Find articles by Lawrence B. The findings and conclusions presented are those of the author. 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. 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.
Methods 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. Conclusions 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 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Unpublished tabulations of data from the General Social Survey, — However, research has questioned whether such a chaste period ever existed.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 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, in , 8, in , and 10, in The survey interviewed 7, women in this age range, and for the first time a sample of 4, men were also surveyed. A better methodological approach used in the current study is event history analysis, which allows one to take into account the experience of people at all ages and of all marital statuses.
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 RESULTS 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 significantly 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 overall 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.