Effect Measure

Americans have never been good at saving. Especially, “saving themselves for marriage.”

Almost all Americans have sex before marrying, according to premarital sex research that shows such behavior is the norm in the U.S. and has been for the past 50 years.

The new study shows that by age 20, 75% of Americans have had premarital sex. That number rises to 95% by age 44.

Even among those who abstained from sex until 20 or beyond, 81% have had premarital sex by 44, the survey shows. (WebMD Medical News)

The data come from four cycles of the National Survey of Family Growth, done between 1982 and 2002. It has just been published in Public Health Reports (.pdf) and is authored by Lawrence Finer and his colleagues at the Guttmacher Institute. But this isn’t a recent phenomenon, nor is a product of the “sexual revolution” of the 1960s. What it reflects is normal human behavior.

Among women who turned 15 between 1964 and 1993, 91% had had premarital sex before age 30, compared with 82% of women who turned 15 between 1954 and 1963.

In addition, nearly nine out of 10 women who turned 15 between 1954 and 1963 had had unmarried sex by age 44.

When we say that premarital sex is and has been the norm, we don’t mean the majority behavior. We mean almost everyone. Look at those numbers again. By age 20, three out of four Americans have had sex before marriage. By age 44, the number is 95%. 95%. And it has hardly changed in 50 years.

The right wing abstinence campaign is even stupider than most of us thought. We already know it doesn’t work and now we know why it can’t work. We aren’t talking about discouraging immoral behavior or anti-social behavior. We’re talking about discouraging normal behavior.

Comments

  1. #1 Andrew Dodds
    December 22, 2006

    Well, Sex before marriage can cause problems. For starters, it can make you late for the ceremony..

  2. #2 traumatized
    December 22, 2006

    LOL
    The 2010 objective for “Responsible Sexual Behavior” in my state is 95% abstinence for adolescents. Yea right.

  3. #3 revere
    December 22, 2006

    traum: They’re half way there. They got the 95% part.

  4. #4 GH
    December 23, 2006

    Whats interesting to me and I may be reading this wrong is that they had the premarital age up to 44?

    Thats a looooooong time to wait. What are the people who wait that long thinking? Well I’ve waited 43 years heck I might as well?

  5. #5 revere
    December 23, 2006

    GH: I’m guessing that is where the curve flattens out. After 44, if you haven’t done it yet and are’t married, you aren’t going to.

  6. #6 hardindr
    December 23, 2006

    We’re talking about discouraging normal behavior.

    Just to be clear revere, you don’t think that people who choose to abstain from sex have something wrong with them, do you?

  7. #7 revere
    December 23, 2006

    hardindr: No, I don’t. It is part of the range of normal behavior, the bulk of which behavior engages in premarital sex. In general I see (at least) three sexual orientations: heterosexual, homosexual and asexual. The latter are a perhaps reasonably sized group of people who don’t have a particular drive or interest in sexual activity. Given the advantage of this in a crowded population, there is no evolutionary disadvantage to this or homosexuality.

  8. #8 Caledonian
    December 23, 2006

    ‘Normal’ has both a descriptive and a proscriptive sense. Until relatively recently, ‘normal’ was used in the descriptive sense in psychology – which is why “Abnormal Psychology” used to include the study of smart people.

    Don’t confuse the two.

  9. #9 revere
    December 23, 2006

    Caledonian: You make a good point. I think I was using it in two senses: premarital sex is not abnormal; and normal, as in part of a normal distribution (I’m an epidemiologist, after all!).

  10. #10 crfullmoon
    December 23, 2006

    Just in most of living memory in this country anyway,
    the parents, or community, ect, put a lot of pressure to make sure
    a marriage was made before a baby arrived… forcing early marriage solved some problems (and created others).
    (Was it supposed to be a deterrant? Don’t have premarital sex or we’ll lock you in matrimony forever?;-) )
    Now there may be more options; some availability of
    education, paying careers for women outside the home, birth control, abortion, divorce, single mothers get less disapproval, can hold jobs, not be run out of town, ect, ect, at least more than they could 70 years, 50 years ago; whatever.
    Wonder what the “age at first marriage” chart has looked like, over the past 100 or 200 years… (might as well throw in female and male life expectancy, too; be interesting to compare.)

