Sex before marriage is becoming prevalent. But how common and accepted is it? What are its benefits & risks? We answer all your premarital sex questions here. Read on:
Whether you believe it’ll send you straight to Hell or you’re out looking for it every night, premarital sex is a fact of life.
But what’s the truth behind it? How common is it? And could there actually be benefits to waiting until you tie the knot to do the nasty?
Table of Contents
Top Premarital Sex Stats:
- 95% of Americans have non-marital sex by the time they are 44.
- In 2002, only 3.3% of Americans had abstained until marriage.
- 12% of women and 61% of men born before 1910 admitted to engaging in premarital sex.
- 50% of Christians believe that casual sex is morally acceptable, while 50% say it’s unacceptable.
- Those who attend religious services regularly are twice as likely to find the idea of casual sex morally unacceptable.
- 58% of US adults said that there was nothing wrong with premarital sex in 2012, twice as many as in 1970 (29%).
- 12% of young women and 40% of young men approved of non-marital sex in 1943. 73% of young women and 79% of young men approved of non-marital sex in 1999.
- 54% of American teens believe that sex before marriage can enhance and strengthen romantic relationships.
How Common Is Sex Before Marriage in America?
The short answer is, VERY!
Let’s break it down.
- 75% of Americans had had premarital sex by the time they were 20 years old.
- 95% of Americans had had premarital sex by the time they were 44.
- Among the respondents who did not have premarital sex by the age of 20, 81% of them did have premarital sex by the time they were 30.
- By the time they reached 44, only 3.3% of Americans had abstained until marriage.
- For women born in the 1940s who turned 15 somewhere between 1954 and 1963, 82% had had premarital sex by 30.
- Women turning 15 between 1964 and 1993 had slightly more premarital sex – 91% had done it by 30.
- 12% of women and 61% of men born before 1910 admitted to having premarital sex.
Is Premarital Sex Accepted Among Religious People? (including the Bible, diff. Religions, how accepted is it)
Religious people are well-known for taking a more moralistic approach to sex and relationships, but what are the actual numbers behind it?
How Acceptable is Casual Sex?
- 50% of Christians said that casual sex between two consenting adults who are not in a relationship is morally acceptable. However, 50% said that it was not acceptable.
- Conversely, 94% of atheists believed that casual sex between consenting adults is morally acceptable, with just 6% saying it wasn’t.
- 95% of agnostics had no problem with casual sex, making them the most liberally-minded on this issue of any group in the survey.
- Evangelical Protestants were the least forgiving, with 34% saying that casual sex was fine with them.
- Catholics were the most likely Christian denomination to say that casual sex was morally acceptable, with 62% being fine with it.
- Attitudes about casual sex among those who attend religious services once a month or more:
- 12% said it’s always acceptable
- 24% said it’s sometimes acceptable
- 17% said it’s rarely acceptable
- 47% said it’s never acceptable
- Attitudes about casual sex among those who attend religious services less than once a month:
- 38% said it’s always acceptable
- 37% said it’s sometimes acceptable
- 12% said it’s rarely acceptable
- 13% said it’s never acceptable
What About Sex In An Unmarried Relationship?
Not all premarital sex is the same. There’s casual sex, sure. But what do religious people think about sex between adults in a committed but unmarried relationship?
- 57% of Christians generally said that sex in a committed relationship outside marriage was morally acceptable. By denomination:
- Catholics as a whole were slightly more accepting (64%) than Protestants (55%).
- 46% of Evangelical Protestants believed that sex in a committed relationship was sometimes or always okay.
- 67% of Mainline Protestants thought it was alright.
- 79% of religiously unaffiliated individuals said that premarital sex was always or sometimes acceptable.
- Oddly, atheists (88%) and agnostics (83%) were slightly less accepting of sex in an unmarried relationship than in casual sex.
- Attitudes about sex in an unmarried relationship among those who attend religious services once a month or more:
- 22% said it’s always acceptable
- 24% said it’s sometimes acceptable
- 11% said it’s rarely acceptable
- 43% said it’s never acceptable
- Attitudes about sex in an unmarried relationship among those who attend religious services less than once a month:
- 54% said it’s always acceptable
- 20% said it’s sometimes acceptable
- 8% said it’s rarely acceptable
- 17% said it’s never acceptable.
What Does The Bible Actually Say About It?
The Bible never specifically addresses premarital sex, so any interpretation of it can only be just that – an interpretation.
However, the Bible does mention two sins regarding sex – adultery and fornication – and it’s often claimed that premarital sex comes under the heading of one or both of these.
- According to gotquestions.org, sex before marriage counts as a kind of sexual immorality. (GotQuestions, 2009)4
- Several passages link sex before marriage to sexual immorality in some way, including Acts 15:20; 1 Corinthians 5:1; 1 Corinthians 7:2; 6:13, 18; 10:8; 2 Corinthians 12:21; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; Jude 1:7; Hebrews 13:4; and Revelation 21:8
- In particular, 1 Corinthians 7:2 says, “But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband.” So that seems like a pretty clear-cut recommendation on the face of it.
(The Bible: English Standard Version, 2001/2016)5
How Have Opinions Changed Over The Years?
The prevailing wisdom is that people have become more open-minded, tolerant, and well, promiscuous over the past 60 or 70 years.
In the US and the rest of the world, people are getting married later. But as we have seen, that hasn’t stopped many from having sex.
So how have attitudes towards this changed during this time?
