Apparently, True Love is not Waiting for most Americans. According to a report released Tuesday, the vast majority of Americans have engaged in premarital sex.
This from a study by the Guttmacher Institute based on research acquired from the National Survey of Family Growth. How pervasive is premarital sex? Consider these statistics (accumulated from the articles mentioned below) from those interviewed in 2002:
- 95% reported they had had premarital sex
- 93% said they did so by age 30
- 97 percent of people who were no longer virgins at age 44 had sexual intercourse for the first time before they married
- By age 20, only 12 percent of people interviewed had married, but 77 percent had sex, and 75 percent had sex before marriage
- By age 44, 99 percent of people were no longer virgins, 95 percent reported having had premarital intercourse, and 85 percent had married at some point
- Even among a subgroup of those who abstained from sex until at least age 20, four-fifths had had premarital sex by age 44
- Among women born between 1950 and 1978, at least 91 percent had had premarital sex by age 30
- Among those born in the 1940s, 88 percent had done so by age 44
Several of the major news outlets have picked up the story:
- Study: More Than 9 Out of 10 Americans — Even Grandparents — Had Premarital Sex, Fox News
- Wait Until Marriage? ‘Extremely Challenging’, Washington Post
- Most Americans have had premarital sex, study finds, USA Today
What should we make of these shocking statistics? I have to confess my initial, overwhelming reluctance to embrace their accuracy. Why? The Guttmacher Institute is one of the leading advocates for the elimination of funding for abstinence-only sex education. Therefore, there may be some level of bias that has skewed the numbers in order to denigrate the credibility of the abstinence-only approach.
However, it seems as if the data is so lopsided, that even if the numbers weren’t entirely accurate, it paints a telling picture of the sexual priorities of our culture. In other words, even if it is 80% instead of 90% of people engaging in premarital sex, this is telling.
Should we be surprised at these stats? Absolutely not. Fornication will always characterize this fallen world, and the promiscuity encouraged by our sex-saturated society only fuels that. For those who are lost, there is generally no compelling reason not to engage in premarital sex. If it feels good, do it.
In fact, Carrie Miles argues in her book The Redemption of Love that the economic incentives for women to exercise sexual restraint have largely evaporated. Put simply, since they are no longer as dependent on men to provide for them financially, they are no longer needing to restrain themselves sexually.
On the other hand, there is clearly a dichotomy between those who claim to be Evangelical Christians and the number of people who have followed the Bible’s expectation to not have premarital sex. In other words, something is missing when 40% of the country is in church every week yet only 10% of the country is maintaining their virginity.
It seems like many of the people I know are virgins prior to marriage. Either they are prude anomalies that contrast the norm for our culture or else there are a lot of people lying about their premarital sexual activity.
Should we give up on abstinence only programs for sex education? No. Should we give up on True Love Waits? Maybe. Both types of programs can be used in God’s providence to function as vehicles for restraining grace in the life of young people who are swamped by the sexual revolution.
However, we are foolish to think that there will ever be any longterm, consistent victory in the battle for sexual purity until it is rooted in the fact that chastity is a gospel issue. What we do with our bodies reflects what we believe about Christ. As I have argued before:
The reason that chastity is not being embraced by this generation of evangelical young people is twofold. First, they’ve been taught a compartmentalized view of purity that separates do’s and don’ts from the fact that sexuality is a gospel issue. Second, young people are left with little hope of realistically preserving their purity for the 15 years between when they hit puberty and when they marry (for men, average age 28 and for women, average age 26).
Until churches recapture a vision for rooting sexual purity in the fact that chastity is a gospel issue and restore hope to young people by advocating for earlier marriage, the cycle of moral failure will continue.
Update: Baptist Press shares the same concerns about misrepresentation that I mentioned. From their article:
“It would be more forthright for the Guttmacher Institute to mention in its reports that it is the research arm for Planned Parenthood,” Richard Ross, founder of the True Love Waits abstinence movement, told Baptist Press. “Corporate profits and staff salaries at Planned Parenthood depend on abortion services.
However, Finer’s assertion does not square with other studies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2003 that 47 percent of teenagers had had sex, compared to 54 percent in 1991. And the Heritage Foundation said in 2004 that young women who take a virginity pledge are at least 40 percent less likely to have a child out of wedlock and 12 times more likely to be virgins when they marry, compared to young women who do not make such a pledge.
“The logic that accompanies this new report seems to be this: When behavior becomes normative, it becomes morally acceptable,” Ross told BP. “I wonder if the folks at Guttmacher would apply that logic to other behaviors among the young. For example, most research indicates that almost all children and youth tell lies from time to time. Should schools and families just accept that as a fact of life and stop calling the young to truthfulness?