  11. #11 GH
    December 23, 2006

    crfullmoon,

    Well considering that many if not most females where married of by the time they where 16 I’d say people generally marry alot later. In alot of old literature 18 was considered nearly to old for marriage as if you had a problem.

    That being said from the same ancient writings it is clear people have been bopping at the same rate as now with or without cultural sanction.

  12. #12 Judy
    December 23, 2006

    Revere: “The right wing abstinence campaign is even stupider than most of us thought. We already know it doesn’t work and now we know why it can’t work. We aren’t talking about discouraging immoral behavior or anti-social behavior. We’re talking about discouraging normal behavior.”

    I’m not sure I know about the campaign you are referring to, but I don’t think anyone said that having sex was not normal, there would have been zero population long ago had that been the case. Abstinance certainly would prevent unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases in the abstainer, but you are certainly not ignorant of teen pregnancy or std in your profession. There was no mention in your poll of the emotional baggage that comes along with a sexual relationship, either going into it or coming out of it. Most teens, boys or girls, are not emotionally mature enough to deal with this, and lots of adults can’t seem to handle it either. While abstinance may not be “normal” behavior, it is certainly wiser, particularly for teens. Or are you suggesting that no restraints should be placed at all?
    Regarding your poll: I’m sure not every American participated in that poll; I know I never had these questions put to me at any time. And I wouldn’t have answered anyway. :)

  13. #13 revere
    December 23, 2006

    Judy: The point was not that abstaining was abnormal but that premarital sex was normal. I don’t know if it is good or bad. I don’t even care. Kids do quite a few risky things, like drive. The campaign I’m referring to is the one that tries to prevent teenage pregnancies by trying to persuade kids to “just say no” and but denies them access to birth control and STD prevention methods like condoms. That’s the campaign I’m referring to.

    If humans could have sex without risk I see nothing wrong with it, not that it would matter if I did. It’s like saying kids shouldn’t think they are immortal. They do and I can’t convince them otherwise. Regarding whether you were in the poll, have you ever been in a national sample, say for Presidential candidates? Maybe, given the number of such polls, but your chances of being in a one-off like this are vanishingly small as I am sure you realize. That doesn’t make it unrepresentative, however. Professional survey researchers know how to do polls and this one essentially confirms what many other polls over the years have found. Americans have premarital sex. A lot. They did before the so-called sexual revolution of the sixties and they do now.

  14. #14 Davis
    December 23, 2006

    There was no mention in your poll of the emotional baggage that comes along with a sexual relationship, either going into it or coming out of it. Most teens, boys or girls, are not emotionally mature enough to deal with this, and lots of adults can’t seem to handle it either.

    This seems irrelevant to the issue at hand, since the poll tells us what people actually do, not what they should do. However, I am curious where you think people are going to develop the emotional maturity to handle a sexual relationship, if not through practice. As humans, that’s the only way we develop skill at anything.

  15. #15 Sara R
    December 24, 2006

    Let me see your logic here…

    Because “[almost] everyone is doing it,” that makes the abstinence campaign stupid. Didn’t your mother ever teach you that just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t make it right?

    The issue should be, is it right to abstain before marriage? What benefits are there to abstinence? Should we as a society encourage abstinence in order to benefit people individually and society collectively?

    My husband and I are in our 30s. We both waited for marriage, because of strong religious beliefs and support. We would not have without those beliefs and support. I would look at those high numbers as a failure of society to support a commitment to abstinence before marriage.

    I read Dear Abby as a teenager. She said the same thing you are–that it’s just “not realistic” to expect teenagers to abstain. Maybe this is good for adults to recognize and plan for. But teenagers who read that think, “Yes, that isn’t realistic!” and live down to the expectations given to them.

    Your numbers don’t prove that advocating abstinence is stupid. It just proves that there is a lot of work to be done–and a lot of avoidable out-of-wedlock, diseases, abortions, and heartbreak going around.

  16. #16 GH
    December 24, 2006

    I find the comments of both Judy and Sara baffling. Are they the same person?

    Teenagers having sex today is exactly what they have been doing since humans evolved on this planet. this is not a value judgement just a simple statement of reality. Modern life has pushed the age people marry way back from the teen norm it used to be.

    My question(s) to Sara would be as follows:

    1. Abstinence education programs have been shown againa nd again to be ineffective. Why should we put a single dollar into something that has proven itself essentially useless to prevent the very things you abhor.