- According to a Pew Research study from 2014, 30% of Americans believed that premarital sex was morally unacceptable, while 29% believed it was morally acceptable. 36% – the largest group – believed that premarital sex was not a moral issue at all. (Pew Research, 2014)6
- 65% of Americans now believe that sex between unmarried adults in a committed relationship was at least sometimes acceptable. (Pew Research, 2020)3
- 61% of Americans thought it was at least sometimes acceptable for individuals to have casual sex. (Pew Research, 2020)3
- In the early 1970s, 29% of US adults believed that premarital sex was not morally wrong at all. By 2012 that percentage had doubled to 58%. (Wells & Twenge, 2014)7
- Another study found that in 1972, 27% of individuals said that premarital sex was “Not wrong at all.” By 2012, 56% said it was “Not wrong at all.” (Smith and Son, 2013)8
- Between 1986 and 2012, opinions on premarital sex between teens aged 14-16 have remained remarkably consistent. 84.6% of those surveyed said that it was “always wrong” or “almost always wrong” in 1986, compared with 81.3% in 2012.
- Only 12% of young women and 40% of young men approved of non-marital sex in 1943. By 1999, these figures had risen to 73% and 79%, respectively.
- So young women, in particular, have seen a dramatic change in attitudes over this time.
(Wells and Twenge, 2014)7
Why Do People Do It?
Besides the obvious answer – sex is fun, y’all – there are a variety of cultural and social reasons that make people more or less likely to engage in premarital sex, such as:
- Adolescents’ relationships with their parents and family environment, societal and cultural rules and expectations, laws, school, and peers all play important roles in determining this behavior.
- One study of American teens found that:
- 54% strongly believed that sexual intimacy before marriage could enhance and strengthen relationships.
- 40% believed that premarital sex allowed individuals to test their sexual compatibility, especially before marriage.
- 26% believed the main benefit was physical pleasure.
- 11% believed the biggest advantage was gaining sexual knowledge and competency.
Are There Any Benefits of Waiting Until Marriage?
Ask 100 people this question, and you’ll get 100 impassioned speeches about sexual freedom, maintaining your virtue, not disappointing God/your parents, or “it’s your choice; you can do what you want.”
But surprisingly, there is some evidence that waiting until marriage can have certain benefits.
- In a survey of 2,035 American married individuals, they found that:
- 78% believed that avoiding unwanted pregnancy and STDs was the biggest benefit of waiting until marriage.
- 43% thought waiting until marriage would make the relationship stronger and more resilient.
- 18% believed that avoiding emotional pain was a big reason not to have sex before marriage. (Carroll and Willoughby, 2010)11
- The same study found that couples who actually waited to have sex until they were married showed greater relationship stability, sexual satisfaction, and communication skills in the relationship, even when accounting for environmental and cultural factors. (Carroll and Willoughby, 2010)11
- Another study shows the following benefits of abstinence or waiting until marriage:
- Better physical and psychological health among adolescents and adults.
- A healthier and happier family life for children, adolescents, adults, and society as a whole.
- Lower risk for teens of developing “problem behavior syndrome” – encompassing issues such as drinking, academic failure, and crime.
- Females tend to benefit the most physically and psychologically from premarital abstinence.
What Are The Risks Of Premarital Sex?
- When asked about their opinions of the risks of premarital sex, American teenagers said:
- 48% believed that the single biggest risk factor was the physical risk, including pregnancy and STDs.
- 37% believed that emotional risks, such as break-ups or cheating, were major risks.
- 7% believed that reputation risk was the worst factor.
- Women who have premarital sex have an increased likelihood of marital dissolution, i.e., divorce or separation (Teachman, 2014)13
- Other risks include unwanted pregnancy, abortion, and negative emotional outcomes such as depression or loss of self-respect. (Kim and Rector, 2010)14
Sex is important to almost any romantic relationship, so it makes sense that the majority of people engage in it before getting engaged. But as we’ve seen, the benefits and risks of having sex before marriage aren’t that clear-cut.
There’s no right answer to the question – “should everyone have sex before marriage?” In fact, there are as many answers as there are couples in the world.
Before getting into any romantic relationship, it’s a good idea to think about how sex will play a role and whether both parties are willing to wait or not, and their reasons for doing so.
- Finer, 2007– Trends in Premarital Sex in the United States, 1954–2003
- Cavendish, 2010 – Sex and Society.
- Pew Research, 2020– a survey of 3998 adults in the US.
- GotQuestions, 2009 – An article about What does the Bible say about sex before marriage.
- The Bible: English Standard Version, 2001/2016 – Bible passages from biblia.com
- Pew Research, 2014 – a survey of global views on morality, including sexual behaviors.
- Wells and Twenge, 2014 – a cross-temporal meta-analysis of changing attitudes towards sexual behavior.
- Smith and Son, 2013 – Trends in Sexual Morality.
- Shrestha, 2019 – A Nepalese meta-analysis of premarital sex behavior and its impact on adolescents.
- Dalla, 2008 – A study of 103 Americans aged 16-18 asking about their opinions regarding sexual behavior before marriage.
- Carroll and Willoughby, 2010 – a study on sexual timing in relationships.
- Willcox, 2008 – a scientific review of abstinence and abstinence education programs.
- Teachman, 2014 – A study on the effects of premarital sex on marital disruption.
- Kim and Rector, 2010 – A paper on the effectiveness of abstinence-only education.