Ten Pre-Marital Partners “Normal”?

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Thursday, December 13, 2001

Ten Pre-marital Partners “Normal”?
A recent widely disseminated survey conducted in Great Britain has found that a majority of young people age 17-25 consider it “normal” for a person to have at least 10 sexual partners before marriage. The results were so startling and the details so few, we thought it worthwhile to find out more about the survey and its sponsor. The survey, More Than Just a Pill, was conducted by the Centre for Sexual Health Research at the University of Southampton. The survey was commissioned by “Brook,” a registered UK charity that was founded in 1965 and oversees the Brook Advisory Centers, whose services include dispensing contraceptives and contraceptive advice to young people, especially those under the age of 26. Some 64% of men and 54% of women respondents to the survey agreed with the statement, “It is okay for a person to sleep with more than ten partners before (sic) they get married.” Among Brook’s core values, according to its website, are “freedom of choice,” “the availability of free contraception to all,” and “the availability of legal and safe abortion.” Researchers also found that a majority of respondents would like to have more information about contraceptives-information that Brook is only too happy to provide them, of course. The sample size was very small-only 139 respondents-and most were university students, so its results can only be considered anecdotal and unlikely to reflect a genuine cross section of British young people. Nevertheless, its findings are startling, even by the most lax scientific and research standards. [Questions directed to Brook about how they selected survey participants were still unanswered as of this writing.]

A quick search reveals that this is not the first Brook survey whose results suggest a need for the organization’s services. The BBC reported the results of another such survey conducted by Brook in 1999 which indicated that young people tend not to seek advice about contraceptive services because of fears about confidentiality. Confidentiality, as it happens, is one of Brook’s core values, and they emphasize this in their online advice to young people under 16. In 1998, the organization unveiled for Parliament a sex education curriculum called “Understanding Contraception,” aimed at 14-year-olds.

Not that advocacy of comprehensive sex education is anything new, of course, but the survey results are particularly unsettling in light of a report released recently by the Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI), a U.S. think tank associated with the Planned Parenthood Federation. The study compares teen pregnancy rates in the United States with those of Canada, Great Britain, France and Sweden. The AGI study found that, although teen pregnancy rates in the U.S. have dropped considerably in recent years (See BLI’s Data Digest report, “Drop in Teen Childbearing: A Ray of Hope“), they remain much higher than rates in other developed countries. Among AGI’s conclusions is the suggestion that “easy access to contraceptive and reproductive health services”-such as those available in the four comparison countries-“contributes to better contraceptive use and lower teenage pregnancy rates.” The AGI study also suggests that greater acceptance of teenage sexual relationships and instruction in the proper use of contraception is another approach that the U.S. would do well to emulate.

It is difficult to see the desirability of policies that might lead young Americans to adopt attitudes similar to those of their British counterparts. Ten partners before marriage normal? Studies have shown that the more sexual partners one has over time, the greater the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s) and having an unintended pregnancy. This is considered the major reason teenagers who become sexually active at an early age are at greater risk for both. Never mind the emotional, psychological and spiritual consequences of having multiple sexual partners. The Brook survey report notes that, “The overall picture is of young people enjoying sex with a larger number of partners but still failing to find or receive adequate information about contraception and protection.” One is hard-pressed to believe that anyone who is having sex with multiple partners is actually enjoying it, however, given the toll such behavior is likely to take on one’s emotional and physical health, not to mention the effect it will have on his or her future marriage.

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