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Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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45 Responses

  1. norbizness
    norbizness June 1, 2010 at 11:50 am |

    Well, .38 x .95 of them, anyway.

  2. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub June 1, 2010 at 11:59 am |

    But. . but. . maybe the “morally wrong” part makes doing it before marriage more exciting!

  3. ACG
    ACG June 1, 2010 at 12:16 pm |

    Maybe I’m reading this wrong, but at the bottom of the page – 54 percent of respondents say it’s Very Important for a man and a woman to marry if they want to “live the rest of their lives together as a couple.” But only 49 percent think it’s Very Important for a man and a woman to marry if they have a kid. So, what, legal entanglements and shared responsibilities in childrearing, blah blah blah, whatever. But live like you’re married when you’re not actually married? What kind of hedonistic world is this that we live in?!

  4. Sailorman
    Sailorman June 1, 2010 at 12:29 pm |

    Well, at least they’re fun-loving hypocrites.

  5. preying mantis
    preying mantis June 1, 2010 at 12:33 pm |

    This is my complete lack of shock.

  6. Jay
    Jay June 1, 2010 at 12:45 pm |

    This reminds me of my middle-school experience – I went to an incredibly strict Baptist school where girls weren’t even allowed to wear pants; and lots of my friends from that time are actually married with kids now (I’m 22).

    It’s so strange to watch a 20-year-old suddenly decide to get married to her boyfriend, and then see a baby born a mysterious 4 or 5 months later. :P Cognitive dissonance can produce some tragic results.

  7. Mighty Ponygirl
    Mighty Ponygirl June 1, 2010 at 12:46 pm |

    Interesting.

    Me, personally, I would counsel someone otherwise if they’d told me they’re about to marry someone they haven’t fucked. Unless both of them are avowed asexuals, two people should not be forming a lifelong commitment to one another that will include a sexual relationship when they won’t even know “if their parts fit.”

    I have to believe that this number has climbed in recent years as a result of a generation being brought up on Abstinence Only education, with it’s heavy-handed slut-shaming. We have really spent 15 or so years indoctrinating kids to actively judge one another for their sexual choices, even as we’ve discovered that the proposed point of that education was failing spectacularly, I’m guessing kids have still grabbed the take-away message that Anyone Else’s Sex Life Is Bad and run with it.

  8. Jonah
    Jonah June 1, 2010 at 12:48 pm |

    Technically, this means that at least 33% of Americans are hypocrites. (@norbizness, I’m not sure the events are independent!)

  9. Thomas
    Thomas June 1, 2010 at 12:54 pm |

    I have a longer thought here that I’ve probably written about before in comments somewhere and I should probably put in a post, about social conservatism and aspirational morality. While the political aspects of the hypocrisy analysis are delicious, I think there’s something else going on; a sense that moral rules are meant not to be broken but to be failed. In the West where Christian theology has had a huge impact, original sin has a huge place in the way cultural conservatism regards people, extending through Calvin’s view of people as essentially worthless and deserving an eternity of suffering.

    Folks that think that people are awful and can’t ever be reliably good don’t believe in making rules that people can actually follow. That would be a waste of time. Instead, they make rules that are merely aspirational. They don’t see these rules as being unrealistic, or at least not any more unrealistic than any other set of rules. It’s the symbolic setting of the bar that matters, not whether people achieve it.

    That’s anathema to me as a progressive. I think better of people. I think if we have reasonable expectations for people’s behavior, then can meet them and they would expect that.

    There’s a huge difference in the way a society processes the two views. If people subscribe to aspirational morality, fall short, and grovel for forgiveness all the time, it helps establish that sense of worthlessness. If people subscribe to a reality-based set of behavioral expectations and then meet them, that tends to create self-esteem. I’ll let folks connect the rest of the dots.

