Pre-marital sex sparks controversy

By on January 29, 2004

Sex. Turn on the television at prime time and it is everywhere. Reality shows like “The Bachelor”, “Joe Millionaire”, and “The Real World” reveal young, unmarried adults flaunting themselves and engaging in sexually suggestive behavior. Movies intended for teens such as the “American Pie” trilogy not only include teen sex, but it is the main focus of the films. Young pop stars like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, who are role models for many adolescents, exhibit sexually suggestive dance moves and song lyrics in their performances, scantily clad in tiny outfits.

Up until several decades ago, only a very small percentage of people were sexually active before marriage. According to, in 1900 only about six percent of 19- year- old white unmarried women had engaged in premarital sex. However, the number of unmarried young women who are sexually active before marriage has skyrocketed in the past decade, jumping to 30 percent of 19-year olds in 1960 and 74 percent in 1991.

The increase is most likely due to a combination of different influences ranging from the changing of social norms, more relaxed and liberal attitudes toward sex, the prevalence of sex in the media, the decreasing importance of religion in society, the fact that people are getting married older and the increasingly easy access to various methods of birth control.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the majority of teens and young adults are having sex. In 1999, more than half of all high school students reported being sexually active. The number of high school students reporting that they have had multiple sex partners increases with age, from 33 percent of female and 45 percent of male 9th graders (freshmen) to 66 percent of female and 64 percent of male 12th-graders (high school seniors). A study released by the CDC in 1997, found that nearly 80 percent of college students 18 to 24 years of age have had sexual intercourse.

Clearly, the vast majority of Americans have sex before marriage. However, there are varying outlooks on sex, particularly amongst high school and college-aged students. Some young people engage in casual sex, and see nothing wrong with having sex with a person he or she hardly knows. Others only feel comfortable having sex in the confines of a loving, committed, monogamous relationship. And still, there is a small minority that plans to save sex for marriage, whether it be for religious, moral, emotional or health reasons.

“In this day and age premarital sex is just a part of society,” sophomore Anique Langlois, a student at Boston’s Berklee College of Music said. “But I do think people should wait until they are mature enough to make a decision on whether or not they want to consent to sexual activity, and if they are responsible for consequences like STD’s and pregnancy.”

Many students share this view. It is certainly important for those who are sexually active to understand the risks of STD infection, pregnancy and the many other consequences of being sexually active.

The CDC reports that over 900,000 adolescents become pregnant annually, and about 78 percent of these pregnancies are unplanned. According to, four out of every 10 girls will become pregnant at least once before they turn twenty years old. Since teenage and young adult girls are at the age when they are the most fertile, the risk of an unplanned pregnancy is a very real one. Although many young women use a method of contraception such as birth control pills or condoms, some do not use these methods correctly or consistently and sometimes engage in unprotected sex, greatly increasing the odds of pregnancy.

The risk of acquiring an STD as a sexually active teen is also significant. According to the CDC, one in 1,500 college students is HIV positive. Teenagers and young adults are the fastest growing population of Americans being infected with HIV- a serious, incurable, deadly disease. The American Social Health Association (ASHA), reports that one fourth of all STDs occur in 15-22 year olds.

Despite these facts, the vast majority of young adults choose to engage in premarital sex. The media seems to have an impact on the growing number of adolescents and young adults having sex before marriage, and at an increasingly young age. “I think the majority of teenagers are having sex a lot earlier now,” Jackie Golab, a student at Middlesex Community College, said. “I’ve seen pretty much every one of my friends lose their virginity over the past few years, but it’s really no big surprise. No matter where you look, there’s some sort of media telling you it’s cool to do it, and it’s hard to fight that. Especially when the famous people we admire make it look so glamorous.”

These social pressures seem especially strong for young men, who feel the need to catch up with their friends. Many feel the only way to become a “real man” is to have sex, and that the value of a man is measured by the number of women with whom he has had sex. “It’s extremely acceptable these days to sleep with different people all the time,” Quinnipiac freshman Stanley Lukaszewicz, a political science major, said. “For guys, it’s like a competition of how many people they can sleep with.”

In high school, and especially college, when alcohol is added into the mix, sex becomes potentially more harmful. According to, “As many as 70 percent of college students admit to having engaged in sexual activity primarily as a result of being under the influence of alcohol, or to having sex they wouldn’t have had if they had been sober.” Therefore, many college students who normally would only have sex with someone they knew well, or a boyfriend or girlfriend, may choose to have sex with someone they do not know as well because their judgment is impaired. Often, this ends in regret and emotional disturbance, but the results can be even more serious. An alcohol induced one-night stand is probably more likely to result in STDs or pregnancy, because those who are intoxicated may have their judgment impaired to the point where they do not think to use a condom or some other form of protection.

However, there are those that are against one night stands and “random hookups” and value sex only in the confines of a relationship. Still, others plan to be abstinent altogether until marriage. Perhaps the most common reason for waiting is religious, but others include a moral view that sex is special and should only be shared between those in a loving relationship. Physical reasons such as a fear of being infected with an STD, or not wanting to have a child out of wedlock also play a large role in the decision.

Dane Runyon, a student at Berklee School of Music, shares a moralistic view of premarital sex. He said, “Whether done for love or pleasure, sex is, and always will be an instrument for creation of life. If you feel you can handle the responsibility of caring for a being that you create out of the bonds of marriage, premarital sex is your prerogative. If a child is only viewed as a possible ‘accident’ I would say hold off until you bond with someone you deeply care about.”

Nick Rachielles, a freshman at the Art Institute of Boston, agrees that sex should be only within the deep bond of a loving relationship. “As long as it’s with the person you love it’s okay with me.”

This is a fairly common view among those who save sex either for marriage or for a serious relationship. No matter what form of contraception is used, the threat of pregnancy always exists. Many people would not feel right about having an abortion or giving a child up for adoption and thus, they wait to be in a committed relationship before having sex.

This goes hand in hand with the religious view. Within the Bible, there are many verses that indicate that sex outside of the bond of marriage is a sin, and many other faiths share this view. However, according to the Janus and Janus surveys published in 1993, more than 70 percent of self-described “very religious” adults admit to having had sex before marriage. This reveals that many religious people feel that the religious teachings regarding sex are outdated and apply to an era when people got married at a much younger age.

“It’s not like people get married at 18 or 19 anymore and have tons of kids,” Langlois said. “It’s more acceptable today for people to have sex before marriage.

Golab agrees. “I think people are getting married a lot older now, too, so the extra wait combined with the every day temptation just makes it all that much harder to say no.”

Indeed, the reason adolescent bodies are so fertile is because this is the time in a person’s life that has been designated as childbearing age. Most people start getting sexual urges with the onset of puberty (around the age of 11-15 for most), so in Biblical times, and up until only recently, people were married very young and did not have long to wait. Now, people are getting married much later in their lives and find it unreasonable to save sex for marriage.

Still, not everyone who has sex feels right about their decision, which particularly goes for teenagers. Thirty-six percent of teens polled by Seventeen Magazine report that they regretted their decisions to have sex before marriage. Ultimately, each person has the right to make their own decision based on their own beliefs, moral code and the way they have been brought up. However it is wise to think first. Sex is very powerful and all it takes is one time to get an STD, become pregnant and change your life forever.


About Emily Wakeman