    2. What makes you think people don’t suffer heartbreak only because they have sex? Isn’t heartbreak a part of life as well? Must every relationship culminate in a marriage to have worth?

    It seems to me your world is awful black and white without appreciating alot of reality.

    you said:

    e issue should be, is it right to abstain before marriage? What benefits are there to abstinence? Should we as a society encourage abstinence in order to benefit people individually and society collectively?

    Exactly what benefits are there to abstinence that cannot be offered by education and prevention that haven’t been proven more effective? I don’t think society would be better off personally with a bunch of sexually repressed people running around until they are 30. It’s not going to happen in any event.

    My husband and I are in our 30s. We both waited for marriage, because of strong religious beliefs and support. We would not have without those beliefs and support. I would look at those high numbers as a failure of society to support a commitment to abstinence before marriage.

    Or a rejection of it simply because perhaps your asumptions are wrong. It’s not a failure if one doesn’t see abstinence as a victory. I see nothing grand in your abstinence nor do I admire your efforts to be so. It’s your choice and I’m fine with that as well but don’t see it as ‘superior’ to those who have sex prior to marriage.

    “Yes, that isn’t realistic!” and live down to the expectations given to them.

    Again your assuming abstinence is somehow superior to having sex, it’s not. They are not living down to it anymore than you are living down to it by being sexless all those years. In all measurable areas teen pregnancy, STD’s, the numbers go down with proper education and up with abstinence programs.

  17. #17 Davis
    December 24, 2006

    In response to Sara, I’m going to repeat a comment I made elsewhere a while back:

    Here’s an analogy, to get us away from the emotional aspect of this argument. Imagine if driver’s ed courses taught that the only way to avoid injury and death from auto accidents is to abstain from driving, instead of teaching about seat belt use and defensive driving. Now this is technically true, but it’s useless — people are going to drive no matter what you tell them about the risks, so the proper thing to do is educate people on effective ways to minimize that risk.

    Sex education needs to address reality, not what some (very) small portion of the population wants reality to be.

  18. #18 Bobryuu
    December 24, 2006

    It should be noted as ironic that the people who want our children to have abstinent adolescences probably had premarital sex themselves.

  19. #19 revere
    December 24, 2006

    sara: I think others have addressed some or most of your arguments. If you believe(d) it wrong to have sex before marriage, that’s fine. Your choice. But your choice shouldn’t condemn the vast majority of people who disagree to the risks of STDs and pregnancies at times that will make their lives more difficult or force them to make difficult decisions. The abstinence campaign isn’t and abstinence campaign, it is an abstinence only campaign. It denies young people knowledge of and access to condoms and other resources when they are most likely to need them. It is a public health problem and an act of stupidity borne of an ideology with which few agree, you being an exception. The question to you is not whether you think it is right to have sex before marriage but whether you think it is right and proper (from a public health persepctive) to provide sex education, condoms and contraceptives to those we know need it.

  20. #20 wenchacha
    December 24, 2006

    I think our contemporary ideas about sex and abstinence are sometimes in denial of human history. We are human beings, most of us have an innate need/desire/drive to connect with another human, the original drive powered by our need to procreate to survive as a species.

    Humans throughout history, and before, have spent lots of time on the subject of sex. Some cultures celebrate it quite overtly: think of the people who build temples to honor male genitalia! Sex is sex; the ways we think of it and the attitudes we have about it are cultural/moral constructs.

    To counsel teens (and others) to “just say no” ignores the real basic human instinct. Indeed, some people do have the willpower to abstain. Just because it can be done doesn’t really mean that everyone has equal amounts of willpower regarding premarital sex. Most of us don’t have the willpower to consistently do things which are good for us, like exercising, eating healthy foods and getting adequate sleep. We know we should. We counsel everyone to do so. But most of us have lapses even as we have the best intentions.

    Most programs to improve health take our flaws into account. We are taught to add ten minutes of exercise here, choose lower-fat foods there. Still, it’s a tough battle, in part because we need food to live, we have machines to spare us physical labor. Here too, we ignore our human history.

    All of this to say, I don’t think any amount of teaching or preaching or moralizing will stop post-pubertal people from thinking about sex or trying it out. Maybe some earlier societies could hide sexual desire or activity. Risking banishment from good graces may have stopped some, but it was never enough. It is not enough now in the most repressive cultures in the world, even when lives are in danger!

