Dec. 20, 2006 -- Almost all Americans have sex before marrying, according to premarital sex research that shows such behavior is the norm in the U.S. and has been for the past 50 years.
The new study shows that by age 20, 75% of Americans have had premarital sex. That number rises to 95% by age 44.
Even among those who abstained from sex until 20 or beyond, 81% have had premarital sex by 44, the survey shows.
Researchers say the findings question the feasibility of federally funded abstinence-only education programs.
"Premarital sex is normal behavior for the vast majority of Americans, and has been for decades," says researcher Lawrence Finer, director of domestic research at the Guttmacher Institute, in a news release.
"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," says Finer.
Premarital Sex Research
In the study, published in Public Health Reports, researchers analyzed data from four cycles of the National Survey of Family Growth from 1982 to 2002, which included information on sexual and marital behaviors.
The results showed that the vast majority of Americans have sex before marrying. For example, the 2002 survey showed:
- By age 20, 77% of men and women had had sex, including 75% who had had premarital sex.
- By age 44, 95% of men and women had had premarital sex; 97% of those who had ever had sex had had premarital sex.
- Among those who had abstained from sex until at least age 20, 81% had had premarital sex by age 44.
Despite public opinion that premarital sex is much more common now than in the past, researchers say the number of Americans having premarital sex hasn't changed much since the 1940s.
Among women who turned 15 between 1964 and 1993, 91% had had premarital sex before age 30, compared with 82% of women who turned 15 between 1954 and 1963.
In addition, nearly nine out of 10 women who turned 15 between 1954 and 1963 had had unmarried sex by age 44.
Researchers say that though the likelihood that Americans will have sex before marriage hasn't changed significantly since the 1950s, people are now waiting longer to get married. So they are sexually active and unmarried for longer than in the past.