How Millennials Are Changing Relationships

“Millennials don’t want relationships,” I read this morning on social media.

And, admittedly, my first response to this was something akin to: oh great, is this another thing millennials are killing, along with diamonds, golf, and napkins? Are millennials responsible for the death of relationships as well?

Once my initial reaction was out of the way, I started to think about this claim a little deeper. I mean, in this culture of Tinder and social media dating, you are more apt to hearing people wonder about what the future of dating is. So is there some validity to this claim that millennials don’t want romantic relationships, in a society where social contact is established through a screen?

As a millennial myself, do I want a relationship?

Well, yes. Someday. It just isn’t high on my list of priorities right now.

I am twenty-three years old, and right now, my life is a little bit rocky. I’m in the process of figuring out how I can move to another city. I’m trying to decide what I want to do with my life. My career and my pursuit of my dreams have sort of taken priority for the past few years, as I learn to navigate through this crazy, little world that I inherited. And, yeah, I would eventually like a relationship, but I don’t necessarily see myself settling into an image of domesticity, at least not any time soon. Right now, I’m still trying to find myself.

And so are the majority of my fellow-millennial friends. I have friends who have jumped from relationship to relationship, not because they don’t want to stay in one, but because they’re still learning and figuring themselves out. I have friends whose every romantic encounter is a Tinder hookup, because they aren’t emotionally prepared to settle down yet. I have friends who settle into happy, serious relationships, and then a few months later, break up and post all about the whole experience on social media.

And, personally, I don’t see any of this as a sign that millennials don’t want a relationship. It’s just that many of us are still very young. And a lot of this is pretty par for the course of young people, social media or no social media.

So then why do I keep hearing people say that millennials don’t want relationships, or that millennials don’t know how to make lasting connections with people?

Well, 1 – I think that this a pretty common complaint for every new generation of youths. Let’s face it: elders just like to complain about us. And, considering young people are consistently trying to find themselves and explore their environment, whether it’s the 1960’s or the age of Tinder, this is probably going to continue being a complaint for many, many years to come. The baby boomers will say it about us. The millennials will say it about the next generation. It’s just the circle of life.

But I also think that there’s another side to all this, and it’s something that I touched on briefly earlier: the definition of what a relationship is is, slowly but surely, changing.

Divorce rates in America peaked at about 40 percent in 1980, and although this number has been declining ever since, this does mean that many millennials grew up in households where their biological parents were split up. We are the generation of step-parents and single parents, and we are also the generation that grew up with both parents working outside of the house.

Perhaps (at least partly) because of this, it is estimated that the marriage rate might drop to 70 percent in millennials (compared to 91 percent of baby boomers).

Yep, that’s right. We’re killing the wedding industry too. Take that, heteronormative marriage ideals.

But it isn’t just the divorce rate that might make millennials wonder about marriage. As we talk more and more about the role of women in our society, women are encouraged toward pursuing careers and building lives outside of the home. More and more, we’re moving away from this idea that the only thing a woman can be is a wife and mother.

As Time put it, “millennials want jobs and education, not marriage and kids”. In fact, according to them, 55 percent of millennials said that marriage and kids aren’t important.

This goes back to what I was saying before: relationships just aren’t a priority for me right now. I want a satisfying career and education, and as a woman in 2018, I have more freedom than ever to get that. A satisfying relationship can come later, when I’m a little bit more adjusted and sure of myself.

And not only that, relationships are becoming increasingly less weirdly Stepford with time. We are talking more and more about such issues as heteronormativity, and how harmful that can become. Same sex relationships are becoming more and more accepted within society, meaning that today’s youth are more open minded than ever. Only 65 percent of millennials identify as exclusively heterosexual, and already, this is becoming an outdated statistic, as only 48 percent of Americans between the ages of 13 to 20 identify as exclusively heterosexual. According to the survey conducted by the J Walter Thompson Innovation Group, a significant amount of today’s youth identify as bisexual.

I also don’t think that such societal conversations as the role of polyamory or sex positivity should be ignored, as these are changing the way that we, as today’s youth, view relationships.