    I believe premarital sex is the norm. As for the pledges of chastity, I’m sure there are many teens with good intentions. The problem is, they aren’t allowed to think of themselves as human animals; they are told they are different. They also aren’t given good fail-safe measures for the times they fall short of their goal of chastity. Being teens, they probably still claim their purity in hopes of not being caught. This encourages abstinence promoters to keep pushing the program, even though studies have shown that most girls who pledge abstinence lose their virginity sooner than girls who never make that promise. And purity pledgers are less likely to use protection and more likely to practice risky sex behavior. Many believe that if it’s only oral or anal sex, they are still virgins.

  21. #21 Sara R
    December 24, 2006

    I’m not the same person as Judy. :) My comments are baffling? I take it you don’t make friends with many religious people?

    My original post wasn’t clear. Dh and I are in our 30s now, but got married in our 20s. I do know people who have abstained into their 40s though, in my church.

    Not that you asked, but we are LDS. I suspect that one of the only subgroups in which you will see significantly lower premarital sex rates are those LDS (Mormons) who marry in an LDS temple. In order to marry there, you have to be currently chaste. Some percentage may have had premarital sex beforehand and repented. It takes at least a year after premarital sex to be worthy to enter the temple. Some tiny percentage of people might in there by lie to the bishop about their worthiness. But I think most who marry there for the first time are virgins.

    I think in most other populations, even in other Christian churches, close relationships or engagements are going to lead to premarital sex. Dh and I would have when we were engaged if it hadn’t been for the temple.

    Wenchacha said “I think our contemporary ideas about sex and abstinence are sometimes in denial of human history.” Of course, sex outside of marriage has been going on for a long time. I do genealogy and notice lots of births after the marriage date. But religions and societies also knew the damage that premarital sex does to children and families, and strongly discouraged it. It still happened, but the rates were much lower than they are now. And if it did happen, the people usually got married. I don’t know the details, but they must have made those marriages work (otherwise the subsequent 9 children wouldn’t have been born). This created a family, giving the child a father in the home.

    The modern ideas of sex uncoupled from reproduction are in denial of reality as well. Sex still makes babies, even today. Contraceptive “failure rates” translate into real human babies. Many of my friends have adorable little birth control failures. An attitude of sex divorced from reproduction depends on the easy availability of abortion to take care of those so-called “failure rates.”

    Uncommitted sex leads to heartbreak because sex leads to a stronger emotional tie to someone, especially for the woman. It’s a biological thing, having to do with hormones (oxytocin? can’t remember the name right now). Sex is a symbol of total merger between two people, and is most beautiful when that symbol reflects the reality of the complete merging of their lives, as happens in marriage. Even if you don’t consciously believe this, people (perhaps mostly women) believe this unconsciously, and it leads to worse heartbreak when they break up.

    I have no problem with sex education in the home. My mom taught me everything when I was in elementary school. But she was able to do it in a way that reflected our values. She made clear to me that she hoped I wasn’t stupid enough to have sex outside of marriage, but if I did she hoped I would use birth control. One problem with mass “education” about sex is since it’s in a public school setting, it’s more difficult to teach about sex in its full context, conntected to values.

    Do you really think that lack of knowledge about condoms is a big problem? I don’t think I’ve ever met someone so naive that they didn’t know about this type of thing, and I think I hang out with more people who are naive than you guys do. :)

  22. #22 ohshenandoah
    December 24, 2006

    Historically, many first children were born within 6 months of parents’ marriage. In districts where births and marriages were recorded in parish books or county courthouses, the record indicates that 3/4 of the couples were pregnant at time of marriage.

    However, in a “village” atmosphere, premarital sex is different from promiscuity. Promiscuity, serial partners with no commitment, is extremely harmful.

  23. #23 GH
    December 24, 2006

    I take it you don’t make friends with many religious people?

    Just about everyone I know and love.

    But I think most who marry there for the first time are virgins.

    Seriously, what makes a virgin better than a person who has sex? Where is the increase in value? It’s a baloney concept that dates back to the time when women where property.

    I think in most other populations, even in other Christian churches, close relationships or engagements are going to lead to premarital sex. Dh and I would have when we were engaged if it hadn’t been for the temple.

    So you argue against premarital sex and then say you would have had premarital sex? How bizarre. I respect your right to have your belief but your belief I do not. Engagement is just a promise to marry not a guarantee.