    Anyway, when religious folks misuse words like “relativist” and “nihilist” to mean not what they actually mean but “not grounded in religious tenets”, they’re doing much the same thing, taking the side of sin-and-repentence. I’ve been known to say, apropos of my own BDSM practice, that the difference between the pervert and the sex radical is shame, and I am not ashamed of who I am. Excluding a small minority, Americans either have sex outside marriage and feel shame, or have sex outside marriage and don’t. On the whole, I think the latter is the better approach the the entire culture.

  10. Manju
    Manju June 1, 2010 at 12:55 pm |

    What I want to know is, are the remaining 5% part of the 38 or 62.

  11. White
    White June 1, 2010 at 1:15 pm |

    This is pretty funny too.

    % reporting premarital, heterosexual intercourse by ages 16 and 18

    Men Women
    Birth Cohorts 16 18 16 18

    Pre-1900 24.0 36.8 2.7 3.3
    1900-1909 23.9 40.2 4.8 6.5
    1910-1919 28.7 51.3 6.3 9.6
    1920-1929 45.0 66.1 4.9 12.4
    1930-1939 47.4 69.1 10.0 21.0
    1940-1949 50.2 76.6 19.1 37.2

    % ever having pre-marital, heterosexual partner among ever-married

    Birth Cohorts Men Women

    Before 1910 60.8 12.3
    1910-1919 73.9 28.6
    1920-1929 79.7 31.4
    1930-1939 87.2 40.9
    1940-1949 89.5 62.9

    I wonder what the gender breakdown is today of that 5%?

  12. latinist
    latinist June 1, 2010 at 1:39 pm |

    All very well to point out the hypocrisy, but it may be worth asking what these people are actually thinking. Some of it is presumably straight-up, self-loathing, secret-sin hypocrisy, but there’s probably also a lot of very convenient seeing of the light after marriage: “now that I’m married, I realize that all that sex I had before was sinful; I’ll be sure never to have pre-marital sex again.” Also, I imagine, a good bit of sexism: men who have pre-marital sex with women, and think this means that those women have done something sinful, but they themselves are okay.

  13. White
    White June 1, 2010 at 1:41 pm |

    Let me try again. Apparently, long empty spaces don’t work in your comments.

    % reporting premarital, heterosexual intercourse by ages 16 and 18

    ____________________Men____________Women
    Birth Cohorts _______16____18________16_____18

    Pre-1900 _________24.0___36.8_______2.7_____3.3
    1900-1909 ________23.9___40.2_______4.8____6.5
    1910-1919 ________28.7___51.3_______6.3____9.6
    1920-1929 ________45.0___66.1_______4.9____12.4
    1930-1939 ________47.4___69.1_______10.0___21.0
    1940-1949 ________50.2___76.6_______19.1___37.2

    % ever having pre-marital, heterosexual partner among ever-married

    Birth Cohorts ______________Men______Women

    Before 1910_______________60.8_______12.3
    1910-1919________________73.9_______28.6
    1920-1929________________79.7_______31.4
    1930-1939________________87.2_______40.9
    1940-1949________________89.5_______62.9

  14. White
    White June 1, 2010 at 1:49 pm |

    Folks that think that people are awful and can’t ever be reliably good don’t believe in making rules that people can actually follow.

    Realistically, those rules can be followed, and they have been followed in the past. They just weren’t followed by the men who made them.

  15. Manju
    Manju June 1, 2010 at 2:10 pm |

    To make matters worse, the 38% were all alone at the time.

  16. groggette
    groggette June 1, 2010 at 2:26 pm |

    Ha! I was one of the hypocritical 33ish % back in college. In my case at least all it did was bring on a major case of Catholic Guilt (TM) and exasperate my already fucked up mental state for several years. It’s always fun when the person slut shaming you the most is yourself.

  17. Sailorman
    Sailorman June 1, 2010 at 2:39 pm |

    Mighty Ponygirl 6.1.2010 at 12:46 pm

    Interesting.

    Me, personally, I would counsel someone otherwise if they’d told me they’re about to marry someone they haven’t fucked.

