What Gen Z Can Teach Boomers About Healthy Sex Lives
As time goes on, sexual norms change—for better and for worse, but lately it seems to be for better. By growing up with access to information about sex and progressive ideas via the internet, Generation Zers—people born between the mid-to-late 1990s and the early 2010s—in particular have a lot to teach older generations about how to enjoy great sex.
Perhaps most important, Gen Zers seem to possess a superior understanding of affirmative consent, which emphasizes the need for a clear verbal "yes" before engaging in sexual activity with someone. Sixty-six percent of Gen Zers said they frequently ask sexual partners for consent, compared with 52 percent of millennials in their 30s, according to a 2020 survey conducted by the sexual health brand SKYN by Lifestyles.
"So many boomers have had sexual experiences they weren't enthusiastic about or didn't want at all—or they've initiated that kind of sex," said Carol Queen, Ph.D., a staff sexologist for sexual health and wellness brand Good Vibrations and a baby boomer who said she feels "indebted" to Gen Z. "They give me hope that we can move further into real consent culture."
Let's talk about sex
This is part of a more general willingness to talk about sex among younger generations, said Katie Lasson, sex and relationship advisor for online adult shop Peaches and Screams, based in the United Kingdom.
"When you talk about boomers, you have to keep in mind that in their youth, when all of their opinions on sex were made, talking or discussing sex or sexuality was strongly discouraged," she said.
Of course, when you're able to talk about your desires with your partner, you're more likely to engage in sex that pleases you.
"It's critical to ask for what you want and need," Lasson said. "It can sometimes seem embarrassing to explain how you feel, but it's imperative. For a long time, sexuality has been something that's put under the rug, but it's crucial for our well-being."
Evolution never ends
Gen Zers may also be freer in their sexuality and feel less confined by sexual norms than previous generations. One in 6 Gen Z adults identify as LGBT, a Gallup survey published in February 2021 found, and half of Gen Zers think the gender binary is outdated, according to survey results released around the same time by the ad agency Bigeye.
This evolution may manifest as a willingness to explore a greater variety of sexual acts. Fifty-five percent of Gen Z respondents reported having anal sex once per week or more, compared to just 37 percent of respondents overall in a recent survey by New York's Bespoke Surgical medical practice.
"It's crucial to get rid of the idea of being 'normal,'" Lasson said. "Gen Z overall is more open to the idea of being different. If you are kinky, great! If you prefer the 'classic' way of having sex, that's also great. There's no right or wrong."
Americans' sexual encounters are also becoming more balanced in the progression toward gender equality.
"Up until recently, sex mainly was about men's pleasure, which means that the sexual needs of women were usually left out," Lasson said. "Thankfully, nowadays, this has changed, and we can see that women are becoming more aware of their sexuality, and sex is considered an act in which both parties should experience pleasure."
More work to be done
Philosophies like these may seem like common sense, but they're still very much needed in a world in which only 65 percent of straight women are consistently orgasming with their partners, according to a 2017 study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior; and where a third of women (and even more gender-nonconforming people) report experiencing sexual assault during college, per a survey by the Association of American Universities.
But boomers, Gen Xers and millennials can help shift the culture away from gender inequality and sexual oppression by listening to and learning from younger generations already working to combat this problem.
That said, Queen pointed out, "generational characteristics are not set in stone and not everyone is thinking/behaving/living the same way." So, Gen Z is neither a monolith nor a perfect example, and we can all learn how to have better sex by engaging in honest, open conversation with partners of any generation.