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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Millennials and Sex: Wounded or Wise?

I was raised in a Christian home and this is what I heard about sex: sex is very good – it was one of God’s many brilliant ideas.

Sex is for marriage, because it joins two people together in a profound and mysterious way that mirrors our ultimate union with God himself. And sex outside marriage is potentially very harmful. This last message was possibly overstated in the hopes it might function as a form of chastity belt woven of the spectres of STDs, unwanted pregnancies, and irreparable heartbreak.

The messages I was hearing were counter-cultural at the time and have become more so. Since the so-called sexual revolution of the 1960s, who, what, when, where, and how is all up for grabs.

How has this panned out for us? The Next Steps project, which has tracked 16,000 people born in 1989-90 since they were 14 years old, has discovered this cohort is strikingly more likely to be virgins at the age of 26 than the previous generation. ’They are the generation who came to adulthood with the ease of being able to find a lover — or hardcore pornography — at the swipe of a phone. But millennials have been revealed to be shunning sex in unprecedented numbers,’ reports Nicholas Hellen in the Sunday Times (May 6th, 2018).

The media response has been to turn to therapists and social scientists for an explanation of what is universally construed as worryingly dysfunctional. This is, they cry, a sign that Millennials are afraid of intimacy.

There are, no doubt, many and varied reasons Millennials are avoiding sex. Could one of them be that rather than being afraid of intimacy they crave it, and at some level understand that they will only achieve it by reclaiming the sanctity and solemnity of sex? The great irony of the sexual revolution is that by bulldozing the river banks of committed, exclusive relationship, it has allowed sex to become a shallow, muddy floodplain.

The Bible contains some of the most erotic poetry ever penned: ‘Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth – for your love is more delightful than wine… My beloved is mine and I am his… Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death.’ (Song of Songs 1:2, 2:16, 8:6). This is God’s desire for humanity. Anything less and we are being sold short.


Jo Swinney
Jo is Director of Church Communications for CPO and a writer, editor, and speaker. Her latest book is Home: the quest to belong (Hodder) out in paperback June 2018. She blogs at www.joswinney.com.


  1. Letting wisdom speak. Thank you.

    By Keith Sinclair  -  11 May 2018
  2. Great article – needs to be widely published – positive and relevant.

    By WiKiNi  -  11 May 2018
  3. How wonderful and how very beautiful!

    By Paul Finch  -  11 May 2018
  4. What a wise and perceptive article. Well done!

    By Roger Simpson  -  11 May 2018
  5. A good comment as far as it goes but I do think ‘Marriage’ needs first to be defined.

    By E. Timms  -  11 May 2018
  6. Interesting,I had no idea that this was the case with ‘millenials’

    By Angela Somerton  -  11 May 2018
  7. As a university chaplain back at my alma mater I find it fascinating to compare the behaviour of my generation with that of current students (and my own attitudes as a then unbelieving young adult). Millennials I know are disciplined, wise and very diligent. There are, of course, many exceptions in certain sports societies, but friendship seems much more sought after than that special someone. And behaviour can be almost prudish at times within social settings, especially among the Christian students I know. But then I also know that ‘fun’ got me into a lot of tricky situations and caused emotional wounds that linger yet. Perhaps they have merely observed their parents after all, and their brokenness.

    By Jules Murphy  -  11 May 2018
  8. Amen sister. To our detriment and shame, we embrace the cultural norms of our time. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly light, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1 : 17.

    By Gary Stacey  -  11 May 2018
  9. If their only concept of intimacy is inextricably tied up with sex, and they are rightly cautious about or averse to casual sex, then all this makes sense.
    We need – especially in the church – to encourage intimacy of deep friendships, and let young people experience the joy of that before looking for it romantic relationships. It then benchmarks what is really the most important aspect of those as each feasibility study proceeds, with hormones likely under better control.
    More here: http://www.downtoearthdiscipleship.com/chapter1.html > 1.1 to 1.3.

    By Ian Hore-Lacy  -  11 May 2018
  10. I recommend that readers consult the newspaper article by Hellen and the website https://nextstepsstudy.org.uk before making too much of the story.

    Also, realise that the results the survey have not been published: see https://www.ucl.ac.uk/human-resources/health-wellbeing/wellbeingucl/ucl-wellbeing-survey.

    By Stuart Judge  -  11 May 2018
  11. Thanks Jo, what you have said is helpful.

    I wonder however if rather than ‘shunning sex in unprecedented numbers’, as Nicholas Hellen reports, Millennials are in fact exchanging sex in the context of real intimacy for the much easier sex that in now available through pornography.

    Internet pornography is free, easily accessed and easy to conceal. It requires no commitment and there is no risk of rejection. It is also highly addictive. To say that its use is widespread would seem to be an understatement.

    Of course, it is not just the young who use internet pornography. There is ample evidence of its use by much older people, both men and women, including church leaders.

    If we want our young to engage in true intimacy then we need to start by discussing issues like pornography openly in our churches. We also need to be modelling intimacy in our marriages and friendships. We need to be a radical counter-culture.

    By John Steley  -  11 May 2018
  12. Forwarding it to both my daughters at University as an encouragement to keep on hanging in there, thanks, Jo.

    By Amanda Marshall  -  11 May 2018
  13. My immediate reaction to this interesting article is that a greater number of millennials maintaining their virginity for longer is naturally positive. If the driver behind this is greater solemnity around sex, that would be great. I am now considering other potential reasons, one of which could include increased loneliness levels, which has also been highlighted in the media. A further positive that arises from the research in this article is that millennials are not seeking to feel less lonely by using sex as a tool to connect.

    By Simon Leighton  -  11 May 2018
  14. All male/female relationships are now difficult outside of a Christian framework. 1) Men can easily be accused of rape so they are turning towards pornography and video games where there is no risk. 2) The rise in single parent households. 3) Father’s do not get equal treatment in the family court. The vast majority lose access to their children and have a really unfair settlement in divorce cases. Millennials have grown up with all this. Just wait till sex dolls become cheaper and young men will choose them over a real woman. Within 20 years they will be as close to the real thing as they need to be to satisfy a young man. Then, within 50 years they will have artificial wombs so they can have their own child. The future is scary and they really need to hear the Good News ASAP.

    By Philip Harper  -  11 May 2018
  15. Am I missing something here? I checked the next steps web site
    and found in their report of ‘What we have learned’ under ‘risky behaviours’ it says: By age 19, 88 per cent of study members reported that they had had sex.’ this does not seem to fit with the statement in this article about virginity levels?

    By Paul Hocking  -  13 May 2018
  16. I found this to be helpful and hopeful. I would like our 13, 14 15 year olds to know this to give them confidence to resist peer group pressure. There are so many unhealthy influences on their young lives…. Many mistake lust for the love they crave….. and are hurt, let down and damaged whilst they are still so young.

    By Chris Edmonds  -  13 May 2018

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