Illustration by Clara Nicoll

Young life: Don’t worry, Gen Z is having more sex than you think!

Despite our sexless reputation, Gen Z is very open to different types of relationship
May 1, 2024

Gen Z dating trends have long been the subject of speculation among older generations. Throughout my formative years, I was privy to concerns about our being overexposed to pornography and dependent on dating apps. People refer to my generation as “puriteens”, as if today’s youth is sucked into a sexless void (by our smartphones, presumably).

Discourse around gen Z’s alleged aversion to sex peaked in 2019, right before a pandemic that pressed a hard pause on every single person’s sex life—regardless of age. And it doesn’t look like we’ve made much of a recovery; a recent study by Lovehoney, a lingerie and sex toy retailer, revealed that 24 per cent of Britons are “categorically not satisfied” with their sex lives—yikes!

More recently, however, I’ve noticed a collective sigh of relief in the media. Gen Z is shedding its “sexless” reputation; the future of humanity is no longer at stake. In fact, we’re leading the intimacy brigade, with 48 per cent of young Brits saying they are “satisfied” with their sex lives.

I reckon—and I could be wrong —that much of what’s driving this sexual renaissance in young people is our openness to… being open. Whether it’s regarding our sexuality, gender identity or relationship practices, gen Z really is as open as it gets. The words we use to discuss sexuality are becoming ever-more diverse, with terms such as “demisexual”, “ace” and “aromantic” more and more commonplace. We welcome each and every identity with open arms, and with them a myriad of “dating styles” to suit everyone. 

I myself have taken steps into the world of alternative dating practices.  

I was in my final year at university and the pandemic had curtailed much of the self-exploration I would have done during the latter half of my studies. I’d only come out as bisexual a few months before I was sequestered indefinitely back in my childhood bedroom. So, when I did—accidentally—stumble upon a boyfriend, I panicked at the thought of boxing myself into a heterosexual, monogamous relationship. Much as I loved this boy, I loved myself (and my newly earned adult independence) more. 

Fortunately, he felt exactly the same way. We spent the first six months of our relationship as a monogamous couple, with a view to opening our relationship up after my exams were out of the way. During that time, we discussed expectations, as well as boundaries. In doing so, we tailored an open relationship to what worked best for both of us.   

I think this is typical of gen Z’s approach to dating and life: we are not a one-size-fits-all generation. This can lead to over-wrought identity politics that has older generations rolling their eyes, but it also means we’re able to figure out who we are and what we want sooner, perhaps, than previous generations. 

While I don’t currently identify as “non-monogamous”, I certainly date in an (ethically) non-monogamous way. In practice, this looks like multiple dates each month with multiple people—some of whom I’ve been seeing for well over a year, some of whom are new to the “roster”. I’ve had conversations recently with a longer-term lover, whereby we’ve established that we are—in many ways—“in a relationship”. We see each other at least once a week and talk most days. We have a lot of mutual respect and affection for one another. I’d go as far as saying that I love him, in a way. 

But he’s not my boyfriend. I’m not his girlfriend—nor does he want me to be. However, we have provided each other with an incredibly safe space to explore sex, dating and intimacy. On one hand, we talk, like friends, about our dating lives. On the other hand, we attend Shibari workshops together. Go figure. 

Naturally, we’re both transparent with people we date. For me it’s easy, I just refer them to my newsletter tastefully entitled “Nice to Meet You, I’m a Slut!” and let the extensive personal essays do the work for me. I’m always hesitant to lead with “Nice to meet you, I’m ethically non-monogamous, so how’s this going to work?”

The reason why I don’t identify as non-monogamous is because I’m still figuring out what I want long-term. Maybe I am destined for monogamy and a nuclear family—I just don’t know yet, nor am I necessarily ready for those things. 

With the future being as politically, financially and environmentally uncertain as it is, it’s no wonder gen Z are keeping their romantic options open, too.