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The Telegraph
The Telegraph
Gabriella Swerling

Baby boomers warm to casual sex after ‘following the social norm’

Couple with feet poking out the end of their duvet - Getty Images
Couple with feet poking out the end of their duvet - Getty Images

A one-night stand, fling, tryst or even a dalliance – whatever the name – casual sex is often seen as the preserve of the young.

Yet nearly a third of baby boomers now approve of no-strings-attached sex, according to a new academic study.

Data from The Policy Institute at King’s College London show that UK attitudes on casual sex has changed not just over time but also between the generations, with researchers concluding that, when it comes to casual intimacy, “the social norm has changed and the boomers have just followed that.”

The researchers collated data from an international survey conducted across the past four decades and found that in 2009, just eight per cent of baby boomers (who are born between 1946 and 1964) found casual sex was “justifiable”. But by 2022, this had jumped to 30 per cent.

However, younger cohorts such as Gen Z, which captures anyone born between 1997 and 2012, and millennials, who are born between 1981 and 1996, are still far more likely to hold this view at 67 per cent and 55 per cent respectively.

The researchers also found that in 1999, overall, one in 10 Britons thought having casual sex was justifiable.

However, more than four times as many (42 per cent) held this view in 2022, with a considerable rise from as recently as 2018 (27 per cent).

This shift means the UK is now the fourth most accepting country when it comes to casual sex, ahead of France (26 per cent) and Norway (33 per cent) – and not far off Australia (48 per cent), which tops the list.

‘Moral concerns’ now ‘simple facts’

Professor Bobby Duffy, director of The Policy Institute, said: “It’s easy to lose sight of just how much more liberal the UK has become over a relatively short period of time, and how liberal we are relative to many other nations.

“What were once pressing moral concerns – things like homosexuality, divorce and casual sex – have become simple facts of life for much of the public, and we now rank as one of the most accepting countries internationally.

“This mostly isn’t just driven by younger generations replacing older generations. All generations have changed their views significantly, although the oldest pre-war cohort now often stand out as quite different, and on some issues, like casual sex, there is a clear generational hierarchy, with the youngest much more accepting.”

The researchers also surveyed attitudes around other subjects and found that increased support for euthanasia and divorce marks the UK as one of the most socially liberal countries overall.

Attitudes towards assisted dying in Britain have changed gradually since data was first collected in 1981, but there was a clear acceleration in acceptance between 2009 and 2022, when the proportion of the British public who found it justifiable rose by around 20 per cent.

This attitude shift comes alongside a rise in the number of British members of Dignitas. The assisted dying association reported that there had been an 80 per cent rise in British members in the past decade, from 821 in 2012, to 1,528 by the end of 2022.

The UK had the second highest proportion of people who believed euthanasia was justifiable, just below France, at 19 per cent. Other European countries ranked much lower on this issue, with Italy at nine per cent, and Greece at two per cent.

The UK also ranked highly for acceptance towards divorce, as 68 per cent of Britons said it is “justifiable”.

However, Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said while it is “encouraging to see the British public becoming more libertarian over time among all age groups … I suspect that if it was extended to ask about free speech and lifestyle issues such as smoking and obesity we would find that tolerance is on the wane.”

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