Millennials had to get creative to become the group that cheats the least
Although she often sleeps with other men, Claudia* has never cheated on her boyfriend. The 27-year-old film producer is in a semi-open relationship with her long-term partner Rob*, a man she met on Tinder a few years back and bonded with over the idea that monogamy is not always what makes a relationship strong. Today, they have an arrangement — they can have sex with other people while the other is out of town, provided the sex is protected and doesn't take place at their house.
Claudia and Rob are the perfect example of a glaring exception to the mistaken view most people have of millennials as insatiable and oversexed trollops. Our generation's gratuitous use of sex apps, high STI rates and rejection of traditional relationship models are typically seen as an indication that our "swipe right" attitude has made us uniquely promiscuous, and it's easy to understand this would lead some to believe that we're more prone to cheating.
Well ... nope.
Current data actually shows that millennials cheat less than their parents and other older generations. Although we like to market ourselves as total tarts on social media, we're actually quite faithful.
However, it’s not because we’re some sort of pious, righteous reboot of a 1600s puritanical nun — we’re definitely still self-satisfying me-pigs. Rather, it’s because technology has given our generation a different experience with dating and love than every other generation before us. Not only has it changed our social norms, but it’s affected our construct of love and sex to the point that the concepts of monogamy and relationships mean a different thing to us than they do to people who grew up knowing what it was like have a landline. We view love, sex and relationships as more fluid than older people do, and we seem to have developed more creative ways to express ourselves sexually that don't necessarily fall into the archetypical boxes of "monogamy" or "cheating."
More specifically, this is largely due to us being more interested in sexually open relationships that allow partners the option to “legally” sleep with other people without it being considered cheating. After all, only about 30 percent of us are okay with being in strictly monogamous relationships, meaning many of us have found viable work-arounds that allow us to stay with the person we care about while simultaneously flexing our biological drive to be with more than just one person. In these types of consensually non-monogamous relationships, cheating is typically defined as breaking a rule that was predetermined by a couple — for example, having sex with someone's friend who they specifically said was off-limits — but if sex with other people isn’t a crossed line, then the rules are much harder to break.
Thus, when you look at the data, millennials appear to cheat less.
Many millennials also rate sexual compatibility very highly when it comes to what factors they think would make good relationships, so it’s possible that millennial couples are having better, more connected and more fulfilling sex; sex that makes them less likely to stray (although lame sex is only one of 14 million reasons people cheat). Millennials also engage in more threesomes and group sex situations, giving them even more opportunities to get physical with many people in a safe way that respects the terms of their relationships. In fact, that's how Claudia and Rob say they opened up their relationship — by experimenting with threesomes and realizing it wasn't actually that scary to see their partner gurgling someone else's bodily effluvium.
Another reason we’re less into cheating is because we’re entering into serious relationships and getting married much later on than older humans did. Researchers believe this is because we spend more time finding the right person — relationships of love, rather than of convenience. So, it’s possible that we cheat less because we actually like the people we’re with. Imagine that!
The bizarre cherry on top of all of this is the realization that millennials are also having less sex than older generations. The amount of teens having sex has declined since 1990, and the amount of sex partners we have has decreased as well. And, despite being open to non-monogamy once we're in relationships, a large portion of us are also sort of conservative compared to our parents — we’re also more likely to embrace traditional marriage (although it's usually after we've experimented sexually and made sure our partners are right for us). For being credited with inventing and proliferating the so-called "hookup culture," we sure aren't hooking up all that much, in or out of relationships.
Meanwhile, middle-aged Americans in their 50s and 60s are sluttin’ it up in the retirement home and are much more likely to have a little side-ass here and there. Since 2004, there’s been a trend towards older Americans cheating more, and younger comrades cheating less — by 2016, 20 percent of those 55 and older admitted to infidelity, while only 14 percent of those under 55 said the same according a survey by the Institute for Family Studies' Nicholas Wolfinger. The same study found 16 percent of Americans in general have cheated … which seems like a really conservative estimate given that other studies have found 71 percent of people have cheated, but, okay!
Why are older people so much cheat-ier, though?
“Perhaps the propensity for extramarital sex is a product of what people experienced while growing up, not a question of how old they are," Wolfinger explains. "People born between 1940 and 1959 report the highest rates of extramarital sex. These are the first generations to come of age during the sexual revolution, so it's understandable they are more likely to have sex with someone without their spouses." That age bracket also grew up during a time when marriage was less for love and more for logistics, so they may have witnessed their parents’ unhappy relationships or extramarital affairs and internalized that as the norm.
In the end, cheating, like life, is what you make it. As Claudia tells us, "It's up to you and your partner to define what qualifies as cheating in the context of your relationship, and whether you want some minute thing like attraction to another person to sour your perfectly good thing" — which is probably why 1 in 4 Americans don't consider a one-night stand to be actual infidelity.
At any rate, one thing's for certain: people's impressions of millennials are often right — like that we're self-absorbed and absolutely refuse to move out of our parent's basement — but, not this one. Millennials are about as faithful as a Catholic priest ... a kinky Catholic priest, but ... you get what we're saying.