A New Study of Pre-Marital Sexual Activity Raises Important Questions for the Church

John ArmstrongSexuality

The Guttmacher Institute, a respected New York-based think tank that studies sexual and reproductive issues, released a study yesterday that said more than nine out of ten Americans, men and women alike, have had premarital sex. I am frankly not sure what to make of these numbers.

What is even more surprising to some is the claim that these high rates extend all the way back to the 1940s, challenging perceptions that people before the 1960s were more chaste than people in recent decades. (Frankly, I am not surprised at this observation at all since I think we romanticize about the previous generation being morally stronger than this one.)

The study is based on interviews conducted in 1982, 1988, 1995 and 2002. The overwhelming majority (33,000 of 38,000) of those surveyed were women. The survey said 95% of the respondents had sex before marriage. And, if the survey is to be believed, women are about as likely to engage in pre-marital sex as men. Lawrence Finer, the author of the report, openly challenges all government sponsored programs that encourage abstinence before marriage so his “agenda” position gives me some pause about his claims. Finer concludes, “The data clearly shows that the majority of older teens and adults have already had sex before marriage, which calls into question the federal governments funding of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs for 12-to-29-year-olds.” He adds, “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 will.”

I, for one, look forward to reading various reactions that will undoubtedly be generated by this report. I am suspicious of numbers this high. My own experience tells me that the number is high, but not this high. One thing I am quite sure about—pre-marital sexual activity is very high and thus the moral teaching of the Christian Church is virtually ignored by those who profess faith and obedience to Jesus Christ as Lord. One cannot help but wonder how the Church will respond to such sexually promiscuous practice. We do not need a reversion to “guilt manipulation” that makes those who sin sexually into second-class people but we sure could use some very serious teaching on spiritual formation, holy abstinence and godly self-discipline. There are lots of “guilty” teens, and young adults, in your congregation and “just say no” is clearly not working. We should put this subject out in the open in the church if we are serious about helping people practice godly chastity. (I seriously question if the will to practice godly chastity still exists in most churches.) I also know that when revival has impacted generations in the past such sins have surfaced through confession by the powerful work of the Holy Spirit within the lives of Christians and converts. There appears to be a lot to confess if the Spirit moves in power again.