Gen Z, comprising people born in the late 1990s and early 2000s, is seen as the most sexually liberated ever.
But the ‘hook-up’ based dating culture they have created makes intimacy impossible.
A New Sexual Landscape
Why is there such a disaster in sex and relationships, with men and women seemingly more alienated from each other than they ever have been before? There is no shortage of theories, not all of which are politically correct. Many have rightly pointed to the cultural and political mores of western liberal democracies as having been bad for men. Under this regime, and nowhere more than in major cosmopolitan cities, men’s desires have been deprioritized more than they ever have been in history.
Having entered the workplace en masse, women are no longer reliant on men and marriage for financial security. Whether this has been the resounding success it is painted as is a matter for the individual to decide (Although depending on your answer, you may not be able to voice your opinion in public).
Perhaps the single most revolutionary innovation of modernity has been the contraceptive pill, which in tandem with other forms of contraception and liberalised abortion laws has unchained women in the West from the yoke of childbearing. Many men are failing to cope with the sexual marketplace created in the wake of these developments; ‘hypergamy’ is the term they have given to perceived female mate choices in a world where women ration sex out according to their desires and nothing more.
Wherever you stand on these issues, and whether you believe in the concept of a sexual marketplace or not, what is not up for debate is that our culture is more suspicious of male-female communication than any other in living memory. The problem is not just the fault of callous female whim, but it also cannot be explained away by ‘toxic masculinity’. But in order to know the scale of the problem, we need to see some cold hard facts.
There is no shortage of facts and figures to support the notion of a sex recession. In December 2018, an Atlantic cover story lifted the lid on Gen Z’s stagnating sex lives, and the statistics make for awkward reading for these self-styled libertines. In America, the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that between 1991 and 2015, the number of high-school students who had ever had sexual intercourse fell by 13 percent.
Last year, a national Australian survey titled ‘Australia Talks’ asked Gen Zers aged 18-24 how often they had sex. “Never” was the most common answer, reported by 40 percent of respondents. These figures put them well behind Millennials and Gen X, slightly older demographics not themselves known for their romantic exploits. In fact, the surveyed Gen Zers were about as sexually active as Australians over the age of 75. Yikes! Not exactly the company you want to be in as a frustrated twentysomething.
We have seen how science wrenched mastery of women’s bodies away from nature, and put it into their own hands. But contraception is just one way in which technology has drastically altered the romantic playing field. There are other, more obvious ways too.
A recent interview between Stefan Molyneux and businessman Tristan Tate revealed an interesting insight into this conundrum. Tate made his millions in the cam girl industry. He and his brother ran one of the biggest companies managing girls who strip and chat in front of a webcam, charging men by the minute to watch them. Tate has now wound down his involvement in the industry and moved on to other ventures, so was extremely open and honest about the way it works.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the industry is that the core audience, which one may assume to be fiftysomething male divorcees and bachelors, is in fact young men and boys. Tate believes this is because these Gen Z males (and some even younger, ‘iGen’ as some have dubbed them) are the first to live their entire lives in a world where the internet is ubiquitous.
This is not just a product of pornography though, says Tate. It is Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, too. Males of this generation have always interacted with each other, and especially with girls, through the pixelated screen of a smartphone or a laptop. For them, sexual interaction is digital, and is completely inseparable from the internet. They have never had to sheepishly walk across a crowded playground to the girl they like, all their friends stifling laughter, only to be painfully rejected. Instead, they initiate semi-literate emoji-laced written messages with their crush, perhaps progressing onto picture messages or ‘sliding into the DMs’ if things are going well.
All of this only serves to further associate the idea of sex and relationships with digital technology in the minds of these young men, something completely alien to their parents’ childhoods. So when the time comes that hormones start to really rage, and the thousandth identical semi-obscured Snapchat selfie from their sort-of girlfriend is no longer enough, they turn to something real(er).
Cam girls, selected for their youth and beauty as well as their ability to keep up the pretence of insatiable interest in the paying callers across gruelling eight-hour shifts, provide the ultimate visual titillation, if not anything physical. If you really need to pretend the girl is interacting with you, you can pay double rates for a private showing, and if you are an exhibitionist, you can even turn on your own webcam, although the girls understandably hate this — which is why you have to pay extra.
Wanting it both ways
In contrast with their unremarkable sex lives, young people today define themselves politically by their liberal attitudes towards sex and relationships. To them, not only is an anti-abortion or anti-gay marriage stance disagreeable, it is positively monstrous. And those are the fundamentals — everyone now is familiar with Gen Zers’ favourite hobbies of acronym-forming and pronoun-inventing.
In fact, more traditionally minded people could be forgiven for feeling that there is now a direct positive relationship between sexual deviancy and acclaim for heroism. If there are any taboos remaining to Gen Z, one wonders how much longer they will last. A recent scientific article referred to paedophiles as “minor-attracted persons” (MAPs for short). A sign of things to come?
But can you have all this sexual openness and freedom plus meaningful relationships too? Interviews conducted in 2017 with 21 undergraduate students at Western University may elucidate some of their psychology. The participants demonstrated a desire for intimacy, and often discomfort with perceived pressure to be sexually hyper-active. Perhaps Gen Z is depressed because they have had their cake but now want to eat it too.
The greyest generation
What is behind all of this? It is true that young men’s testosterone levels are plummeting, as are their sperm counts, presenting a genuine danger for the fertility rates of major western populations. This could be feeding into the problem too, as could internet pornography and sedentary lifestyles ruining the virility of young men. They are the ones to blame for their own downfall — in a world where so many of them are dropping out to play videogames and troll Twitter in their mythical mother’s basements, any man who gets his act together and dares to venture out and put himself out there socially should find an open field to operate in, sexually speaking. But shockingly few men do this.
Gen Z is also more likely to report as lesbian, gay, and so on. So despite declaring themselves open for business for any and all comers, they still cannot get together. The great irony of their generation is that instead of a never-ending Summer of Love, replete with swinging-sixties fashion and Bacchanalian rock music filling the airwaves, youth culture appears to be modelled more on a Victorian Gothic novel. Gen Z is personified by mannish women and metrosexual men.
Young women wear harsh bowl cuts and baggy overalls in muted greys and browns, bringing to mind the unisex uniforms of the Maoist regime. They wail for the state to assume the role of their personal evening escort, protecting them from wolf-whistlers and knee-touches. Heterosexual men are no better — they preen and prune their artificially softened facial hair in front of a mirror, sculpt and tan their hairless bodies and embrace the helicopter parenting their parents subjected them to well into their thirties.
As with any person who has always had things their own way, Gen Z does not know what it wants. Its members say one thing and do another. If they were not so uneducated they would be the ultimate hypocrites. What they are is the ultimate prudes, masquerading as the coolest young folk ever. Debilitating and self-absorbed, they each live a pathetic online existence as their own personal celebrity. Is it any wonder that they can’t get a girlfriend or boyfriend?
One thing is certain this Valentine’s Day: the cam girls will be working double shifts, and the porn websites can expect to see their traffic spike.
Peter Andrews is an Irish science journalist and writer, based in London. He has a background in the life sciences, and graduated from the University of Glasgow with a degree in Genetics.
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