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Senior Citizens, Baby Boomers & Sex

Almost all Americans Have Sex before Marriage and Have for Decades

Even 9 of 10 of today's senior women born in 40's did it

December 21, 2006 - When you were young and thought you were the only one that didn't do it – have premarital sex, that is - you were probably right. Almost all Americans have sex before marrying, says a new study. Contrary to the public perception that premarital sex is much more common now than in the past, the study shows that even among women who were born in the 1940s, nearly nine in 10 had sex before marriage. Unfortunately, the study did not include much about senior citizens born before 1940.

 

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Public opinion polls over the last 20 years have consistently shown that about 35% of adults say premarital sex is always or almost always wrong, according to the author. In the same vein, there is a common popular perception that most or all of those who came of age before the “sexual revolution” of the 1960s and 1970s waited until they married to have sex, and that it is necessary to revert to the behaviors of that earlier time in order to eliminate the problems of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

However, research has questioned whether such a chaste period ever existed.

According to this analysis, by age 44, 99% of respondents had had sex, and 95% had done so before marriage. Even among those who abstained from sex until age 20 or older, 81% had had premarital sex by age 44.

The vast majority of Americans have sex before marriage, including those who abstained from sex during their teenage years, according to “Trends in Premarital Sex in the United States, 1954–2003,” by Lawrence B. Finer, published in the January/February 2007 issue of Public Health Reports.

The study uses data from several rounds of the federal National Survey of Family Growth to examine sexual behavior before marriage, and how it has changed over time.

“This is reality-check research. Premarital sex is normal behavior for the vast majority of Americans, and has been for decades,” says study author Finer, director of domestic research at the Guttmacher Institute.

“The data clearly show that the majority of older teens and adults have already had sex before marriage, which calls into question the federal government’s funding of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs for 12–29-year-olds. It would be more effective to provide young people with the skills and information they need to be safe once they become sexually active—which nearly everyone eventually will.”

Indeed, while the likelihood that Americans will have sex before marriage has remained virtually unchanged since the 1950s, people now wait longer to get married, so they are sexually active and unmarried for much longer than in the past. During this period, Dr. Finer concludes, young adults have an especially great need for accurate information about how to protect themselves against unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.

Highlights

  ● The results 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 increase seen beginning with the 1964–73 cohort may be partly due to increased availability of effective contraception (in particular, the pill), which made it less likely that sex would lead to pregnancy; but even among women who were born in the 1940s, nearly nine in ten had had premarital sex by age 44.

  ● 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

 

 

Percent who had had premarital sex by exact age:

 

Group

Age in
2002–2003
a

15

18

20

25

30

35

40

44

Median
age at first
premarital
sex

NSFG 2002 respondents

All

15–44

16

58

75

89

93

94

95

95

17.4

Women

15–44

13

54

74

88

93

94

94

94

17.2

Men

15–44

20

60

77

89

93

94

95

96

17.6

Cohorts turning 15 in:

1954–63

55–64

4

26

48

73

82

84

85

88

20.4

1964–73

45–54

6

39

65

86

91

93

93

94

18.6

1974–83

35–44

10

50

72

88

92

93

93

NA

18.0

1984–93

25–34

13

59

76

89

94

NA

NA

NA

17.3

1994–03

15–24

14

54

74

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

17.6

Those who abstained until at least exact age:

15

15–44

NA

49

71

87

92

93

94

94

18.0

18

18–44

NA

NA

42

74

84

86

87

89

20.7

20

20–44

NA

NA

NA

54

72

75

78

81

24.1

The table shows a trend from the 1950s through the 1990s toward a higher proportion experiencing premarital sex: 48% of the cohort who turned 15 from 1954 to 1963 had done so by exact age 20, while 65% of the 1964–73 cohort, 72% of the 1974–83 cohort, and 76% of the 1984–93 cohort had done so. For the 1994–2003 cohort, 74% had had premarital sex by exact age 20, a figure between that of the 1974–83 and 1984–93 cohorts. The difference between the first cohort and subsequent ones was larger than later differences.

Among those born in the 1940s and turning 15 from 1954 to 1963, 82% had had premarital sex by exact age 30, and 88% had done so by exact age 44.

For more recent cohorts turning 15 from 1964 to 1993, at least 91% had done so by exact age 30.

The vast majority of those who have premarital sex have done so by age 30.

>> For the complete study, click here

>> Pro-Family Groups Challenge Study, click here

>> Guttmacher Institute, click here.

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