    But religions and societies also knew the damage that premarital sex does to children and families, and strongly discouraged it.

    BS. Religion didn’t look at that at all. Women where property plain and simple. Premarital sex in the past would have occured at age 12 because most where maried after the onset on menstration.

    It still happened, but the rates were much lower than they are now. And if it did happen, the people usually got married. I don’t know the details, but they must have made those marriages work (otherwise the subsequent 9 children wouldn’t have been born).

    You may be a nice person but you are clueless. Causation doesn’t mean correlation. What makes you think people behaved different sexually in the past? All studies confirm it’s always been this way. As to marriages working that is simply silly. It also has always been the same. You’ve been sold a bad bill of goods.

    Uncommitted sex leads to heartbreak because sex leads to a stronger emotional tie to someone, especially for the woman. It’s a biological thing, having to do with hormones (oxytocin? can’t remember the name right now

    This is true for some not for others. I guess men don’t have this problem huh? Men must be built for no attachments. You taking a grain of truth and trying to make something out of it that isn’t there. You also neglect those who wait and find they are sexually incompatible as has happened to a few of my friends. They also suffer disappointment and heartbreak. Likewise I have friends who slept around and are happily married now. There is no magic way to ensure success.

    Your problem is your equating promiscuity with premarital sex and they are not the same.

    95% of the world is having premarital sex and by all indicators we have les social ills than before due to education.

    She made clear to me that she hoped I wasn’t stupid enough to have sex outside of marriage, but if I did she hoped I would use birth control.

    See this is where you lose my respect. ‘Stupid’ enough to have sex outside of marriage? Are you smarter because you waited for marriage? This is a false assumption. You are no better and no worse because you made this choice. With 95% of the world having premarital sex and getting along fine in life it tends to put a damper on the belief that waiting makes much of a difference.

    Your LDS? Tell us about the magic underwear. I’m serious I would like to know what this is all about.

  24. #24 Sara R
    December 24, 2006

    “Seriously, what makes a virgin better than a person who has sex?”

    When I said most marrying there for the first time are virgins, I include men in that statement, so none of this ridiculous “women are property” nonsense. Virgins marrying is superior from an epidemiological standpoint because there is zero chance of STDs between then. Of course, there is the chance that one could have an affair later, but I think the chances of this are less than it would be in an average marriage. If a person has enough self-discipline to abstain before marriage, it’s comparatively easy to be faithful in marriage. Emotionally, I think virgins marrying is superior because the sexual experience is just shared between the two people. Memories of earlier experiences don’t intrude. And, lest you worry that we don’t know what we’re doing, we figured out pretty quickly. It’s not terribly difficult. And there are a lot of books out there to help those with difficulties.

    “So you argue against premarital sex and then say you would have had premarital sex? How bizarre.”

    Let me explain. I just mean that getting people to abstain before marriage is a difficult goal for a society to achieve, and we only achieved it through the help of our church. I’m very glad we did though. If abstinence advocacy organizations can serve the same role, I think it’s a worthy cause.

    “Your problem is your equating promiscuity with premarital sex and they are not the same.”

    I grant you this. But even if someone has sex only with someone they really love (as my good non-LDS friends did in college), people would go through a few of these relationships before settling down. As the frequency of sexual experience goes up, so do the rates of out-of-wedlock pregnancy, disease, abortion, etc. It’s a continuum thing.

    “95% of the world is having premarital sex and by all indicators we have les social ills than before due to education.”

    Huh? Last I heard 25% of babies were born out of wedlock (rates go way higher than that in certain ethnic groups). Out of wedlock kids mean that children grow up without a father in the home from the beginning, which leads to many social problems. Not to mention abortion rates and diseases.

    “See this is where you lose my respect. ‘Stupid’ enough to have sex outside of marriage?”

    The original post said “stupid” before I did. :) Realize also that my mom was speaking to me at age 13, when it truly would have been stupid to have sex. I hope you can agree to that!

  25. #25 mary in hawaii
    December 24, 2006

    To equate sexual behavior with “morality” is to me the major problem. Religious “moralists” take a natural act and make it the subject of guilt and shame: that to me is unforgiveably harmful to the self esteem and self image of a young person. I am, in every important way, a very moral person. Yet I was labeled by peers (and thus self) as immoral because I engaged in sex as a teenager. That kind of stigmatization stays with one much longer than it should. Those who trumpet abstinence and virginity as the high holy grail of moral conduct, and condemn those who choose to engage in a totally wholesome and natural act with another person to whom they are not tied by some legally and socially sanctioned ceremony, are small minded hypocrits, IMHO. What about honesty, integrity, empathy, generousity, service to others? Don’t those attributes make you moral? Nope, not if you have sex outside the “sanctity” of marriage.

