Sex survey surprises

A wide-ranging and embarrassingly detailed survey of Americans’ sexual practices turned up some surprises.  Abstinence among young adults is significant and growing.  More than twice as many women than men have homosexual attraction and behavior.  And quite a few people with homosexual attraction have never had a same-sex experience.

Among the findings of a sweeping federal government survey of American sexual behavior is one that may surprise those bewailing a permissive and eros-soaked popular culture: More than one-quarter of people interviewed in their late teens and early 20s had never had sex.

The latest round of the quaintly named National Survey of Family Growth found that among 15-to-24-year-olds, 29 percent of females and 27 percent of males reported no sexual contact with another person ever – up from the 22 percent of both sexes when the survey was last conducted in 2002.

“The public’s general perception is that when it comes to young people and sex, the news is bad and likely to get worse,” said Bill Albert, chief program officer of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, an advocacy organization in Washington.

The seventh and latest round of the survey, first done in 1973, provides a corrective to that view.

“Many, many young people have been very receptive to the message of delaying sexual activity,” Albert said. “There’s no doubt about it.” He added that the nearly 40 percent reduction in teen pregnancy since the 1990s – which experts attribute to both increased condom use and increased abstinence – represents “extraordinary progress on a social issue that many once considered intractable.”

The uptick in abstinence is one of many revealing facts arising from structured interviews with a random sample of 13,495 Americans, ages 15 to 44, that were done from 2006 to 2008. The findings provide evidence for almost every theory and supposition about the nation’s secret sex life. . . .

Across the entire age span surveyed – 15 through 44 – 13 percent of women reported some “same-sex sexual behavior” in their lifetime, compared with 5 percent of men. For women, the fraction was up slightly from 2002, and for men, it was down slightly. . . .

There were small effects related to education. For example, 9 percent of women with bachelor’s degrees or higher reported same-sex encounters, compared with 15 percent of women who had not graduated from high school. On the other hand, 6 percent of male college graduates reported such encounters, compared with 3 percent of men who had not finished high school.

The survey also asked about sexual identity and orientation.

Among 18-to-44-year-olds who described themselves as heterosexual, 9 percent of women and 3 percent of men reported having same-sex encounters. On the other hand, 15 percent of women and 12 percent of men who described themselves as homosexual or bisexual had never had a same-sex experience.

via A sweeping survey of Americans’ sexual behavior.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    I’m always leery of statistics. A statistic is a man standing in front of a tidal wave, arbitrarily pointing to any one spot in a crest or trough, and announcing that this is sea level.

    But at the same time, it’s to be expected that there is sexual promiscuity, even homosexual promiscuity. I remember when that idiotic show “A shot of love with Tila Tequila” was on MTV, in which an openly bisexual woman was soliciting attraction from both sexes. Many of my JUNIOR HIGH students were watching it and saying how cool it was that something like that was on TV. I wanted to grab their parents by the collar and ask them why they weren’t monitoring the behavior of their children.

    Life imitates art. And when you have art that exalts perversion, expect people to mimic it. At the same time, this should not surprise Christians at all: we live in a fallen world with fallen people who are inclined to fulfill the desires of the flesh. Romans 1, folks.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    I’m always leery of statistics. A statistic is a man standing in front of a tidal wave, arbitrarily pointing to any one spot in a crest or trough, and announcing that this is sea level.

    But at the same time, it’s to be expected that there is sexual promiscuity, even homosexual promiscuity. I remember when that idiotic show “A shot of love with Tila Tequila” was on MTV, in which an openly bisexual woman was soliciting attraction from both sexes. Many of my JUNIOR HIGH students were watching it and saying how cool it was that something like that was on TV. I wanted to grab their parents by the collar and ask them why they weren’t monitoring the behavior of their children.

    Life imitates art. And when you have art that exalts perversion, expect people to mimic it. At the same time, this should not surprise Christians at all: we live in a fallen world with fallen people who are inclined to fulfill the desires of the flesh. Romans 1, folks.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Full report with data tables:

    http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr036.pdf

    Only 80% of white females aged 20-24 report ever having sex.
    (Table 8)
    The question that comes to my mind is whether that number is higher or lower than it was in 1950. Marriage rates for that group have changed, but I am guessing sexual activity has not.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Full report with data tables:

    http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr036.pdf

    Only 80% of white females aged 20-24 report ever having sex.
    (Table 8)
    The question that comes to my mind is whether that number is higher or lower than it was in 1950. Marriage rates for that group have changed, but I am guessing sexual activity has not.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    oops, should be

    Table 8

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    oops, should be

    Table 8

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “I’m always leery of statistics.”

    I am leery of liars waving their interpretation of statistics.

    So, just skip the editorializing and go straight to the data tables. Also useful to look at their methodology page.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “I’m always leery of statistics.”

    I am leery of liars waving their interpretation of statistics.

    So, just skip the editorializing and go straight to the data tables. Also useful to look at their methodology page.

  • WebMonk

    A statistic is a man standing in front of a tidal wave, arbitrarily pointing to any one spot in a crest or trough, and announcing that this is sea level.

    If that’s what you think statistics are, then you are very right to be skeptical of that. Thankfully that’s not really the case. Like sg said, beware the use and interpretation of statistics.

    I heard of this study on the news a few days ago and one of the quotes (I can’t find it now) was something to the effect that there will always be a lot of variation from all sorts of sources. The rates of sexual activity will jump up and down all the time, but the most reliable data in this regard is that of the trend of activity over time.