    So would I–but are we right? Is there a link to premarital sex with your spouse, and later marital happiness?

  18. Thomas
    Thomas June 1, 2010 at 2:44 pm |

    White, other than self-reports of highly stigmatized behavior that show a facially questionable gender assymmetry, do you have actual evidence of high levels of compliance with abstinence until marriage in Western society … ever?

  19. maggie
    maggie June 1, 2010 at 2:50 pm |

    I bet quite a few people rationalize it as “OTHER people shouldn’t have sex before marriage, but I know WE’RE committed” or whatever blah blah blah.

    People really like condemning others.

  20. Lance
    Lance June 1, 2010 at 3:18 pm |

    Wait, it doesn’t count as before marriage if you never get married, right? If so, loophole!

  21. White
    White June 1, 2010 at 4:07 pm |

    White, other than self-reports of highly stigmatized behavior that show a facially questionable gender assymmetry, do you have actual evidence of high levels of compliance with abstinence until marriage in Western society … ever?

    I don’t see why gender asymmetry would call the results into question. A large number of men had sex with small group of promiscuous women. And since most men fornicated, I couldn’t really consider this to be high compliance overall, although the compliance seems pretty high within the part of the population to whom the standards applied.

    % of ever-married with two or more heterosexual partners before first marriage

    ________________________Men_____Women
    Birth Cohorts

    Pre-1910_________________49.2______3.3
    1910-1919 _______________61.2 ______8.5
    1920-1929 _______________70.1 _____ 11.8
    1930-1939 _______________72.9 ______16.5
    1940-1949 _______________72.6 ______25.8

  22. Holy!
    Holy! June 1, 2010 at 4:19 pm |

    Most countries on earth are noticeably hypocritical.

  23. Jay
    Jay June 1, 2010 at 4:40 pm |

    White: I don’t see why gender asymmetry would call the results into question. A large number of men had sex with small group of promiscuous women.

    That sounds questionable. Although I do automatically look askance at sexual stats that reveal gender asymmetry, there are other legit reasons why there might be some mismatch between male and female numbers. For one thing, different people define sex differently – a guy might count the blowjob his girlfriend gives as ‘sex’, while his girlfriend might not. Consent is relevant, too – a woman who’s been sexually assaulted isn’t likely to count the attack amongst her sexual experiences, if asked; whereas her attacker might.

    I don’t think any of these factors is enough to account for the big gender asymmetry, though. Simply put, men tend to over-report their sexual history; and women tend to under-report.

    As for whether people really were likelier to stay virgins in the past until marriage, I think it’d be useful to look at stats gathered before the popularity of family cars in the 1950s – when family cars started gaining popularity, there was lots of moralistic hand-waving about the ‘mischief’ that teens would get up to inside of a car. It sounds silly to think about today; but it was sort of true – young people have a greater degree of mobility, privacy, and financial independence than in generations past.

    It’s much easier to have sex when you have access to your own car, your own money to spend, and an empty house all to yourself while both parents are at work.

  24. Q Grrl
    Q Grrl June 1, 2010 at 4:41 pm |

    “A large number of men had sex with small group of promiscuous women.”

    I didn’t realize that the statistics could determine promiscuity! Are you sure that you accounted for single men having sex with women who were already married? Or for rape, for that matter? Or, I know this is a great stretch, women underreporting their sexual activity because they didn’t want bozos pontificating about their promiscuity 100 years after the fact?

    You are aware this is a feminist site, right? And that part and parcel of being socialized as a woman is through the strict monitoring of your sexual behavior — such that, again, no one is going to be calling you a liar 100 years after you lied to a survey taker, but they’ll still throw out the promiscuity line because that shit has stayin’ power!! LOL. Not.

  25. bellacoker
    bellacoker June 1, 2010 at 4:42 pm |

    White: Isn’t it more likely that the men had a social reason to lie and said that they had and the women had a social reason to lie and say that they hadn’t?