And I’m really not trying to say that any of this is a negative thing. On the contrary, I think it’s amazing. I think that millennials these days have more freedoms when it comes to relationships than any generation has ever had before, and I’m really curious to see where we’ll take these freedoms as more of us grow older and more mature and more prepared to settle into relationships (or not settle into relationships, whatever makes each individual person happy).

I think that, for too long, relationships have had a solid structure that each and every person is expected to follow, or at least pretend to follow. And I think that this structure works for some people, but not for everyone. And right now, millennials are creating the freedom to build new relationships that work better for each individual person. And is this a trend that will continue? Or are we destined to become the stubborn, old curmudgeons, complaining about the next generation and their inability to form healthy, normal relationships? That, I suppose, only time will tell.

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What is Sex Positivity?

As a society, we have pretty complicated opinions when it comes to sex.

We want to see it constantly – in our advertising, in our movies, in our music – but we want to see it subtle, full of euphemisms, and on our own terms. We don’t like it when it’s too explicit. We don’t like it when it challenges our preconceived notions of heteronormativity. And we don’t like it when it forces us to think of people who we do not personally find sexually attractive as sexual beings.

In other words, we like to find individuals sexy, but we do not necessarily like to think of them as sexual.

Is it any wonder that we have a difficult time understanding the concept of sex positivity?

I’ve often seen sex positive individuals mocked as being aggressively sexual nymphomaniacs who just want to have non-monogamous, kinky, pansexual sex with everything that moves. I’ve heard it said that, not only do sex positive individuals fall into this stereotype, but they want you to fall into this stereotype as well; if you aren’t comfortable having sex with everyone, if you aren’t comfortable talking about sex in great, almost disgusting detail with every individual you ever come across, then you aren’t sex positive enough.

Oddly enough, I’ve only ever heard this opinion raised by people who do not identify as sex positive.

So what does it mean to be sex positive? I mean, it’s totally possible in our hush-hush-wink-wink society of closed doors and whispered euphemisms that you might have heard this word before, but were too embarrassed to ask what it meant.

Well, acting as a sex positive individual looks different for everybody, but what this essentially boils down to is a few common beliefs.

Sex positivity is a subsection of feminism. That isn’t to say that every feminist is sex positive. That isn’t to say that feminism is only about sex positivity. But, generally speaking, sex positivity tends to be regarded as falling under that same umbrella of liberating women or other marginalized people.

Because, historically speaking, it’s been women who are both uncomfortably sexualized and denied the opportunity to so much as speak about sex (I mean, 66% of women aged 18 to 24 don’t even feel comfortable saying the word ‘vagina’, even to a doctor; whereas the ‘penis game’ is fun for the whole family).

But that isn’t to say that women are the only people who would benefit from a sex positive society. In fact, we all would.

What sex positivity essentially means is that we, as a society, need to get more comfortable with the idea of sex – in all of its forms.

We need to become comfortable talking about sex. We need to become comfortable teaching our children about sex – because too few children are. 71% of Americans will have sex by the time that they are 19 years of age, but only twenty states require sex education to be taught at all. And, hell, even when it is taught, the actual information tends to be lacking. Only thirteen states require the sex ed that is taught to be medically accurate, meaning that in thirty-seven American states, people are walking around with either no education in sexuality, or medically inaccurate education in sexuality.

What I remember most from my own sex ed class is my teacher laughing uncomfortably until she was red in the face (I got an A in that class).

This means that children are going out and having sex without fully understanding what they are doing or the possible repercussions that could come from it (like STIs or pregnancy).

In fact, education on sexuality is so poor that, to this day, there are many people who are still confused about what consent is, or how to ask for it from a partner. And this is a huge problem.

But sex positivity is about more than simply educating children. It’s about allowing people to express their sexuality in whichever way they feel comfortable.

Do you want your every sexual experience to be a kinky, pansexual orgy? That’s totally fine; go out and do that.

Do you want to have vanilla sex with one individual for your entire life? Cool. Do that.

Do you want to never, ever, ever have sex because the very thought makes your stomach curl? Great. Don’t feel pressured to have sex. You’re cool the way you are.

