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Are traditional relationship desires and values still important to young adults?

Author: Laura Watt
Institution: University of Manchester
Type of case study: Research

About the research

Monogamy and longevity are values characteristic of what might be termed ‘traditional relationships’, most typically marriage. The question is: with the exposure of new forms of relationships, do young adults still desire and value traditional interactions and values?

This research has three main objectives: to discover how attitudes of 18- to 30-year-olds towards relatioships might have changed over time; to explore whether there are identifiable types of attitudes toward relationships among this young adult population; and finally to investigate how attitudes towards relationships might differ between different social groups in the 18 to 30 age group (for example, those divided by gender, class or religion).

The results show that traditional desires and values still pervade young people’s attitudes towards relationships. While there have been some shifts that indicate a ‘loosening’ of traditional attitude norms, on the whole, young adults desire traditional relationship forms (namely monogamous live-in partnerships) and value qualities consistent with them (namely fidelity and longevity). In fact, young adults value monogamy and faithfulness more than ever.

Furthermore, the research provides evidence for certain ‘types’ of attitudes in the research population and shows that such attitudes differ significantly by age, sex, religiosity, ethnicity, country of origin, class and education.


Data from both National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles 1990 and 2000-2001 were analysed using the following variables:

  • Ideal sexual lifestyle for now
  • Ideal sexual lifestyle for future
  • Opinion towards different sexual relations (i.e. sex between two men, sex between two women, sex before marriage, a married person having sex with someone else, a person living with someone having sex with someone else, a person in a regular non-live-in relationship having sex with someone else, one night stands)
  • Opinion towards the importance of different relationship qualities (i.e. faithfulness, adequate income, mutual respect and appreciation, shared religious belief, happy sexual relationship, sharing household chores, having children, having tastes and interests in common)
  • Level of agreement that company and affection are more important than sex in a marriage or relationship

The data were analysed using descriptive statistics, mean comparisons and cluster analysis (hierarchical and k-means).


The research findings received media coverage in the following publications:

Brown, J. (11 August 2013). ‘More sex please, we’re British (but we still don’t like infidelity)’, The Independent. Retrieved 25 February 2014  from

Winter, K. (12 August 2013). ‘Cheating is OUT, but one-night stands are IN (as long as you’re single!) says new sex survey’, Mail Online. Retrieved 25 February 2014 from–says-new-sex-survey.html