials (including myself), reminding the Internet that we're a group of well-educated individuals with low unemployment rates, wiser spending habits, and successful relationships with credit, considering many of us are adequately paying off student debt, Millennials have developed a reputation for being lazy, bratty, and self-absorbed.
I suppose I can understand how we received some of these labels. Consider some of the things that were developed in the 1980s and 90s. The Nintendo. Which morphed to the Super Nintendo, then the N64. Which then morphed into the Playstation/XBox wars. All of which were outdone by Sega Genesis and Dreamcast products. (Hot take.) Mobile phones. Car phones. The ubiquitous pager. Portable CD players. Windows 95. I could go on.
The field of technology exploded both in productivity and advertising strategies during the 80s and 90s. While marketing methods differed over time, from television ads to online and email banners, their message was the same: Your life can improve exponentially with (insert product here).
And we (and more importantly, our parents) were the guinea pigs and test dummies for these campaigns. I remember celebrating with my family when we subscribed to Prodigy--our first contact with the World Wide Web. I remember the anxiety of discovering that many of my friends in high school had pagers, car phones, and the new-fangled cellular phones and I didn't. I felt uncool, like I was left behind. I imagine that anxiety gets magnified by ten when you're a parent who only wants better for their child than what they had. Marketers definitely caught (and continue to catch) onto that anxiety.
We were the first generation to grow up under a global microscope. We discovered our voices through emotional rants on MySpace and experimenting with profile pages on AOL Instant Messenger, all for the whole world to see. We watched as news sources increasingly sold (and continue to sell) messages of turmoil and anxiety, often about our generation, in the expanded formats of talk radio, cable news, and blogs.
We learned a series of paradoxical messages:
You have the freedom to do/be anything you want to do/be.
I suppose every generation in America has dealt with some manifestation of this paradox; Millennials' version includes car seats, helmets when you ride your bike, the TSA, trigger warnings, and helicopter parents.
These messages don't have to be paradoxical. I, for one, am glad that car seats exist, particularly when I slam on my brakes while driving around Boston. Physics tells us that even if I don't get in a car accident, a 30-pound person is going to go flying unless they're strapped in.
But they are often paradoxical, and we find this most frequently when talking about sexual behaviors of Millennials.
Millennials are hypersexual. We have the freedom to do anything (or in this case, anyone) that we want to do. Take Vanity Fair's 2015 expose of the Tinder and hookup culture:
"It’s a balmy night in Manhattan’s financial district. Everyone is Tindering. The tables are filled with young women and men who’ve been chasing money and deals on Wall Street all day, and now they’re out looking for hookups. Everyone is drinking, peering into their screens and swiping on the faces of strangers they may [or may not] have sex with later that evening."
The introduction of online pornography, the exposure of kink and BDSM communities, and coinciding decrease of marital/increase of cohabiting relationships seem to funnel this narrative about the hypersexuality of Millennials.
The reality, by the way, is that Millennials are having less sex than in generations before, as a NY Times article mentioned today. The significant statistic pulled from the study, research compiled by 25 years worth of evaluation of the General Social Survey: 6% of young adults (people aged 20-24) during the 80s and 90s (so people born in the late 60s and 70s) hadn't had a sexual partner after turning 18. Today, 16% of young adults haven't had a sexual partner after turning 18. 84%, still a very large number, have.
The Washington Post published an article about the same research project, entitling it: "There really isn't anything magical about it: Why more millennials are avoiding sex". They include data that the average Millennial has 8 sexual partners, while the average Baby Boomer had 11 and Gen-Xer had 10.
Which leads us to the paradoxical message:
Millennials are hyposexual. We increasingly live at home with our parents, turn to video games and online forums for our primary social connection, and establish dating connections through virtual methods. We spend our heads buried in our iPhones. We've been introduced (and in some cases subjected to) antidepressants and ADHD-stimulant medications, both of which lower sexual desire.
One of the significant challenges of our generation is the collision between the technological revolution and the larger cultural narrative of "Safety First". Millennials do crave interpersonal and physical relationships, but the anxieties of larger cultural narratives, such as the post-9/11 reaction, the War on Drugs, and the fallout of the recession, that have been passed down from culture to family to individual often have power to dissuade us from adult-like activities.
It's less risky to stay at home with mom and dad than to live on our own and develop our own domestic and financial decisions. It's less risky to build relationships through texting and social media than to rely on face-to-face interactions. It's less risky to vicariously experience our sexual needs through pornography than to ask our partners for what we want.
We millennials come by our anxiety honestly, and it has the power to significantly effect relationships by encouraging avoidance, the lack of clarity in our interpersonal and sexual needs, and distorting realistic expectations. If you'd like help in removing anxiety from your relationships and/or internal thought processes, feel free to reach out to us. Jeremiah Gibson and Stephanie Wallace are our therapists that specialize in working with the developmental tasks of young adults, such as seeking independence and moving through early stages of long-term relationships, and can help through life coaching and couples therapy.