It seems that nearly every day a politician or activist wags their finger at our generation and tells us we are the most promiscuous group of kids yet. From the way they speak, you would think that ripped condom wrappers fall from the sky like snowflakes as people plow their driveways. Personally, I believe the average middle-class teenager or young adult is living in one of the most sexually conservative generations in decades.
In the 1930s, young people were starved to have sex. A decade later, they had to save their energy to fight Hitler. The 1950s saw enough sexual repression to cause a backlash after a decade of everyone trying to live the Beaver Cleaver life. The sexual revolution rocked the 1960s and 1970s. These two decades produced some of the most sexually liberal generations in American history. I have yet to see a “love-in” on UC Irvine’s property.
It was not until the AIDS epidemic reached horrifying proportions in the mid-1980s that people began to sober up. Still, AIDS was something no one wanted to talk about, and most people were either misinformed or simply did not know. Not until celebrities began to reveal that they had AIDS did people begin to practice safer sex.
Besides sweeping social trends, it is important to note what the masses were watching. Thirty years ago, the sexual romp “Animal House” was born. It showed college guys who resorted to climbing ladders, risking their lives, lying and committing statutory rape all in the name of sexual intercourse. A few years later, “Porky’s” and “Revenge of the Nerds” repeated the process. Flash forward and “American Pie” followed the same formula. Today, our greatest sex comedy is about a 40-year-old virgin who gets a special ending. Another movie begins with a one-night stand that gets a woman pregnant, and the man decides to stay. These comedies are gross, vulgar and feature some of the same immature behavior as their predecessors, but seem to put more emotional meaning behind sex.
Our generation also has the benefit of having more information about safe sex, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases than any other preceding it. If you look at the entire world, the societies with the easiest access to contraceptives and information almost always have lower rates of teen pregnancy, abortion and sexual diseases. It stands to reason that our generation would be the most sexually responsible in comparison to previous generations that were less informed.
The allegations that our generation is sexually obsessed and more promiscuous than any before are based mainly on our ability to put sex out in the open.
Fashion for women has become undeniably more scandalous in recent years. News flash: the breasts were there before women decided to show cleavage, and men still wondered what they looked like. Today, men get to know. Besides, there is not a huge difference between the cleavage I see daily on campus and the cleavage revealed by corsets in Victorian England, except this time women are not being crushed by whale bones. Yay, women’s rights!
Speaking of the advancement of women, the sexual debate cannot be discussed without addressing the relatively new acknowledgement that women have a sexual appetite. Women always knew they wanted sex; it is only recently that men like me have discovered that the desire is equal on both sides. Ladies, you should not have let “Sex and the City” spoil the secret. Women were having sex long before women were talking about wanting sex. Fortunately, today a woman is finally able to talk about making the beast with two backs without being branded a whore. It’s the same principle as the clothes. It was going on before; it is just more out in the open now. If anything, this increase in openness gives women more power in the decision of when and with whom to have sex.
Perhaps the sexually conservative activist would then point toward the media. Porn is doing more business than ever. The occurrence of sex on television is at its highest in history. At one point, movies were forbidden from showing a man and a woman in the same bed. Today, an R-rated movie without Will Smith’s butt or Jennifer Connelly’s nipples is an extreme disappointment. First, just because sexuality has become considerably more marketable does not mean that sex is on the rise.
Second, there is a considerably simple explanation for all of this.Our generation is more comfortable talking about sex than its predecessors. There was a time when the top of a woman’s head in public was considered blasphemous.
Yet, babies still seemed to get made. People have not changed over the last 3,000 years. The instincts we feel are essentially the same as people 20,000 years ago. The only difference between us and cavemen is our iPods—we are just armed with more information, freedom of speech and resources.
Kevin Pease is a fourth-year psychology and social behavior major. He can be reached at