As I mentioned before, in our current climate, we are weird about sex. We don’t want to hear about it, but we at least want to know that you’re doing it, and doing it ‘correctly’. If you’re sleeping with multiple partners, then you run the risk of being labelled a ‘slut’, a ‘whore’, ‘cheap’, ‘easy’, ‘frivolous’ – and as such, you are dismissed as a person. If you identify as asexual, then you’re constantly assaulted with comments such as, “oh, you just haven’t found the right person yet”.

But true sex positivity does not uphold any of that. True sex positivity is about allowing people the information that they need to decide how they feel about sex, and then the freedom that they need to explore it however they choose.

You should feel allowed to explore your sexuality. You should feel like it’s okay to have many sexual experiences, with many different people, and you should also feel like it’s okay to not have sex. Whatever you want to do should be accepted as totally fine.

End of day, sex positivity is about creating a world where sex is not a shameful thing. Where being a sex worker is a valid way to make money, if that’s what you genuinely want to do. Where women are allowed to wear a hijab or a mini, mini, mini skirt, and feel the same level of confidence and acceptance. Where men are allowed to wear pants or a mini, mini, mini skirt, and feel the same level of confidence and acceptance. Where being monogamous and non-monogamous and asexual is all totally fine.

End of day, sex positivity is about being allowed to explore who you are sexually, and feeling okay in that. Feeling like you won’t be judged. Feeling like you have the right information to do it safely. And sex positivity is for everyone – male, female, transgender, gender non-conforming, straight, gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, demi-sexual, or whatever-kind-of-sexual-you-want-to-identify-as.

End of day, that is all sex positivity is.

Two Paths: The Virgin or The Whore

The way that many people talk, it would seem as though all women reach a fork in the path at some point of their lives, one that forces them to choose between two options.

They can choose the path of sexuality, and this one comes with countless assumptions about who they are and what they are capable of. Women who express their sexuality are automatically connected with stupidity and frivolity. They are useless women, whores, really. They are the sort of woman that no one wants to be or be with. They are women who are defined solely by the fact that they express sexuality, because from the way that many people talk, they are incapable of thinking beyond their own vagina.

Or they can choose the second path: the path of intelligence and education. These are the sort of strong, modern women we should all strive to be. They are respectable, modest, sexual only for their long-term boyfriend or husband behind closed doors. They do not partake in one night stands, they do not explore their sexuality, and most people would not even guess that they feel any sexual desire.

These two women are represented as binary opposites: the good and the bad, the virgin and the whore. The problem with this, however, is that these binary opposites are trying to describe people, and people are not as simple as all of that.

The idea that women who explore their own sexuality are stupid, useless, and undesirable is an unfair generalization. It relies on the very old-fashioned idea that women should not be in charge of their own pleasure – which these women are. In fact, in some cases, these women are more liberated than the alternative. These are women who know what they want, who pursue what makes them feel good, and there’s nothing wrong with that, and neither does that make them stupid. It just makes them human.

And sometimes, the alternative, the ‘good’ woman who represses her sexuality, might be a woman who has internalized patriarchal ideas. She might think herself ‘better’ than her more sexually active counterpart directly because she isn’t ‘the whore’. She’s the good woman who caters to her man’s needs before her own.

But at the same time, this ‘fork in the road’ that people discuss just doesn’t exist. There are not two separate roads that a woman must choose between – there are more like multiple, meandering paths that sometimes intersect or branch off. Women are not ‘virgins’ and ‘whores’ – they are people, who find their comfort and pleasure in all sorts of things.

Some women are not comfortable with or liberated by sex, and that does not say anything about who she is as a person. It just means that she isn’t comfortable.

Some women are not comfortable with or liberated by sex, but they still enjoy flirting, or dressing in revealing clothing. And that, too, is perfectly fine.

Some women enjoy sleeping around while they’re single, but accept monogamy while they’re in a relationship.

Some women have multiple sexual partners even while they’re in a relationship.

Some women have a different relationship to sex depending on what is going on in their lives at the moment.

Women are not one thing or another. They are a massive group of people defined by countless ways of being. Some women feel more comfortable expressing their sexuality one way, some another, and both types should feel equally as free to express themselves without shame.

Because at the end of the day, it does not matter how many partners you have had or how you dress – none of that means anything about who you are. All that matters is that you are in charge of your own sexuality and that you feel comfortable living the way that you choose.