  26. Q Grrl
    Q Grrl June 1, 2010 at 4:44 pm |

    Of course, White, you also conveniently left out the other conclusion:

    That men were purchasing women for sexual gratification.

  27. Thomas
    Thomas June 1, 2010 at 4:48 pm |

    White, the problem of society-wide asymmetry in sex reporting is famous, resulting in reports of number of opposite-sex partners that cannot be true absent wildly improbably explanations — if the mean man reports eight female partners, and the mean woman reports three, then many survey respondents are lying. Given the history, I don’t think the figures you report hold water. Do you have anything to back up the reliability of your data?

  28. White
    White June 1, 2010 at 5:25 pm |

    Of course, White, you also conveniently left out the other conclusion:

    That men were purchasing women for sexual gratification.

    No, I said that a lot of men had sex with a very promiscuous group of women (read: prostitutes).

    White, the problem of society-wide asymmetry in sex reporting is famous, resulting in reports of number of opposite-sex partners that cannot be true absent wildly improbably explanations — if the mean man reports eight female partners, and the mean woman reports three, then many survey respondents are lying. Given the history, I don’t think the figures you report hold water. Do you have anything to back up the reliability of your data?

    First, the author of the paper seems to be keenly aware of these problems. Look at page 2. Second, the paper was published by the National Opinion Research Center, which is affiliated with the University of Chicago. It was authored by Tom W. Smith, an expert in survey research at that university. It’s a safe bet that he wouldn’t have missed something that obvious.

    We also have data about out of wedlock conceptions followed by in-wedlock births starting in the 1930s.

    Trends in Premarital Childbearing

    Look at Figure 1 on page 3. This is self-report data. The fact is, sexual behavior (particularly female sexual behavior) has changed dramatically since the early 20th century.

    The main reason I even brought this up to begin with was to point out the absolutely enormous gender disparaties between average male and female sexual behavior in the early part of the twentieth century. I was curious to know if those disparities were similar among the 5% of people who abstain today.

  29. Mighty Ponygirl
    Mighty Ponygirl June 1, 2010 at 9:50 pm |

    So would I–but are we right? Is there a link to premarital sex with your spouse, and later marital happiness?

    Yes. We are right.

    And it might not be that if you have premarital sex with your spouse you’re guaranteed marital happiness, but it sure as hell leaves a big question mark in your marriage if you *don’t know if you’re sexually compatible with someone before you make a lifetime commitment with them.*

  30. evil_fizz
    evil_fizz June 1, 2010 at 11:53 pm |

    I think better of people. I think if we have reasonable expectations for people’s behavior, then can meet them and they would expect that.

    Very much agreed. When people perceive the expectations as reasonable, they’re far more likely to comply. When you set a standard that’s all but impossible (or fundamentally undesirable) to comply with, people don’t have any reason to even attempt that on even an aspirational level.

  31. Lasciel
    Lasciel June 2, 2010 at 12:48 am |

    Look at the amount of Americans that support marijuana legalization and then look at the amount of Americans who have smoked pot… :)

    Hypocrisy is rampant, and so delicious to appreciate.

    @Q Girl-it’s a pretty fucking obvious conclusion to come to. Why jump on someone’s throat over it? It’s probably not one thing, but ALL of the things combining to make a very drastic stat difference.

  32. Ruthie
    Ruthie June 2, 2010 at 3:37 am |

    Statistics like this make me laugh and cry at the same time. As a recovering former Christian, though, who still knows many people that claim church is so important (and pre-marital sex is wrong, even though they’ve _admitted_ they did it and they _acknowledge_ it’s a sin and they should stop)…well, it makes me hurt a little inside, to remember how easy it is to hate yourself for doing something fun and consensual and often with someone you care deeply about and want to be intimate with. Something that hurts no one, that feels awesome, and that you then beat yourself up mentally for afterward and make yourself feel like a POS.

