We’re obsessed with sex generally, but lately we’ve become hysterical about young people’s sex lives. If you believed all you heard you would expect to see teenagers in hotpants everywhere rampantly getting off to Rihanna songs; and that the internet had created mini Caligulas who spend their lives sexting chlamydia to one another. Now even Vanity Fair has wrung its hands over the issue, stringing together anecdotes from Tinder-loving teens to conclude that social media has über-sexed their lives.
But I don’t worry that young people are having too much sex. I wish they were! If anything, I worry that they’re not. It’s true that technology has given us sexting, internet dating, chat roulette w*****s, instant hook-up apps, Instaporn and Tumblr feeds of Miley Cyrus twerking in latex. But none of this amounts to an actual shag. In fact, American statistics show that teen sexual activity has been decreasing since the 1980s. In the UK, pregnancy among under-18s is the lowest since records began (in 1969). A recent study at Manchester University found that young people held traditional values and favoured monogamy.
Technology hasn’t ramped up our love lives, it has ruined them, turning sex from rustled sheets and sweaty bonks into virtual performances: sending boys pictures of your boobs, swapping drunk texts, posting sexy selfies on Facebook and watching gifs of Bieber taking off his top. None of which translates into bed.
The twentysomethings I know aren’t banging wildly. They’re less sexually self-assured than my older friends were at their age. They sext with swagger, but in real life they’re hesitant. They flirt on Twitter, but rarely meet up. Maybe on Snapchat they’re hassling each other for phallic pictures, but you can’t get pregnant via an app. “It’s like a game,” my 22-year-old mate told me, flashing Tinder on her iPhone. Her friends use it to “like” boys they fancy (or men they don’t, for a laugh). Has she shagged anyone off it? “No! Duh!” I watch my twentysomething brother obsess over his friends’ lives on Facebook. Go out and shag someone, I tell him. He looks horrified. Because technology shields kids; allows them to act out and self-edit, which is so much less scary than chatting someone up in real life.
Young people savvy to media metanarratives may talk up the sexualisation around them, but they’re not acting on it. Studies find that over-sharing photos on Facebook damages real-world relationships. The more time we spend on social media, the lonelier we become. I wish young people were enjoying their virtual seductions. Instead, they’re at home tweeting, looking up exes on Facebook and googling “I feel alone”.
Krissi Murison is away
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