As WSFT founder Helen Alvare said, 20-something women are saturated with talk about sex. Problem is, they’re not hearing much truth. Millennial women might be cobbling together their understanding of sex from early sexual education (often provided by Planned Parenthood), and selectively edited experiences of friends, combined with media misinformation. Their sexual expectations in relationships might also be shaped by faux-casual boasts at the local watering hole; audacious requests from Tinder matches; risqué netflix programming; and social media clickbait.
Almost all of the information they’ve ever heard takes for granted that sex and love are separate things, and certainly that sex and marriage, and/or sex and kids, are separate choices.
Millennials who are more grounded in reality must speak up. Most of our peers have never been told that the choices they make about sex and relationships affect their well-being, their future marriage, their future family formation, and even the success of their future children.
Admittedly, these conversations seem difficult to start. Sex is the most personal aspect of our lives. Many young women committed to postponing sex until marriage come from faith traditions where talking about sex is considered taboo, or immodest.
Yet we can bridge the discomfort by realizing it is our duty as a friend to care about our friends’ well-being. If this sounds like reviving the notion that women should act like sisters to one another, then good! Our sisters need support while making what are potentially the most serious decisions of their lives. This is a kindness women have provided each other throughout history.
Talking about sex doesn’t have to be awkward or preachy, but can flow naturally out of the conversations we already have with the women we’re close to. In fact, these conversations are most fruitful when done from a place of love and friendship, versus judgment or debate.
Like any discussion, it won’t always be smooth. Ultimately, your friends will make their own decisions about how to conduct their relationships. You can only offer them a new perspective, or maybe new information, that could perhaps inform their decision-making.
So talk to your friends like you normally do. When conversation over coffee or beers drifts to relationships, ask them about what they think makes a healthy relationship—and listen.
- Ask them if they want to get married someday. Hear what they say about their hopes for—or disbelief in—lasting love. When the opportunity arises, you can see if they know that current social science shows that saving sex for marriage and avoiding cohabitation can help ensure a happy, long-lasting marriage and help them avoid divorce.
- Ask them if they want to have kids someday. For most women, sex eventually leads to kids. Find out if they’ve ever heard that marriage is crucial for the stability and future educational and economic success of children; even parents’ education levels and higher income can’t compensate for lack of married, biological parenting.
What if you know your friends are having uncommitted sex? Even if they seem content with their situation, it’s probably not because they prefer hooking up to committed relationships and marriage. It’s well documented that most women don’t actually enjoy casual sex.
- Ask your friends how they feel about their hookups and relationships. Listen. If they express dissatisfaction, you can tell them that they don’t have to buy into a sexual script they don’t enjoy. Girls have power to shape their romantic future without having uncommitted sex they don’t want.
- You can casually share that if they “opt out” of hooking up, they won’t be alone. There’s evidence that perhaps 40% of college students are not having sex outside of marriage. Many other twenty-somethings have far fewer sexual partners than the media would lead us to believe.
- If they express the feeling that since they’ve already lost their virginity, they “can’t go back now”, you can share that you know of people who have done just that! Shannon writes at I Believe In Love about how she was not a virgin at marriage, but waiting for sex with her future husband strengthened their marriage relationship.
Above all, patiently listen to your friends. Affirm their desires to seek more from their relationships. I Believe in Love is a great resource for stories from twenty-something singles and couples about how they are working towards relationship success—these stories are perfect for sharing on social media or privately with friends who need encouragement.
You can do this, millennial women! You never know—your loving gift of time and insight may impact the trajectory of the life of a friend, or even generations that come after her.