    Well, oh purveyors of sexual morality, shock of shocks I teach sex ed to young teenagers during my unit on human health. And like anything else, I teach it quite matter of factly and explicitly. The boys need to know how the girls function, and the girls how the boys function, so that they can understand how to function together in this, one of the strongest and most constant urges of the human body. Control over that body, those urges, comes from fully knowing what is going on. With Knowledge comes the ability and,yes, desire to be Responsible, and to exercise Control. The advocates of “just say no” want young people to know nothing about their sexuality, other than that it is wrong to even think about doing it before marriage, that it makes you sinful in God’s eyes, too dirty to enter the temple. My lord, what a terrible lie! Teenagers will be far more likely to make the right choices if they understand all the issues and are treated like adults. I give them that respect; I tell them that the only safe sex is no sex, but that if they are going to engage, don’t pretend it “just happened”, like that absolves all responsibility. It’s an adult act, do it like a responsible adult and use a condom. And talk about it first. And talk about it after. The only reason for that “emotional toll” the religious right claim sex takes on teenagers is that they (the RR) have placed too much importance on the act by their own moral guilt trip, so that if it doesn’t turn out to be lasting love there is an extra burden of guilt and shame to be borne.

  26. #26 Patrick
    December 25, 2006

    First my background: I grew up Evangelical. I’m still a Christian, though I consider myself post-Evangelical at this point and, just for reference so you know my political leanings, I did not vote Republican in the last two elections and I consider environmental care to be a very important Christian practice (I am unfortunately in the minority among American Christians)… but 10 years ago I would have certainly been considered part of the ‘Religious Right’.

    I think in the discussion here we have two sides talking past each other. While premarital sex is probably ‘normal’, I did not engage in sex prior to marriage in my late 20’s. I wasn’t trying to be ‘normal’ and I think most people with a religious motivation aren’t striving for ‘normality’. Sure I was aware that my non-religious peers were not abstaining. But for me personally, I did not find abstaining through highschool, college and some years after to be all that difficult. In fact there was really no struggle in it at all as I recall (well, I’m sure it helped to have a relatively short engagement ;-). If you’re commited to the idea of ‘saving yourself for marriage’ then you tend to naturally (un-naturally?) act in ways that keep you out of situations that could lead to trouble.

    Most religions tend to promote abstainance before marriage not only for the potential societal and health benefits but also because there is a belief that learning to control one’s appetites (whether it be food or sex) generally can make one a stronger person. However, outside of those who are religiously committed, I’m not sure it makes sense to try to teach abstinance as is now being done in the public schools. I think one must have some sort of religious motivation in order to make abstinance work (and even then some fail).

  27. #27 P.
    December 25, 2006

    Abstinence before marriage has always seemed, to me, to be a surefire way of ending up married to:

    – A guy who doesn’t know what the clitoris is, doesn’t care, and thinks the sex act should last about ten seconds, followed by promptly going to sleep;

    – Or a woman who thinks that sex is wrong and dirty, only wants to have PIV sex in the missionary position, and loses interest within a few years of getting married.

    I sympathize with the idea of only having sex with one person in your life, there’s a lot to be said for it if you’re a good match. But if you’re not, then you can spend your whole existence deprived of one of life’s greatest pleasures.

    And I really think that, if there is a God, he’s far more interested in how you treat your fellow beings, and what you do to make the world a better place, than in where, with whom, or how you have your orgasms.

  28. #28 wenchacha
    December 25, 2006

    Comment to P: I’m afraid another unintended bad consequence of abstinence until marriage is divorce. I wonder how many sweet young kids who got married right before, during, or right after WWII stayed married because they really loved one another? Divorce was frowned upon, and some churches didn’t support divorce at all, under any circumstances.

    If the only way you can have guiltless sex is by marrying, there are bound to be couples who convince themselves they are really in love. I’m not suggesting this is always the case, but people aren’t always as mature as they should be when they decide to marry.

