Young Adults Are NOT that into Recreational Sex

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Two Notre Dame professors, Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker, analyzed data from the National Study of Youth and Religion, the National Survey of Family Growth, and the College Social Life Survey (and others), in their effort to understand premarital sex among young Americans. Their book, Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying, is a 312-page review of the current sexual situation for contemporary young adults. Naomi Schaefer Riley reviews the book for Commentary. Miss Riley reports:

  • Young adults today do not associate sex with marriage.
  • An “increasing share” of young adults don’t even think about getting married.
  • 84 percent of 18- to 23-year-olds have had premarital sex.
  • College students are less promiscuous than those who are not in college.
  • Serial monogamy is the typical pattern for today’s young adults.
  • Men tend to overestimate their peers’ sexual activity.
  • Half of the women, and 25 percent of men, engaged in “unwanted” sexual activity in the two weeks prior to the survey conducted by one study.
  • Young adults have bought into some significant myths:
    • They believe married sex is a “let down,” when, in truth, married couples have more and more satisfactory sex than unmarried couples.
    • They are under the mistaken impression that cohabitation is a good “testing ground” for marriage, when numerous studies disprove that myth and, in fact, show that cohabitation is more a guarantee of divorce and unhappy married relationship.
    • Pornography is a major source of sexual information and attitudes and has, in fact, replaced sexual activity with a real woman for many young men.
  • Women continue to control access to sex (though many young women do not realize their power in the sexual realm); women are still the ones to decide if and when sex occurs.
  • Regnerus and Uecker conclude that women are poor “sexual economists” — that is, they think their sexual power is their control over sexual desire in men (actually, men are thinking about sex all the time). In fact, women’s sexual power consists of establishing the terms and conditions for sexual interaction — a fact of which many young women are unaware.
    • On campuses with more women (the situation on most of today’s college campuses), there is more sexual activity (women have less power within the context of that environment than in situations where there are fewer women).
    • When the environment pushes women to have sex, they make choices that end up making them unhappy.
    • One study revealed that 70 percent of young adults regret the circumstances and timing when they lost their virginity, with women having the most regret.
    • Women are more unhappy the more partners they have (but men are not). And, regrettably, the younger the loss of virginity, the more sexual partners young people tend to have.

Source: “Premarital Wrecks,” by Naomi Schaefer Riley, a review of Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think About Marrying, by Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker, Commentary, February 2011, pp. 59-61.

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