According to Love and Lust in the Digital Age — a new study by Havas Worldwide that polled 2,000 men and women in the U.S. and the U.K. earlier this month — 32 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds (known in the survey as Millennials) say “virtuality is reality,” meaning that for them, what happens online is real.
“20th century science fiction scenarios of computer sex and love are becoming real in the 21st century for the rising generation of Millennials, who are immersed in computer games and online socializing,” the study reads. “Having grown up digital, Millennials are more likely than older cohorts to access it, experience it as real, and regard it as normal.”
Millennials are more likely than older generations to look for online solutions for “sexual urges, needs, and questions,” the study says.
Forty-six percent of the Millennials surveyed said they had visited or used online services with sexual intent, as opposed to 38 percent of 35-to-54-year-olds and just 20 percent of people over 55.
Facebook is the destinantion of choice for Millennials who are looking for love, the survey found — 39 percent indicated they would go to the social media site before trying a dating site.
“Young people have always figured out sex for themselves by swapping rumors, anecdotes, and publications, plus getting whatever experience they could. Now the Internet is making it all far more accessible and vivid,” says Joy Schwartz, president, Havas Worldwide Chicago.
“Anyone who is interested can read, see, and watch anything—learning about everything from basic sex education to the most extreme proclivities. Movies and TV had a big influence on what people found romantic and sexy back when mass media ruled. Now that digital rules, it’s going to be interesting to see how it shapes Millennials and those coming after them.”
Millenials are not all carefree, however. Forty-eight percent say sex-related websites and other digital tools are encouraging young people to have sex before they’re ready, while 58 percent of the 55-and-older crowd believe that to be so.
On the positive side, half of the 2,000 people polled know someone whose romantic relationship started online. On the negative side, however, more than two-thirds of those surveyed said the Internet has made it easier for people to cheat on their partners and nearly half said sex-related sites are “cheapening sex” and “harming people’s relationships.”
More than two-thirds also said having a strongly sexual relationship online still counts as cheating on a real-life partner while 25 percent said they know someone whose relationship ended because of online behaviors.
“Not so long ago, being online was distinct from the rest of life. People with a taste for titillation had to sit at a computer and tie up a phone line while they checked out chat rooms and surfed the raunchier regions of the Internet,” said Havas global chief marketing officer Matt Weiss. “People are online virtually every waking hour … Portable devices enable them to do whatever they want privately, even in public places, whether it’s lapping up Fifty Shades of Grey on a Kindle, browsing adult-content websites, or swapping steamy messages and photos.”
“For society at large and for marketers, this is creating profound changes in how people think about some important distinctions in life: public versus private, real versus imagined, normal versus abnormal and right versus wrong.”
The survey also discovered society is becoming more shallow. In its 2003 survey, respondents were more interested in brains than beauty. Fast-forward 10 years and that preference is changing.
In both surveys, respondents were asked to choose which one of four alternatives was the biggest “turn-on”: intelligence, physical strength/good looks, money, or power. In 2003, an overwhelming 79 percent picked intelligence and, while it’s still the top turn-on in 2013, only 46 percent chose brains (a decrease of more than 40 percent).
Physical strength and good looks was a distant second choice in 2003 with just 10 percent while this year it’s a close second, with 42 percent.