Dating and hanging out with friends is top of mind for millennials, but difficult to do because they struggle with cultivating lasting and healthy romantic relationships, a new Harvard report says.
What they’re not up for, however, is casual sex.
According to researchers, teens and adults tend to “greatly overestimate” the hook-up culture of millennials, which fuels misconceptions that can be harmful to young people.
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“We hope that this report is a real wake-up call,” Dr. Richard Weissbourd, lead author of the study, said in a statement. “While adults, and parents in particular, wring their hands about the ‘hook-up culture,’ research indicated that far fewer young people are hooking up than is commonly believed.”
The study surveyed over 3,000 young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 in the U.S., as well as looked at several years of research by Weissbourd and his team. They also talked with adults who are key to the demographic, like parents, teachers, sport coaches and counsellors.
From their research, the team found that when people overestimate the hook-up culture of millennials, it can make them feel embarrassed or ashamed, and puts pressure on them to have sex when they’re not interested or ready.
As well, 70 per cent of respondents said they wished they had been given more information from their parents about the emotional aspects of romantic relationships.
“This focus on the hook-up culture also obscures two much bigger issues that our research suggests many young people are struggling with: forming and maintaining healthy and fulfilling romantic relationships and dealing with widespread misogyny and sexual harassment,” Weissbourd said. “Unfortunately, we also found that most adults appear to be doing very little to address these serious problems.”
In fact, 87 per cent of women who took part in the study said they’d experienced some form of sexual harassment during their lifetime, yet 76 per cent of said they’d never spoken to their parents about how to avoid sexually harassing others.
“[Adults] don’t say anything, even when sexual harassment is right in their midst,” Weissbourd told ABC News. “And many tell us… they don’t say anything because they don’t know what to say. And they fear that they won’t be effective, or they fear they will be written off.”
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This could be because many millennials don’t feel gender-based degradation is a problem in today’s society.
Digging deeper, researchers found that 48 per cent of young people believe that society has reached a point where double standards against women no longer exist.
Parents are also neglecting to discuss the issue of sexual assault.
Of the respondents, 61 per cent of say they’ve never talked about “being sure your partner wants to have sex and is comfortable doing so before having sex,” the report states. They’ve also never discussed assuring their own comfort before engaging in sex (49 per cent), the importance of not pressuring others into having sex (56 per cent), the importance not continuing that pressure to have sex despite the other person saying ‘no’ (62 per cent), or the importance of not having sex with someone who is too intoxicated or impaired to properly consent (57 per cent).
And those who did have those conversations with their parents say they were “at least somewhat influential.”
To address these issues, researchers offered up several tips for parents.
Talk about love and help teens understand the differences between mature love and other form of attractionShow young people how to identify healthy and unhealthy relationshipsHelp young people identify misogyny and harassmentIf parents and educators see unhealthy relationship behaviours (like hearing degrading words, for example), they should interveneTalk about what it means to be ethical by helping them develop the skills to maintain healthy romantic relationships and treat those who are different from them with dignity and respect
For more tips, click here.