New Survey: 95% Have Had Premarital Sex

What's Focus on the Family's reaction? Shoot the messenger.

Jim Burroway

December 29th, 2006

Finer, Lawrence B. “Trends in premarital sex in the United States, 1954-2003.” Public Health Reports 122, no. 1 (January 2007): 73-78. Abstract available here.

A new study on premarital sex has been published in the peer-reviewed journal Public Health Reports by Lawrence Finer, Director of Domestic Research of the Guttmacher Institute. Dr. Finer observes that “Over the past decade, increasing amounts of advocacy, finding and programmatic effort have focused on encouraging Americans to abstain from sexual intercourse until they marry.” But Americans have been pushing the age of marriage later than previous generations, so that now the median age of first marriage for women has increased from 22.1 to 25.8 years in the past 25 years. The median age of first marriage for men increased from 24.4 to 27.4 years in the same period. This study examines whether Americans are actually likely to buy into the “abstinence until marriage” approach favored by social conservatives.

This study is based on the probability-sampled National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), a set of nationally representative surveys conducted in 1982, 1988, 1995 and 2002. From this data, we learn:

  • By age 20, 75% of respondents had had premarital sex.
  • By age 44, 95% of respondents had had premarital sex.
  • Even among those who abstained until age 20, 81% had had premarital sex by age 44.
  • Even among those women who turned 15 between 1954 and 1963 (generally before the “sexual revolution”), 82% had had premarital sex by age 30 and 88% had done so by age 44.

So, in short, the answer is no, the “abstinence until marriage” message is not taking root. What’s more, it wasn’t followed by more than four-fifths of the women born between 1939 and 1948. These figures are difficult to refute. They come from a very large set of nationally representative surveys, with margins of error of around a single percentage point or less.

As you can imagine, this survey has social conservatives in a tizzy. Focus on the Family has led the way with the talking points that other social conservatives have picked up on:

But Linda Klepacki, analyst for sexual health at Focus on the Family Action, said the motive behind the Guttmacher report is suspect, especially given the group’s close affiliation with Planned Parenthood.

“This is the condom cartel’s attempt at normalizing out-of-wedlock sexual behavior,” she said. “This is one in a series of documents that is designed to set the battle lines for January’s congressional battles over (funding for) sex education.”

Glenn Stanton, senior analyst for marriage and sexuality at Focus on the Family, questioned the method used to collect the data.

“These numbers seem a little high to me,” he said. “Additionally, what they don’t tell us is how active people were before marriage. Were most of these encounters among people who were engaged or were they simply casual hook-ups? We don’t know.”

Other reactions continue in that vein: Personal attacks on Dr. Finer’s integrity, vague references to un-named studies on unrelated issues, and comments like “these numbers seem a little high”. There are virtually no critiques of this study’s methodologies, just gripes about its findings.

Most telling in Focus on the Family’s reaction is their attempt to go after Dr. Finer’s reputation, citing his connections with Planned Parenthood and claiming that he is biased towards condom-based education. But as Paul Cameron recently wrote, “Accuracy is the most important aspect of empiricism. If investigators are clear about their method and employ it to generate ‘facts,’ their opinions are irrelevant.” (Letter: “Facts, not opinion, drive science: A reply to Morrison” Journal of Biosocial Science 39, no. 1 (January 2007): 155-156)

Far be it for me to ever agree with Paul Cameron, but as my father used to say, even a broken clock is right twice a day. If the methodology is sound, then it doesn’t matter what personal opinions the researcher holds. The data stands on its own. But if the methodology is flawed, it should be relatively easy to list those flaws and what they may mean for the findings. But because these findings are based on nationally representative surveys with margins of error of about 1% or less, Focus on the Family didn’t cite flaws in the methodology, apparently because they couldn’t find any. So they did the next best thing. They attacked the messenger.

But as far as I can tell, this data is solid. And it’s not the first time we’ve seen evidence that premarital sex is normative behavior in overwhelming numbers. Just last February, a survey of devout Baptist newlyweds (all of them “professed faith in Christ,” 99% attended church weekly, and 84% grew up in church) found that only 27% of them “entered the marriage bed chaste.” In other words, 73% of these devout Baptists had had premarital sex. And this came from a researcher who claimed that abstinence-until-marriage messages were successful!

And so the pattern continues. When Focus on the Family is caught manipulating research, they dig in their heels and claim they are victims of attacks by “homosexual activists” — even when the scientists themselves denounce Focus’ misrepresentations. But when Focus on the Family is confronted by real science like this, they do the very thing they claim “homosexual activist” are doing. They attack the messenger. That’s a very poor way to bolster scientific credibility, and it’s a funny way to promote values. But that’s what passes for scientific inquiry and family values at Focus on the Family.

