It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was Carrie Underwood’s time. It was the age of wisdom, but also of low-rise jeans. It was only just over a decade ago, but oh, how things have changed since 2005.
The dating site OkCupid had launched the previous year, and it’s been asking its users questions about their relationship preferences ever since. This week, the company released a survey comparing the responses they received in 2005 to those collected in 2015. Though not as rigorous as a truly random survey, the data hint at changing views of sex, love, and gender norms among online daters in the U.S.
Surprisingly, OkCupid found that people have become more sexually conservative in certain ways. For example, fewer people now say they would have sex on the first date:
While “no” responses increased among gay and straight people of both genders, the change was biggest among gay men and straight women. The number of gay men responding “yes” declined from 83 percent to 57 percent, while straight women dropped from 48 to 25 percent.
What’s more, fewer people now say they’d date someone just for the sex. In 2005, 49 percent of OkCupid users said they would, while last year just 41 percent did. The number of people who said love was more interesting to them than sex at the moment remained unchanged, at 75 percent.
And peoples’ views of gender roles in the bedroom seemed to get more traditional. More straight men now say they take control in bed, and fewer straight women do. Perhaps Fifty Shades of Grey has left its, err, mark?
The move toward sexual conservatism might simply be a result of OkCupid’s growing user base. Ten years ago, online dating was more avant-garde, and thus more likely to be popular among libertines and free spirits, as opposed to anyone and everyone looking for love.
It could also be a sign of the more straight-laced sexual mores of today’s young adults. As noted in a 2015 report in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, the average lifetime number of sexual partners grew steadily between the G.I. generation, who were born between 1901 and 1924, and the GenXers, but it has dipped among the Millennials. “Americans born in the 1950s had sex with 11.68 people on average during a lifetime, while Millennials will average 8.26,” the Daily Beast noted in an article on the report last year. And a recent study by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 37 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 35 think “sex between two adults who have no intention of establishing a relationship” is morally wrong, as my colleague Emma Green reported.
Strangely, though, OkCupid also found its users are in some ways becoming more sexually liberal. For example, people are now more tolerant of promiscuous partners:
And they’re increasingly fine having what’s commonly known as a f*** buddy:
There was also a drop in slut-shaming: Users today are more accepting of women who talk openly about their sexual exploits. Straight women were the harshest critics of this practice, with 22 percent still saying they don’t think it’s okay.
Just like in 2005, the plurality of people (47 percent in 2015) say they wait three dates before having sex with someone new. And people increasingly feel they would at least need to sleep with them before the wedding night:
Of course, OkCupid is far from an accurate representation of all sexually active adults. Its 12 million users have a median age of 29, and they’re overwhelmingly college-educated and white.
Still, to the extent that those 12 million are being honest, the news seems both good and bad. Daters are becoming more careful, but also less judgmental. They’re more open-minded, but also more traditional. The report is, in other words, a mixed bag—not unlike dating itself.