  29. #29 Lise
    December 26, 2006

    “I think one must have some sort of religious motivation in order to make abstinance work (and even then some fail).”

    As an atheist who abstained from premarital sex, I feel obligated to comment. I had no religious convictions or moral objections to having sex before marriage. I simply felt that I didn’t want to have sex until I met a person with whom I would spend the rest of my life. My husband and I are now blissfully happy, and we didn’t suffer from any of the negative consequences of abstinence listed above.

    On the other hand, I think there’s ample evidence that the decision-making areas of the brain are not fully developed in adolescents. They are prone to impulsive behavior, and an infatuation at age 16 may feel like true love. As the maturation rate of the adolescent brain is not likely to change in the near future, the best course is probably to stress the use of protection, unless you’d prefer to lock your teenagers up.

  30. #30 C. Corax
    December 26, 2006

    Well, we used to argue that 18 year olds should be able to vote, since they were old enough to send off to war. I’d certainly say that if young people are emotionally mature enough to enlist, then they are emotionally mature enough to have sex.

  31. #31 Kagehi
    December 26, 2006

    sympathize with the idea of only having sex with one person in your life, there’s a lot to be said for it if you’re a good match. But if you’re not, then you can spend your whole existence deprived of one of life’s greatest pleasures.

    As someone who is 35 and hasn’t, I ironically never the less completely disagree. Its not about if you are a “good match”. What makes people that choose abstinence think that sex is *any* different than anything else humans do and magically do well the first time? Sex takes practice. Some people are open enough to try a lot with each other and they get better. Some try it a few times, are horrible at it, and never do it again. Some people are both *intentionally* made ignorant about their bodies, how they feel, what feels good and doesn’t, then also get sold the bill that they shouldn’t even try until they marry *and* that they must have lots of kids when they do. This has got to be the most horrible sexual relationship anyone can imagine. Its bad to start, it won’t likely get bettere, because they are not *supposed to* think about making it better or how good it feels, but they have to do it as much as possible to produce children. That is sick and evil!! People that do not have those hang ups, but are still sold on the silly idea that its going to be magical the first time are just ignorant fools, but at least they might have had the option to masterbate some, so they at least can tell their equally ignorant and clueless partner that they are doing something wrong.

    Everything takes practice. Sex is just the one thing that historically was used to cement financial arrangements and kingdoms, so people made up BS about staying “pure” until married, to avoid any little accidents (which happened anyway). Now we worry about diseases and it happens anyway. The only thing that has changed is the number of people that think women should be property and baby factories. Not even an admittence of the failures or trying to force people to not be human or the idea that one should find “safe” ways to practice, before the real thing. Some people still want, and force on everyone else, the insane idea that the former works and the later makes people “more likely” to have it. Both are bullshit. Same with “protecting kids from nude pictures.” Seen some statistics on that too. Nudist kids wait 2-3 years longer to have sex than “clothed” people’s kids, and clothed people’s kids, according to other studies tend to wait 2-3 years longer when educated properly, instead of brought up in religious abstinance only programs. That means that, logically, if you set 18-20 as the most common age, on average those being a) told nudity is evil and b) abstinence is the only answer, should be having sex 4-6 years *earlier* than everyone else. Figures… We create a society where pedophilia is recognized as evil and consent is usually *at least* 16 in most states, if not higher, and in the Bible belt, where all the paranoia and fear over nakedness and the strongest insistence for abstinance exist, kids are still (based on the numbers above) screwing each other at the same age that old geezers would have married them to their cousin to cement a financial agreement around 200+ years ago… lol

    Yeah. I am real impressed with the goofy idea that sex is best virgin and that we need to do lots of stupid and insanely paranoid things to make sure it stays that way, especially when all evidence suggests the 180 degree opposite for *all but its tiny fraction of advocated, for which it worked*.

  32. #32 Easy Hiker
    December 26, 2006

    I recognizing Revere’s comments on what people are actually doing constitutes the norm. But perhaps there is room for a comment on what is desirable. Desirable for the two individuals in the relationship, that is. Religion aside in this case.

    I have a psychiatrist friend who tells me she recommends to all her patients to abstain from sex before marriage. The basis for this is numerous studies indicating a much higher likelihood of marital success. Seems to have something to do with establishment of emotional intimacy, with attendant bonding, before physical intimacy. Apparently, the physical bonding first creates a kind of “desire based” relationship that lacks substance. I’m sure my terms are less than scientific, but you get the idea. Sorry, I can’t quote the actual studies but she has practiced for 25 + years and I trust her. To me this indicates another “norm” in human behavior — sexual abstainance is much more likely to lead to marital happiness.