David C.

November 17th, 2008

Permit me to paraphrase one of the most notorious propagandists of the last century:

“The lie can be maintained only for such time as the oppressors can shield the people from the political, economic, or health consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the oppressors to use all of their powers to repress and discredit dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth becomes the greatest enemy of the oppressors.”

“Borrowed” from -Chief Nazi ‘Information Officer’ Dr. Joseph P. Goebbels

Truth is the enemy of those that would deny the civil rights of anyone in the name of anything.

Leave A Comment

All comments reflect the opinions of commenters only. They are not necessarily those of anyone associated with Box Turtle Bulletin. Comments are subject to our Comments Policy.

(Required)
(Required, never shared)

PLEASE NOTE: All comments are subject to our Comments Policy.

 

Latest Posts

West Virginia Law Says This Man Did Not Commit A Hate Crime

Nope. Chiapas Didn't Enact Marriage Equality

Today's Agenda Is Brought To You By...

Today In History, 1979: Gay Law Students Challenge Pacific Telephone's Hiring Practices -- and Win

Today In History, 1986: Scientists Trace HIV to 1951

Born On This Day, 1819: Walt Whitman

Born On This Day, 1918: Bob Hull

Emphasis Mine

Featured Reports

What Are Little Boys Made Of?

In this original BTB Investigation, we unveil the tragic story of Kirk Murphy, a four-year-old boy who was treated for “cross-gender disturbance” in 1970 by a young grad student by the name of George Rekers. This story is a stark reminder that there are severe and damaging consequences when therapists try to ensure that boys will be boys.

Slouching Towards Kampala: Uganda’s Deadly Embrace of Hate

When we first reported on three American anti-gay activists traveling to Kampala for a three-day conference, we had no idea that it would be the first report of a long string of events leading to a proposal to institute the death penalty for LGBT people. But that is exactly what happened. In this report, we review our collection of more than 500 posts to tell the story of one nation’s embrace of hatred toward gay people. This report will be updated continuously as events continue to unfold. Check here for the latest updates.

Paul Cameron’s World

In 2005, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote that “[Paul] Cameron’s ‘science’ echoes Nazi Germany.” What the SPLC didn”t know was Cameron doesn’t just “echo” Nazi Germany. He quoted extensively from one of the Final Solution’s architects. This puts his fascination with quarantines, mandatory tattoos, and extermination being a “plausible idea” in a whole new and deeply disturbing light.

From the Inside: Focus on the Family’s “Love Won Out”

On February 10, I attended an all-day “Love Won Out” ex-gay conference in Phoenix, put on by Focus on the Family and Exodus International. In this series of reports, I talk about what I learned there: the people who go to these conferences, the things that they hear, and what this all means for them, their families and for the rest of us.

Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
Part 1: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
Part 3: A Whole New Dialect
Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word "Change" Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For "Change"

The Heterosexual Agenda: Exposing The Myths

At last, the truth can now be told.

Using the same research methods employed by most anti-gay political pressure groups, we examine the statistics and the case studies that dispel many of the myths about heterosexuality. Download your copy today!

And don‘t miss our companion report, How To Write An Anti-Gay Tract In Fifteen Easy Steps.

Testing The Premise: Are Gays A Threat To Our Children?

Anti-gay activists often charge that gay men and women pose a threat to children. In this report, we explore the supposed connection between homosexuality and child sexual abuse, the conclusions reached by the most knowledgeable professionals in the field, and how anti-gay activists continue to ignore their findings. This has tremendous consequences, not just for gay men and women, but more importantly for the safety of all our children.

Straight From The Source: What the “Dutch Study” Really Says About Gay Couples

Anti-gay activists often cite the “Dutch Study” to claim that gay unions last only about 1½ years and that the these men have an average of eight additional partners per year outside of their steady relationship. In this report, we will take you step by step into the study to see whether the claims are true.

The FRC’s Briefs Are Showing

Tony Perkins’ Family Research Council submitted an Amicus Brief to the Maryland Court of Appeals as that court prepared to consider the issue of gay marriage. We examine just one small section of that brief to reveal the junk science and fraudulent claims of the Family “Research” Council.

Daniel Fetty Doesn’t Count

Daniel FettyThe FBI’s annual Hate Crime Statistics aren’t as complete as they ought to be, and their report for 2004 was no exception. In fact, their most recent report has quite a few glaring holes. Holes big enough for Daniel Fetty to fall through.