A study released yesterday by the Guttmacher Institute finds that premarital sex is “nearly universal” among Americans, and has been since the 1950s.
The vast majority of Americans have sex before marriage, including those who abstained from sex during their teenage years, according to “Trends in Premarital Sex in the United States, 1954–2003,” by Lawrence B. … Further, contrary to the public perception that premarital sex is much more common now than in the past, the study shows that even among women who were born in the 1940s, nearly nine in 10 had sex before marriage.
The new study uses data from several rounds of the federal National Survey of Family Growth to examine sexual behavior before marriage, and how it has changed over time. According to the analysis, by age 44, 99% of respondents had had sex, and 95% had done so before marriage. Even among those who abstained from sex until age 20 or older, 81% had had premarital sex by age 44.
I think the above paragraph makes it a little unclear … 95 percent of 44-year-olds had pre-marital sex? What about, say, 18-year-olds? If they haven’t had sex yet, would they be counted as not having pre-marital sex, although they could very well have sex between now and the time they get married? Or did the study only measure those over a certain age? I suppose I could find all this out, but I’m not going to.** Suffice to say, a whole hell of a lot of people are fucking before marriage, and they have been for a while, despite conservative nostalgia fantasies about the 1950s.
The whole thing got me thinking, however, about premarital sex in general, I suppose. And here’s a question I’d love to hear more people’s thoughts on: does having sex early on in a relationship lead to a more egalitarian arrangement?
Almost all of my long-term relationships pretty much started out with sex. I didn’t word that right, exactly – what I mean to say is not that we were having sex and then started dating because of it, but that once we liked each other, the whole sex thing shortly followed. And I think this stems from my intense dislike for the intricacies of the whole will-we-or-won’t-we process in the early dating stages. I have no patience for it.
Now I’m not saying that it’s good for ALL dating couples to shack up right away. There are a lot of good reasons why either party might not be ready to get sexual until a certain point in the relationship (health issues, safety issues, trust issues, a sort of mutually-agreed-upon prolonging-the-anticipation, perhaps). But I think all too often, girls/women say no out of some sense that its the proper thing to do until a certain threshold of time has been passed (or money has been spent), even if they would, otherwise, be down with having sex. This leads to what Amanda at pandagon so brilliantly refers to “hide the bunny.” Women withold, guys woo, back and forth until the female feels that a suffiicient amount of time/money/effort has been spent that can justify her “giving it up,” so to speak (a term which is in itself commodifying).
The problem is that this sets up, from the very beginning, an unequal situation. From the onset, its a woman as commodity, male as purchaser situation. And once a relationship has been set up as such, I think it’d be hard to overcome, even with all other things being equal. The relationship has been founded on terms that are inherently un-egalitarian. It also plants the idea that sex isn’t something that should be mutually enjoyed by both members of a couple, but rather some sort of weird tool used to obtain power, etc.
On the other hand, if people just have sex when they want to have sex and don’t worry about whether its the proper time or not, then it sort of sets up sex as a mutually gratifying thing, and avoid that whole messy buying/selling scenario. If either party isn’t ready to have sex, fine. But if you’ve got a situation where someone wants to but is holding out in order to see how high the offer will go, then … well, I just don’t understand.
(and please don’t tell me it’s because of evolutionary psychology)
** Okay, Washington Post clarifies: By age 20, only 12 percent of people interviewed had married, but 77 percent had sex, and 75 percent had sex before marriage. By age 44, 99 percent of people were no longer virgins, 95 percent reported having had premarital intercourse, and 85 percent had married at some point.