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Let's Talk About Sex: San Diego Study Shows Shifting Attitudes On Premarital Sex

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Let's Talk About Sex: San Diego Study Shows Shifting Attitudes On Premarital Sex
Let’s Talk About Sex: San Diego Study Shows Shifting Attitudes On Premarital Sex GUEST:Jean Twenge, author, "Generation Me"

From fashion to movies to face the posts, a quick look around the culture might make you believe today's young people are the most highly sexed generation ever that appearances are often wrong. According to a new work by -- this generation's attitudes towards sex and sexuality are more casual but that doesn't necessarily mean more promiscuous. Joining me is a psychology professor at San Diego State University and the author of several books including generation me. Welcome back to the show. What questions did you had have that made you want to conduct the study? We are really trying to get a full picture of this generation in terms of psychology and their attitudes and behavior. The natural question is to ask, what are there attitudes around sex and what are there b ehaviors? We looked at attitudes toward premarital sex and homosexual sex and the number of sexual partners that different generations reported as adults. I think another question you are trying to figure out what the results of the survey is it attitudes towards premarital sex and homosexuality have changed across the board on all generations or is the change really focused on this group of young people? Right. That is always the difficult question to answer. We have a date greatest set called the General social survey, American adults of all ages over 18 that goes back to 1972 and with that data set you can use a special statistical technique to separate out what his age in terms of people attitudes and behavior and what is due to an overall change people in overall -- or what is due to growing up and a at a certain time and form and those attitudes usually when you were young. That is a generational effect. We were able to use that technique and found four sexual attitudes and behavior that seem to -- the primary effect was generational. Millennial's or generation me are much more accepting of premarital sex than their grandparents generation. Okay. Let's get our time frames correct. We would talk about millennial's were talking about the generation born in the 80s and 90s and their parents are -- conceivably are boomers? Boomers and the silent generation. Folks born right before the boomers. V-neck from reading your study is seems like the major break in sexual attitudes in the last century actually happened between the baby boomer generation and their parents, is that right? Yeah, you look at the greatest generation who fought World War II and in the silent generation came after them. They had on average two or three sexual partners, at most five in the silent generation and in terms of premarital sex the majority said that's not acceptable behavior. Beginning with the boomers there was a pretty big change. What was interesting to us is that change in attitude a lot of that happened in the 70s which is what you would expect, but not a lot changed in the 80s and 90s . Boomers stayed there in attitudes and generations coming in younger than them but starting in 2000 when m illennial's come in, that is when you see a real uptick until 2008 when acceptance of premarital sex became a majority opinion and now 58% say it's not wrong at all. In the same happened in attitudes towards homosexuality? Very little change up until about 1993. Only about 11% said that was not wrong at all. Starting after that it started to go straight up. A really steep line upwards. Now it's at about 42%. It's not majority opinion yet. Concentrating on the millennial's as you did in this study, it was interesting for me to see the average number of sexual partners that was on average 25 -year-old would have in the Boomer generation as opposed to the millennial generation, millennial's are almost half of what the boomers had. Boomers had about 11 and millennial's have about eight. And yes we controlled for age and statistical technique because -- we took that into account. It went down from about 11 to about eight however that eight is much larger than the two or three. What do you think accounts for that change even though it's not dramatic? That's a good question and always hard to nail down the reason behind these changes. For this a lot of it may have had to do with HIV and AIDS. That is my age group and generation group and I was in high school when AIDS first came on the scene. These generations who were becoming adolescents at the time when AIDS was a reality are showing they are having sex with fewer people so that maybe one thing. And starting to have sex at a leisure age -- later age. -- compared to the early 90s are waiting longer to have sex -- and that is carrying through to this adult sample were you get the lower number. One other possible theory is my co-author has is could be millennial's -- maybe they have a smaller group of people and maybe more noncommitted sex and maybe also a smaller group of people. There was also something in what I read about the study and other idea that perhaps since the millennial generation has been famously you could say coddled with safety first and every safety percussion being taken since they were babies all the way through that perhaps they are just a little more cautious. They were the first generation to be put in car seats and told they could walk to school alone or the park alone. They had more protection at the playground. There parents may be emphasizing this caution and safety more with them and that may be coming out in these choices they're making as a jolts -- adults. -- how does this study on sexual attitudes correspond to some of the overall trends you have seen in this generation? It did seem pretty well. It's a crucial piece of the puzzle. The overall cultural change that has led to this generational change as far as we can tell he's an increase in individualism. That's a cultural system that places more emphasis on the self and less on the rules of the society. Your generation me. That's where the title comes from. Previously we had done a lot of work on generational differences in self views. A sickly millennial's and take 12 forms more likely to see themselves in a positive light. More self-esteem and maybe more narcissism as well. That is kind of the cultural examples of this.You also get this other realm of the aspect of leaving behind social roles so those would be things like we are going to have more tolerance and equality and more support for same-sex marriage is one example. More tolerance for people who are different. That is one of the hallmarks of millennial's. This changing attitude toward sex outside of marriage fits right into that but that is almost a quaint social rule according to this generation. That is something they don't feel the need to follow. And it's sort of the idea that someone can make up there own rules rather than looking to an institution or another organization to tell you what's right and wrong. And that has trade-offs. The upside of more personal freedom but the downside of if it's potentially going to cause harm to someone else or do you because maybe you are not anticipating that. Maybe there is a reason of the social rule is there in the first place. And which social rules fall into that category. Most people would agree the idea that homosexuality is wrong, that is one we clearly need to get rid of. Had he thought about the results of this study in terms of how that might translate into public policy? If you have a generation of people with this more relaxed and more tolerant view of sexuality, how might we see that play out in the larger society? I think we are seeing some of the consequences -- basically we are headed for what Europe looks like. We are going to have more p eople, -- that comes out of this more relaxed attitude toward premarital sex. If mom and dad are still together -- that is not always the case so there are some -- on the more positive side if a generation is growing up with a more open attitude around their bodies and expressing sexuality that could be a good thing. Okay, thank you. I've been speaking with Professor Jean Twenge. Thank you.

A generational shift may be why acceptance of premarital sex and same-sex relationships are at an all-time high, according to a new study from San Diego State University.

Psychology professor Jean Twenge found 62 percent of millennials, ages 18 to 29, think premarital sex is “not wrong at all.” When their baby boomer counterparts were at that age, in the early 1970s, 47 percent felt the same way. Fifty percent of Gen Xers agreed, in the early 1990s.

Even though millennials have more permissive attitudes about sex, the study shows this doesn’t translate into them having more of it. Millennials have on average fewer sexual partners than both Gen Xers and boomers, Twenge said.

"This was the first generation to ride in car seats," said Twenge who wrote "Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled-and More Miserable Than Ever Before." "They grew up with HIV/AIDs. They're cautious."

The decrease in sexual partners could be associated with the "friends with benefits" understanding where friends have sex without ties of commitment.

"This fits in pretty well to the overall picture," Twenge told KPBS Midday Edition on Thursday. "The overall culture change, as far as we can tell, is an increase in individualism. Millenials are more likely to see themselves in a positive light."