Gen Z Reconsiders Sex in the Wake of a Possible Post-Roe World

  • A leaked Supreme Court draft decision indicating Roe v. Wade may soon be overturned has sent the nation into shock.
  • Members of Gen Z — those born after 1996 — told Insider they’re “terrified” of a post-Roe world.
  • The possibility has some in Gen Z reevaluating their relationship to sex, intimacy, and hookup culture.

Madeline V. might be done with men altogether.

A 24-year-old marketing assistant who identifies as bisexual, Madeline, who asked that Insider use only her first name, has decided that sticking to female partners may be the safest sexual route these days.

It’s not a fear of men, exactly, that has inspired this young woman to consider swearing off an entire gender; it’s the heightened fear of an unwanted pregnancy — and a subsequent lack of options — that has forced Madeline to proceed with sexual caution in the wake of a leaked Supreme Court draft decision indicating that federal abortion rights protections could soon be gutted.

In early May, Politico obtained and published an unprecedented leaked draft opinion that, if adopted, would overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that guarantees federal abortion rights. The top court later confirmed its authenticity, sending the nation into a tailspin of shock.

With the future of federal abortion rights precariously on the line and a final decision in the case expected as soon as Friday, members of Gen Z we spoke to — those born after 1996 — are rethinking their relationship to sex, intimacy, and hookup culture, as the country anxiously awaits what is expected to be a history-making decision.

‘Dread’ and ‘Disgust’ at the thought of a post-Roe world

Adelynn T., a 17-year-old high school student in the Houston, Texas, area, told Insider that she was “genuinely terrified” when she found out Roe might be overturned. Adelynn, whose identity is known by Insider, asked that her last name not be used.

Her conservative home state certainly plays a role in that fear  — Texas is one of 13 US states with so-called trigger laws that would immediately ban all or nearly all abortions if the Supreme Court does overturn Roe.

“Surprisingly enough, I’ve actually had dreams where I’m pregnant, and I can’t find a way to take care of myself,” Adelynn said, later correcting herself, saying the visions were more akin to “nightmares.”

The bad dreams are new, only taking hold in her mind since the decision was leaked, she said. “These nightmares could be a reality,” Adelynn added.

Catherine D., a 19-year-old college student whose identity is known by Insider, said she was initially shocked when she learned about the leaked opinion. But when she stepped back and thought about it objectively, she said, the decision became less surprising as she considered the Supreme Court’s gender, race, and age makeup.

“They’re not personally affected by it,” she said.

Earlier this month, Insider published several social media callouts requesting reactions, responses, and replies from members of Gen Z regarding their thoughts on hookup culture and sex in a possible post-Roe world. Dozens of people shared their insights.

Some bemoaned a “constant fear” of getting pregnant, while others described “shattered” views of child-rearing in a world plagued by climate change, COVID-19, and attacks on women’s reproductive rights. Respondees offered a list of colorful words to describe their emotions around the draft decision: “angry,” “upset,” “disgust,” and “dread,” chief among them.

The majority of young people who participated in the discussion said they were pro-choice and expressed anger at the possibility that the highest court in the land could soon overturn a person’s right to choose, anecdotally confirming national statistics on the topic: A May Pew Research Center survey found that three-quarters of adults under 30 believe abortion should be generally legal, including 30% who believe it should be legal in all circumstances with no exceptions.

Someone holds a sign that says "My uterus does not define my future."

 

Abortion rights activists and supporters participate in a rally at Union Square in New York, on May 26, 2022.

Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images

Gen Z: Diverse, queer, and politically passionate

Gen Z, which includes Americans who were born after 1996, is more racially and ethnically diverse than any previous generation and is overwhelmingly progressive, according to The Pew Research Center. The Center also found that members of the young generation are less likely than older generations to see the United States as superior to other nations and are on track to be the most educated generation of all time.

Gen Z is more likely than previous generations to support the protections of LGBT rights, and are themselves, the queerest generation on record, with 1 in 6 American Gen Z members identifying as LGBT.

All of these factors have inevitably affected the attitudes towards sex of the members of Gen Z that Insider spoke to. Members of the generation told Insider that they and their peers approach sexual relationships and intimacy in an entirely different way than previous generations.

“Gen Z is one of the most open about sex and hookup culture,” Adelynn said. She told Insider that among her friends, most women are entirely supportive of other women’s sexual decisions, whether they’re sexually active or celibate.

Overwhelming sex positivity, however, doesn’t necessarily translate to overwhelming amounts of sex. The generation is actually having less casual sex than their predecessors, according to a 2021 study. Experts linked the deficit to decreased alcohol consumption, excessive social media use, and increasingly delayed markers of adulthood.

