VITAL EVIDENCE

Wait Until Marriage? 'Extremely Challenging'

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Everybody is doing it, and has been for quite a while.

That's the conclusion of a study of trends in premarital intercourse over the past half-century.

A 2002 survey of about 12,500 men and women found that 97 percent of people who were no longer virgins at age 44 had sexual intercourse for the first time before they married.

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.

The high prevalence of people reporting sex before marriage isn't new but has risen in recent decades, according to the study in the January issue of Public Health Reports.

For example, 48 percent of women born between 1939 and 1948 reported having had premarital intercourse by age 20. That jumped to 65 percent for women born between 1949 and 1958, who came of age in the era of protest and free love.

Among women born between 1959 and 1968, those reporting premarital sex by age 20 was 72 percent, and for those born between 1969 and 1978, the figure was 76 percent. The experience of men in those years isn't known. The government's National Survey of Family Growth didn't include men until 2002.

Welfare reform enacted during the Clinton administration and numerous education programs promoted by the Bush administration urge people to be abstinent until marriage -- a goal that is "extremely challenging," said Lawrence B. Finer of the Guttmacher Institute, the study's author.

-- David Brown


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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