Extramarital sex has the potential to destroy (or severely damage) relationships, so it makes sense that there’s research dedicated to who’s likeliest to do it and why. A new study has found that older married Americans engage in extramarital affairs more often than younger married people.
The study, published by the Institute for Family Studies and titled “America’s New Generation Gap in Extramarital Sex,” revealed that 20 percent of married Americans over 55 have had extramarital sex, whereas only 14 percent of couples under 55 report getting it on with someone else.
One important thing to note, though, is that in this survey, respondents weren’t asked whether they engaged in explicit adultery — just whether they had sex outside their marriage. That means it can and does include couples who have open, “ethically non-monogamous” relationships, meaning one partner or both can sleep with others outside the marriage with their spouse’s full knowledge and consent.
While the overall number of Americans having extramarital sex has held steady at about 16 percent over the last 30 years, that trend has obscured a startling age-related difference. Older couples — those who’ve been married for two to three decades — seeking sex outside of their marriage has been on a sharp rise since 2000. At the same time, the rate of extramarital sex among married couples between 18 and 55 has declined.
Study author Nicholas H. Wolfinger believes that one of the reasons older couples go for sexual “test drives” outside their marriage may have more to do with the norms of the era they grew up in rather than midlife crises or boredom with their marriages.
“These older Americans came of age in the wake of the sexual revolution, and over the course of their lifetimes, have had more sex partners compared to younger Americans,” reports The University of Utah News. In other words, they might have more progressive, open-minded views about marriage and sexuality, not feeling the need to keep their relationships monogamous due to societal pressure or expectations.
Conversely, even though younger generations may have been raised in a more progressive, sex-positive culture in general (thanks for paving the way, Gen-Xers and baby boomers!), they’re not opting for open relationships as often as older generations are. “The declining rates of extramarital sex among younger Americans seemingly portends a future of monogamous marriage,” Wolfinger tells U News. It’ll be interesting to see if that trend continues as millennials get older.