Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Celibacy among girls seems to be up a bit: Agnostic has an interesting post at Gene Expression which presents evidence that previous generations of young people were sluttier than this one.

It has seemed the case that many social indicators have at least plateaued, if not improved slightly since the early 90s, but increasingly coarse pop culture does give older people the impression of a continuing slide.

For example, phenomena like Jackass or Eminem leave one with a sense that the march toward the next, even more shocking fad continues apace. One mistake is to assume that young people are what they seem to older people. Fashion always involves a certain amount of the absurd, and once you move out of those years when it's so important to impress peers, one becomes more disinterested, and many fashions then just seem stupid. "Wearing your pants down below your butt? Idiotic. Only a delinquent would do something that irrational. Wearing a thong that everyone sees? Slutty. Only a girl who sleeps with anyone would do that."

What older folks fail to realize is that fashion--even when it seems extreme--is ultimately about show, and is a poor indicator of behavior. I've got a friend who was a headbanger as a teen. He looked like a two-time felon, and all the grownups at the mall were terrified of him. But I've never known a bigger pussycat--it was all pose, and it usually is.

That's what so great about data--it gets past appearances. Which is a nice segue to my purpose--analyzing General Social Survey data to document trends in sluttiness. I list below the percent of males and females ages 18-25 who report having had 5+ sex partners so far, and the percent who have remained celibate:

Percent--1988-1991 average (N = 624)

5+ partners
Males 11.7
Females 1.8

Males 14.0
Females 10.8

Percent--1993-1998 average (N = 1009)

5+ partners
Males 8.2
Females 3.2

Males 15.2
Females 11.2

Percent--2000-2006 average (N = 1,133)

5+ partners
Males 10.8
Females 2.2

Males 14.3
Females 14.1

I'm not surprised to see what basically looks like a plateau, but one encouraging sign is that the number of girls who are remaining celibate appears to be up. I'm damn happy to see it.

By the way, I'm a bit of a cultural declinist, but Agnostic and other young bloggers I've read seem to be targeting Boomers and X-ers. My reference--and for a lot of thoughtful declinists, I think--is not any of the last four decades. It's WWII through the late 50s. I see a steady decline (with important exceptions) since then, with a flattening more recently. (This is a complicated question, of course, since there are so many trends one could choose to look at).

The only reason why I have a little bit of nostalgia--not much--for my childhood and adolescence is because I was raised in a place that was decades behind every place else. In other words, it was a bit like the 50s. It's easy for me to wax nostalgic as people much older than I (Pat Buchanan for example) do because in a weird way I grew up in that.


  1. Following my gnxp comment, the age of marriage (a predictor of accumulated sex partners) has continuously increased, especially for women, and the people entering their 30s in the 2000s have likewise had more sexual partners than people entering their 30s in the 1990s.

    Though I don't believe it, it wouldn't be all that extreme, IMHO, to theorize that the "sexual revolution" didn't even happen, and that sexual behavior of this kind (as opposed to openness on the subject) has changed relatively little during the last century.

    The number of men reporting five or more (much less 100 or more) sex partners changed relatively little before and after the "sexual revolution". What did change was that women began to catch up to men in their self-reports:

    5+ sex partners for 30 year olds
    Born 1933-1942
    Males 38.0%
    Females 2.6%

    Born 1953-1962
    Males 49.0%
    Females 22.4%

    Males 53.7%
    Females 32.6%

    (Top 2 from National Health and Social Life Survey, bottom one from the General Social Survey)

    It is a mathematical absurdity that men in the 1960s were 15x as likely to have 5 or more opposite sex partners than women (this is not an army or prostitute thing).

    Either females are simply lying less and less about their sexual behavior over time, or men in more recent generations are living the lies of their grandfathers.

  2. I wonder how UK data would compare?

    Certainly, in the UK over the past 15 years there has been a huge increase in the frequency of social binge drinking among young women, which is likely to have had some effect.

  3. I think the GSS data on 18 to 25 year-olds are missing what's going on among even younger people, the ones most people really worry about -- high schoolers.

    The YRBS data in the GNXP post are only about 15 to 18 year-olds. They're the demographic that shows almost no herpes too, a pattern that probably wouldn't be as apparent if you looked instead at 18 to 25 year-olds.

    Ha, yeah, I know there are declinists out there who long more for the '50s, but the stuff I'm inundated by and responding to is not from paleocons but mainstream liberals and conservatives.

  4. Anonymous9:11 PM


    You know we might actually be starting to enter the period (we all knew this was going to come) where the kids we see now are primarily (especially the white ones) from religious homes. Religious people have more children than secular ones. The secular birthrate in this nation is probably about 1.5, and the religious one is probably over 2.0. Thus more and more kids are being born to church-going parents over time.

    Ron, I make no bones about it, the birthrates since the middle seventies and eighties have been dropping, especially among the secular. Kids you see now were born around 1990, to women in their mid-twenties usually. So much of what happens in our culture post-MTV is generated and concocted in Noo Yawk and broadcast out over the airwaves. A few (usually gay) advertising execs get to set trends instead of having trends arise organically and slowly making their way across the nations (remember how all new trends used to start in California and migrate eastward over a couple of years back in the day? Thats over, and trends can start within a few weeks now.

    At some point, lower secular birthrates will equate with a more religiouisly obvservant youth unless liberals can just have more secular-minded immigrate in from elsewhere, but that is not what is happening.

  5. Anonymous2:19 PM

    "It is a mathematical absurdity that men in the 1960s were 15x as likely to have 5 or more opposite sex partners than women"

    Not quite an absurdity: if we assume an average of 30-100 or so partners for the 5+ females, the arithmetic can work. Rather unlikely, though.


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