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Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. Policy and programmatic efforts promoting sexual abstinence until marriage have increased, but it is unclear whether establishing such behavior as normative is a realistic public health goal. This study examined the proportion of individuals in various cohorts who had had premarital sex defined as either having had vaginal intercourse before first marrying or ever having had intercourse and never having married by various ages.
Data from four cycles of the National Survey of Family Growth, —, and event history analysis techniques, including Kaplan-Meier life-table procedures and Cox proportional-hazards regression models, were used to examine the incidence of premarital sex by gender and historical cohort.
Almost all Americans have sex before marrying. These findings argue for education and interventions that provide the skills and information people need to protect themselves from unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases once they become sexually active, regardless of marital status. Over the past decade, increasing amounts of advocacy, funding, and programmatic effort have focused on encouraging Americans to abstain from sexual intercourse until they marry.
The primary stated goal of these efforts is to encourage all Americans to abstain from sex until they marry. The median age at menarche is The first goal of this analysis was to quantify current normative behavior by calculating the proportion of Americans who have had premarital sex. Unpublished tabulations of data from the General Social Survey, — However, research has questioned whether such a chaste period ever existed.
Many or most abstinence-until-marriage programmatic efforts are aimed at teens. The primary I want sex United States sources for this analysis were the four most recent cycles of the National Survey of Family Growth NSFGconducted in,and The NSFG is a nationally representative, in-person survey that collects detailed information on individuals' sexual, marital, contraceptive, and childbearing behaviors.
The, and NSFGs all surveyed women aged 15—44; the sample sizes were 7, in8, inand 10, in The survey interviewed 7, women in this age range, and for the first time a sample of 4, men were also surveyed.
I constructed a measure of premarital sex by combining measures of the age in years and months at which the respondent first had vaginal sexual intercourse if the individual had ever had sex and the age he or she first married if the individual had ever married. A better methodological approach used in the current study is event history analysis, which allows one to take into the experience of people at all ages and of all marital statuses.
In the current analysis, an event was defined as having sex for the first time before ever having married. Individuals whose month of first sex was earlier than their month of first marriage, or who had had sex but had not married by the time of interview, were considered to have experienced the event.
I then calculated the proportion of individuals who had had premarital sex by each age, or event curves, using Kaplan-Meier life-table procedures. Event curves were first calculated for all male and female respondents together and separately in the NSFG. To better examine change over time, I used all four rounds of the NSFG to calculate separate curves for women only by year age cohort, based on the year each person turned 15 and beginning with the —63 cohort. Earlier cohorts have curves that extend to older ages than later cohorts, since only individuals in the earlier cohorts have reached those later ages.
Finally, in order to examine the behavior of those who abstained until at least a certain age, I calculated premarital sex proportions for the subsets of men and women in the NSFG who had not yet had sex by exact ages 15, 18, and Figure 1 shows the proportion of individuals in the survey who had had sex, had premarital sex, and married by each age; the Table contains the proportion who had had premarital sex by specific ages for all respondents and by gender, as well as the median age at first premarital sex for various subgroups.
At that age, 3. Cox tests of equality 20 indicated that the likelihood of having sex at all did not differ ificantly by gender. Females were more likely to have married by each age, reflecting the fact that women typically marry at a younger age than men. It is important to note that although the I want sex United States marriage curve is included for comparison to the sex curves, the percent who had had premarital sex by a certain age cannot be calculated by taking the difference between the sex curve and the marriage curve at that age, because most of those who had both had sex and been married by that age had had sex first.
Percent of individuals who had had sex, had premarital I want sex United States, and married by specific ages, National Survey of Family Growth. Figure 2 and the Table show premarital sex proportions using data from all four surveys for women only by year cohort.
The difference between the first cohort and subsequent ones was larger than later differences. Percent of women who had had premarital sex by specific ages, by decade turned The youngest cohort had not yet reached age 30 by the time of the most recent survey. A Cox proportional-hazards regression model 20 including cohort as the only predictor indicated that the first four cohorts were ificantly different from each other, but that the —93 and the — cohorts were not ificantly different not shown.
Figure 2 suggests that the vast majority of those who have premarital sex have done so by age Figure 3 and the Table show premarital sex proportions for those individuals both male and female in the NSFG who had not yet had sex by exact ages 15, 18, and Among those individuals who abstained until at least a certain age, percent who had had premarital sex by later ages, National Survey of Family Growth. The of the analysis indicate that premarital sex is highly normative behavior.
Almost all individuals of both sexes have intercourse before marrying, and the proportion has been roughly similar for the past 40 years. The slight decrease between the —93 and — cohorts was not statistically ificant. The increase seen beginning with the —73 cohort may be partly due to increased availability of effective contraception in particular, the pillwhich made it less likely that sex would lead to pregnancy; 21 but even among women who were born in the s, nearly nine in ten had had premarital sex by age Among those who did not have sex at all during their teen years, eight in ten eventually had premarital sex.
Premarital sex as normative behavior is not surprising in an era when men and women typically marry in their mid-to-late twenties. Indeed, not only is premarital sex nearly universal by age 30, but it is also very common at much younger ages. Evidence from the past 50 years suggests that establishing abstinence until marriage as normative behavior is a challenging policy goal.
Instead, these findings argue for education and interventions that provide young people with the skills and information they need to protect themselves from unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases once they become sexually active. Percentage of various groups who had had premarital sex by specific ages, and median age at first premarital sex. National Center for Biotechnology InformationU. Journal List Public Health Rep v. Public Health Rep. Lawrence B. FinerPhD a.
Author information Copyright and information Disclaimer. Address correspondence to: Lawrence B. This work was supported by the Ford Foundation. The findings and conclusions presented are those of the author. This article has been cited by other articles in PMC. SYNOPSIS Objectives Policy and programmatic efforts promoting sexual abstinence until marriage have increased, but it is unclear whether establishing such behavior as normative is a realistic public health goal. Methods Data from four cycles of the I want sex United States Survey of Family Growth, —, and event history analysis techniques, including Kaplan-Meier life-table procedures and Cox proportional-hazards regression models, were used to examine the incidence of premarital sex by gender and historical cohort.
Conclusions Almost all Americans have sex before marrying. Open in a separate window. Figure 1. Figure 2. Figure 3. Discussion The of the analysis indicate that premarital sex is highly normative behavior. Donovan P, Kaeser L. Welfare reform, marriage and sexual behavior. Abstinence and abstinence-only education: a review of U. J Adolesc Health. Dailard C. The other shoe drops: federal abstinence education program becomes more restrictive. Guttmacher Policy Review. Schemo DJ. New York Times; Dec 28, [cited Sep 18].
Sex education with just one lesson: no sex. Abstinence Clearinghouse. Networking people for abstinence: about us. Medical Institute for Sexual Health. Estimated median age at first marriage, by sex: to the present. Statistical abstract of the United States: Table The Alan Guttmacher Institute. New York: AGI; In their own right: addressing the sexual and reproductive health of American men. Teenagers in the United States: sexual activity, contraceptive use and childbearing, Vital Health Stat Table 3.
Coontz S. New York: Basic Books; The way we never were: American families and the nostalgia trap. Not yet: programs to delay first sex among teens. Healthy PeopleObjective Talk about abstinence. Vital Health Stat 1. Fertility, family planning and reproductive health of U. Allison PD. Event history analysis: regression for longitudinal event data.
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