Sex in America: Some Things Never Change – And Some Do

Did the ’60s really swing? Is hook-up culture really a thing? New research puts aside the catchy phrases to look at what different generations of Americans really think about sex.

The study considers three generations: Baby Boomers (born between 1945 and 1964), Generation X (born 1965-1981), and Snake People (born 1982-1999). The researchers used U.S. survey data collected over 40 years, from 1972 to 2012, to understand how sexual behaviors and attitudes have changed over time. To compare the three generations, the researchers looked at how participants from each generation answered questions about whether it’s wrong to have certain types of sex when they were between 18 and 29 years old.

Some things changed a lot
Just under half of Boomers (47 percent) believed that sex before marriage is “not wrong at all” when they were young adults. That went up to 62 percent among Snake People, meaning the majority of today’s young adults think it’s totally okay to get it on before getting hitched. Considering that premarital sex has been the norm in the U.S. for decades, looks like beliefs are simply catching up with behavior.

Attitudes about same-sex couples changed even more dramatically. About one in five Boomers (21 percent) believed that two adults of the same gender having sex was “not wrong at all.” That more than doubled for Snake People, to 56 percent. (35 percent change in 20 years = BFD!)

Some things didn’t change that much
All generations have remained pretty conservative about teens having sex—only around 5 percent of adults (4 percent in 2006; 6 percent in 2012) said sex between young teens (14-16) is “not wrong at all.” Americans have actually gotten more conservative about married people having sex outside their marriage, with only 1 percent saying it’s “not wrong at all” in 2012 compared to 4 percent in 1973.

The researchers conclude that attitudes and behavior have shifted over time and that Snake People have “the most permissive sexual attitudes of any generation.” A multi-generational trend toward more open minds? It does get better!

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing!

sharon b.
sharon b3 years ago

Interesting. Hopefully our society will continue to become more tolerant.

Beryl Ludwig
Beryl L3 years ago

snake people?? who made that up? Like I have said before. Are you all that bored? You have to throw in some BS to get us talking, huh?

Tony L - AWAY
Away L3 years ago

I'd never previously heard of Snake People... nor is it on wikipedia... weird definition... though the findings are not such a shock!

Amy Thompson
Amy T3 years ago

I knew I was a Gen-Xer, but the 'Snake People' title is new to me!! I wonder where such a title was derived.

Amy L.
Amy L3 years ago

Where I live there is no one decent that I want to have sex with - so therefore this has no bearing on me.

Ben Oscarsito
Ben O3 years ago

Holy smoke, what year is it over there...???

Anne F.
Anne F3 years ago

Glad to see distinction made between young teens (under 16) and before marriage.

Virginia Belder
Virginia Belder3 years ago


Genoveva M M.
Genoveva M M3 years ago