    Similarly, she tells me those who make a commitment to marry are much less likely to separate or divorce than those who choose to live together. Again, this is based on some good research, not just opinion. So there is yet another “norm” — marriage is more likely to lead to mutually satisfying relationships.

    I also have a good psychologist friend (lucky me) who completely agrees with the above two recommendations and for the same reasons. He has 30+ years experience and I trust him as well. Both of these professionals keep current with research in their field and these are their recommendations.

    Yes, I realize many people have premarital sex and some never marry and lead OK lives. But my purpose in making these comments is to suggest that sex, premarital or otherwise, be considered in light of the whole relationship.

    Absent any moral/religious constraints sex is sex and, of course, it feels good. However, if a mutually satisfying and fulfilling relationshop is the goal, it would be well to consider more. The totality of the relationship has more aspects than there is room here to enumerate.

    My point is that some good science indicates abstainance before marriage, and marriage itself, leads to greater individual happiness. Seems that “old fashioned” advice has some basis in fact.

  33. #33 mjb
    December 26, 2006

    I think there’s some confusion here because of different kinds of behavior being lumped into the same category ‘premaritial sex’. I would guess that most people have sex once they have made the choice to marry, without waiting for the official ceremony. But this is because they’ve married except on paper. This isn’t at all the same as sex with someone you aren’t marrying, which is probably more what the anti-premaritial sex people are most concerned about.

  34. #34 CH
    December 27, 2006

    I’ve known a few abstainers and they didn’t end up any happier than the rest of us. In fact, they got curious and cheated on their spouse later or came out of the closet. All this talk of the emotional baggage that comes with sex ignores the emotional baggage that comes without sex. What I don’t like about abstinence only is that people rush into marriage and think they’ve done something grand or religious. Really, they’ve been stupid.

  35. #35 Davis
    December 27, 2006

    My point is that some good science indicates abstainance before marriage, and marriage itself, leads to greater individual happiness.

    Even if this is true, it’s irrelevant to the primary issue — it’s certainly not a justification for abstinence-only sex education.

  36. #36 Sara R
    January 6, 2007

    Unprotected, an article about the often downplayed emotional consequences of promiscuity.

    From the article…

    Meet the liberated college woman. You may pity her.

    “Unprotected” is a hard slap at the sexual free-for-all that prevails on American campuses and throughout American life. The author, revealed since publication as Dr. Miriam Grossman, a psychiatrist at the student health service at UCLA, was hesitant to put her name on this book. The orthodoxy within the academic world is a strict one, and those who transgress often pay with their jobs. Let’s hope for her sake, but particularly for her patients’ well being, that she is not punished for her heterodox views.

    What does Dr. Grossman believe that is so dangerous to admit? Well, start with ordinary sex. She believes that casual, promiscuous sex is tough on many women. They are hard-wired to bond with those they have sex with (the hormone oxytocin is implicated), and she sees countless female students reporting stress, eating disorders and even depression for reasons they cannot understand. After all, the world sells them on the notion that sex is pure recreation, that the “hook-up” culture is natural and even empowering to women, and that love and sex are two completely different things.

  37. #37 Michael
    February 11, 2007

    Someone on this thread mentioned that entering into and leaving sexual relationships may cause heartbreak.

    I know for a fact that virginity causes hearthbreak, because I am a virgin. Everyone I grew up with, everyone that I went to college with has had sex. They are much happier than I am. I feel defective, inferior, and worthless due to the fact that I failed to get into a sexual relationship. (I am twenty-nine now.) Feelings of shame, rage, frustration, resentment, isolation, alienation, despair, depression, and suicide are the emotional baggage that comes with old virginity.

    People who advocate abstinence are sick perverts, even more so than those who advocate homosexuality. Those sick people should not be allowed around kids!

  38. #38 ingrid G.
    May 15, 2009

    sooo what r the divorce rates in the US? pff hahaha

    cuz waiting till marriage is sooo gonna ensure a perfect monogomous marriage…

  39. #39 blue
    May 28, 2009

    i’m a 45 year old man i had sex for the first time at 40 on my wedding night. my wife was not virgin at the time but she waited for me.

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