    I very much agree with that opinion in this situation – the trend is a lot more useful than individual survey data. The trend (by very quick eyeballing) seems to have leveled out over the last decade or two. This particular set of results might signal a beginning of movement toward delayed sexual activity, but it’s not a huge change.

    When they next run the survey, I won’t be surprised (nor greatly dismayed) if it shows a bit of an increase in sexual activity in the 15-24 age range from this survey results. If we’ve reached a stabilized rate, then we’ll see bouncing up and down around the mean. The small movements won’t be particularly indicative of large-scale societal changes.

  • WebMonk

    A statistic is a man standing in front of a tidal wave, arbitrarily pointing to any one spot in a crest or trough, and announcing that this is sea level.

    If that’s what you think statistics are, then you are very right to be skeptical of that. Thankfully that’s not really the case. Like sg said, beware the use and interpretation of statistics.

    I heard of this study on the news a few days ago and one of the quotes (I can’t find it now) was something to the effect that there will always be a lot of variation from all sorts of sources. The rates of sexual activity will jump up and down all the time, but the most reliable data in this regard is that of the trend of activity over time.

    I very much agree with that opinion in this situation – the trend is a lot more useful than individual survey data. The trend (by very quick eyeballing) seems to have leveled out over the last decade or two. This particular set of results might signal a beginning of movement toward delayed sexual activity, but it’s not a huge change.

    When they next run the survey, I won’t be surprised (nor greatly dismayed) if it shows a bit of an increase in sexual activity in the 15-24 age range from this survey results. If we’ve reached a stabilized rate, then we’ll see bouncing up and down around the mean. The small movements won’t be particularly indicative of large-scale societal changes.

  • SKPeterson

    The big issue will be causation v. correlation, which is why demographics is such a female dog.

    Statistics are fine, and not always meaningless, but they depend on context and the use to which they are put. What do the statistics purport to measure? Why is this measure important? What is the informational content of this statistic? Then you can argue about the means by which the statistical data are collected, the sampling strategies and the ways that questions were asked and the choices in responses. Oftentimes the interesting stories are in the cross-correlations and covariances between groups; do different groups behave differently? Are their patterns of behavior changing relative to one another? Are they converging or diverging in rate, scope or scale?

    Where the female dog begins to bark is tying these instances back to other social phenomena and demarcating social trends or policies with statistical outcomes. The usefulness of this study will be in the studies it spawns that attempt to use the results as as dependent or explanatory variables in a theoretical model or their usefulness in illustrating the predictions of a theory.

  • SKPeterson

    The big issue will be causation v. correlation, which is why demographics is such a female dog.

    Statistics are fine, and not always meaningless, but they depend on context and the use to which they are put. What do the statistics purport to measure? Why is this measure important? What is the informational content of this statistic? Then you can argue about the means by which the statistical data are collected, the sampling strategies and the ways that questions were asked and the choices in responses. Oftentimes the interesting stories are in the cross-correlations and covariances between groups; do different groups behave differently? Are their patterns of behavior changing relative to one another? Are they converging or diverging in rate, scope or scale?

    Where the female dog begins to bark is tying these instances back to other social phenomena and demarcating social trends or policies with statistical outcomes. The usefulness of this study will be in the studies it spawns that attempt to use the results as as dependent or explanatory variables in a theoretical model or their usefulness in illustrating the predictions of a theory.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    I stand corrected.. in part. In light of how many times I’ve seen a statistic twisted to reach a different conclusion than the one more logically reached when all evidence is presented, I tend to get a little skeptical whenever people get “stat-happy.”

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    I stand corrected.. in part. In light of how many times I’ve seen a statistic twisted to reach a different conclusion than the one more logically reached when all evidence is presented, I tend to get a little skeptical whenever people get “stat-happy.”

  • bs

    More than one-quarter of people interviewed in their late teens and early 20s had never had sex.

    I must be missing something. I am not clear as to what we should be celebrating. This still means that nearly 3 out of 4 people in this age range are still engaging in some sort of sexual behavior, right?

  • bs

    More than one-quarter of people interviewed in their late teens and early 20s had never had sex.

    I must be missing something. I am not clear as to what we should be celebrating. This still means that nearly 3 out of 4 people in this age range are still engaging in some sort of sexual behavior, right?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    BS (@8), what is being “celebrated” (if, indeed, that is an accurate descriptor), is the increase in abstinent teens from 2002.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    BS (@8), what is being “celebrated” (if, indeed, that is an accurate descriptor), is the increase in abstinent teens from 2002.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    What I don’t get is why anyone is excited about teens being abstinent. Have they ever been abstinent? I mean, what matters is whether sex is within marriage, not how old married adults are. Other trend watchers have noted how absurd it is to collect data on 15-19 year olds as a group when the behavior of 18-19 year olds has little in common with the behavior of 15-17 year olds and very much in common with 20-24 year olds. Using age 20 as a dividing line is just plain silly. Why group high school kids with adults?

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    What I don’t get is why anyone is excited about teens being abstinent. Have they ever been abstinent? I mean, what matters is whether sex is within marriage, not how old married adults are. Other trend watchers have noted how absurd it is to collect data on 15-19 year olds as a group when the behavior of 18-19 year olds has little in common with the behavior of 15-17 year olds and very much in common with 20-24 year olds. Using age 20 as a dividing line is just plain silly. Why group high school kids with adults?

  • Pingback: Sex Survey Shocker? » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog

  • Pingback: Sex Survey Shocker? » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X