But even if they’re not copiously partaking in sexual activity, members of Gen Z Insider spoke to said they don’t approach sex as the taboo it once was.

“We’re a lot more comfortable talking about it,” Adelynn said.

Many of the people Insider spoke to also said they’ve noticed their generational peers becoming more politically active in recent years, sparked first by the Trump presidency and intensifying further throughout the pandemic. The recent Roe controversy has inspired even more young people to get involved in politics, Adelynn said.

But Gen Z’s progressive attitudes and go-get-em advocacy can sometimes feel like an “unfair” expectation on the youngest generation, Catherine said.

“The older generation says it’s on Gen Z to be the generation of change, but we shouldn’t have had to be put in that position in the first place,” she told Insider. “Why is it on us to change something that should have been fixed 20-plus years ago?”

Considering the new risks of sex

While Gen Z’s feelings about abortion are fairly analogous, per polling, the responses Insider got to living in a possible post-Roe world are decidedly more individual.

Adelynn has always tried to make responsible decisions regarding sex, she told Insider. Her mother was a teen mom and Adelynn grew up watching the ways in which that impacted both their lives. She always told herself that she would wait until she was 17 to start exploring intimacy.

When she reached that age earlier this year, she said she went to her mom and had an open discussion about sex where she talked about getting on


birth control

.

But ever since the draft decision was leaked, Adelynn said she’s had to entirely rethink whether or not she wants to start having sex, telling Insider that she’s terrified to make a choice that could leave her with an unwanted child.

Abortion rights protesters hold signs.

 

Abortion-rights protesters hold placards during a rally at the Columbia County courthouse.

Photo by Paul Weaver/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Catherine D. on the other hand was already participating in hookup culture before the Supreme Court decision dropped.

Being on birth control is not an option due to the way it negatively affects her physical and mental health, Catherine said, so she’s been left to reevaluate the consequences of casual sex that have suddenly become very real.

“As much as I want to have fun in my 20s, what happens to me when the fun stops? What happens to me when I might be in need of an abortion and can’t access that?” she said.

The unknowns have left her feeling like a more “reserved” version of herself as she contemplates the risks now tied to her body.

One respondee said the decision has made them afraid to move to any Republican states, while others mentioned a desire to have their tubes tied or undergo a vasectomy to avoid unwanted pregnancies.

Madeline, meanwhile, said the possibility of Roe being overturned has deterred her from casual sex. The uncertainty has also prompted her to take a more proactive approach when she does partake.

“In hookup culture, if you’re just hooking up, you don’t just bring up that stuff right away normally,” she said. “But when it comes to if you’re actually going to sleep with someone, I think at this point, that definitely needs to be addressed.”

She told Insider that she recently initiated such a conversation with a male partner and he was “very respectful” about the seemingly-awkward talk.

In the event that Roe v. Wade is overturned, however, Madeline said she’ll likely stick to sleeping with women in an effort to avoid an unwanted pregnancy.

The conversation around the possible fall of Roe has primarily centered around people who can get pregnant. Out of 25 direct responses to Insider’s callouts, more than 85% of respondees were non-male. The few men who did respond were more likely to say that the possibility of Roe being overturned did not influence or change their attitudes toward sex.

But that doesn’t mean that some Gen Z men aren’t worried.

Carson M., a student and lift operator who responded to an Insider callout, said he’s afraid of impregnating a partner and being left with no options, especially amid such compounding crises as the current economic downturn and baby formula shortage.

Overwhelming fear and imperfect solutions

The primary feeling plaguing members of Gen Z ahead of the Supreme Court’s decision is fear, people told Insider.

Adelynn invoked stories of whisper networks among young women her age who pass along “sketchy” websites where a girl in trouble might be able to acquire an abortion pill. Despite the existence of several legitimate abortion pill providers throughout the country, Adelynn bemoaned the arduous work of navigating such last-ditch options as a young person.

Madeline, meanwhile, lamented many men’s seeming inability to grasp the life-altering consequences of a one-night stand, while Catherine slammed lawmakers’ obsession with politicizing women’s bodies. Others shared anxieties about what an unwanted pregnancy might do to their health and finances.

For Gen Z, it’s clear: the stakes are high and the solutions imperfect.

“It’s a choice to understand that women and people with uteruses don’t always have the means for a child,” Catherine said. “Sometimes we’re not meant to be parents. Sometimes it might be a blessing to people — sometimes it might be a curse.”

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