The same politics or good sex question is one of over 5,000 that the dating site OKCupid poses to members to help narrow down their search for a partner. Over 4.5 million people have opted to answer it since it was added about a year ago, and the way they respond has a lot to do with their generation.
OKCupid, which had around 20 million users last year, is constantly adding new questions, many of which try to capture the zeitgeist. So it’s hardly surprising that this one came along in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election.
“We were hearing in the culture that politics is being so polarized and so complicated for people,” said Nick Saretzky, the company’s head of product. “You’re always asking these people questions around sex, frankly. So if you could compare sex to politics, which one would win out? We thought it would be interesting to know which one is the bigger dealbreaker for a relationship.”
The generational differences are not surprising to Paul Taylor, author of “The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown,” who noted that politics have become much more personal and polarizing in recent decades. In 1960, about 5 percent of Americans expressed a negative reaction to the idea of their child marrying someone outside their political party, he noted, whereas in 2010, about 40 percent did.
“It puts some perspective on how divisive our politics have become – so much so that it affects our romantic partners,” he said. “Political differences have bled into intimate realms of our national life.”
Responses to the OKCupid question could also be colored by the way young people see sex. In recent decades, from the AIDS crisis to anxiety about “hook-up” culture to the rise of the Me Too movement, sex has taken on new, often treacherous connotations. And that corresponds with a steady decrease in sexual activity among teens and young people, according to the CDC.
“I wonder if you’re an 18- or 16-year-old and coming of age, whether you’re pretty wary about sex in a way that someone of my generation was not,” Taylor said. “Part of the coming of age experience in the 60s was sex, drugs, and rock and roll. That was kind of the mantra of the counterculture, that sex is a good thing.”
At the same time, he said, young people today are politically engaged and idealistic, particularly when compared to their nihilistic Gen-X elders, which could increase their likelihood to pick politics over sex.
“Ideological purity has never been a trait one associates with Xers…so that might make them more tolerant of people with different views,” Taylor said.
The fact that the question was added after the 2016 election probably also colors the response, said Daniel Martin, president and CEO of the consulting firm Brightsity, who works with OKCupid on data.
“When we think about this from a woman’s perspective, from a political standpoint, reproductive issues like birth control and abortion” might be areas where they won’t compromise, he said.
Exposure from an early age to the internet and social media may also contribute to the differences, Martin said. “Before, you needed to be a highly motivated person to be engaged in the political landscape; now it’s in your face, it’s in your feeds.”
Context also matters, he said, noting that people on a dating website may be more likely than most to have sex on the brain – in other words, among the general population, the percentage choosing politics might be even higher.
Your gender and the city you live in can also affect your response. Women are more likely to pick politics than men. And of a half-dozen metropoles, all followed the general pattern, but San Francisco had the most agreement between generations.
A quick survey of Washington, D.C. residents in the week leading up to Valentine’s Day supported the OK Cupid findings – to a point.
“Well, the answer is obviously good sex,” said Rob Waldack, 49, a single man in a bar over the weekend. “I could totally date a Trumpster.”
Thea Merl, 29, of the District, also picked sex. “Because if I disagree with your politics, I can be very persuasive,” she said. “I could bring you to my side of thought.”
Between Fox and the three friends he was walking on the GW campus with, all of whom were single, two picked politics and two picked sex, mirroring the national divide for Generation Z.
But Noelle Cozbar, 25, a law student at George Washington University who recently got engaged, wasn’t having any of it.
“Neither,” she said. “I think politics is important; it shows that you are informed and that you care about something, but I would much rather be with someone who can entertain various viewpoints…as long as I feel respected by that person.”
Such a question, according to Cozbar, misses the essence of what good sex even is – and whether it should be viewed through such a binary lens.
“Technology has diminished human value and we codify each other, we put people in boxes,” she said. “I’m more about the moment. I want to see their smile and feel their energy and see how they treat other people.”
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