    And most people, ESPECIALLY the good little christians who want to marry their true loves, even if they don’t want to admit it, would HATE marrying someone … saying “forever” with someone, promising for eternity, ’til death do they part … without knowing EXACTLY what they were getting themselves into. That’s why it happens. And frankly, it’s a good thing; miserable sex lives lead to miserable marriages lead to misery.

    Actually, in my experience it’s this kind of thing that really makes it easy to point out the inconsistencies and hypocrisy and self-serving convenience of religious people (or pseudo religious people, or what I like to call “lazily religious” people … the ones who avoid church except for holidays, think the Bible has answers to most of the world’s problems but never read it, who have no clue what most of their religion involves but get swept up in the righteous rhetoric with astonishing ease … you know, the average American), and it can be a really good way to get the cognitive dissonance and critical thinking wheels turning.

  33. annalouise
    annalouise June 2, 2010 at 10:14 am |

    As much as White is ridiculous (lol @ “fornicate” and “promiscuous” as a synonym for prostitute), I do believe there are some studies showing that the % of men who have either had their first sexual experience with a sex worker or who have ever had a sexual experience with a sex worker has gone down dramatically in the past 100 years. So I think a possible conclusion that the gender difference could be explained by overall social expectation that men would have premarital sex with a woman belonging to a stigmatized group (either a prostitute or a “loose woman”) and that that sex “didn’t count”.

    So what we might also be seeing is a tightening of sexual rules for men, as much as we are seeing a loosening of those roles for women. Which we can credit feminism for and for which feminism doesn’t get enough credit. The feminist movement didn’t across the board support all forms of sexual “liberation”, but also fought to make previously acceptable sexual practices taboo (marital rape, sexual harassment, and all forms of coercive or exploitive sex).

  34. MM
    MM June 2, 2010 at 12:29 pm |

    You know who else are hypocrites? You lot. I love how people can complain endlessly about “slut-shaming” conservatives shoving their anti-premarital-sex opinions in your face, while at the same time going ahead and saying that nobody should get married without having sex first and deriding those who are against premarital sex. Sex of any kind is a personal choice and I think it’s extremely rude and judgmental for liberals to mock conservatives for choosing to save it for marriage.

    Yes, the statistics show that many people who hold these beliefs did not succeed in keeping them. But the lack of success doesn’t mean their beliefs are wrong. I believe in eating healthy and exercising and I fail at it rather often, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a right to my beliefs. We must remember that Christianity (which I imagine is behind many of these people’s beliefs) is a religion not only of a sin but also of forgiveness, so people who err and have premarital sex can be forgiven.

    (For the record, I am an non-religious unmarried non-virgin and not personally against pre-marital sex. I just believe that everyone has a right to their opinion about what they want to do, or not do, with their body.)

  35. Mighty Ponygirl
    Mighty Ponygirl June 2, 2010 at 12:54 pm |

    MM — no, it’s not hypocritical to point out that people should be on the same page as one another before making a lifetime commitment. It’s common sense. Marriage is more than just having a roommate, and people need to understand that before they commit to someone else, they need to know that they have basic compatibilities down with this person. Those things include important sexual and reproductive questions, things like Do We Both Want Children and If So How Many, and Do We Have Roughly the Same Sexual Appetites and Preferences.

    If you marry someone who wants to fuck four times a week and you’re content fucking twice a month, there’s going to be a lot of problems. If you marry someone who wants to have anal sex on the menu but it disgusts you or you can’t have it because it’s too painful, there is going to be problems. If you want to try weird new positions and different sex play techniques and your spouse only wants to do straight vanilla missionary sex positions (and forget about ever going down on YOU), then there are going to be problems. Marriage counselors hear about this all the time. If you don’t bother to find out this sort of thing before you make a lifelong commitment with someone, then You Have Behaved Irresponsibly.

  36. annalouise
    annalouise June 2, 2010 at 2:38 pm |

    I agree with MM. We can talk about how sexual “rules” are biased against women, how, apparently, the people who try to enforce them for other do not keep them for themselves, but it is incredibly fucked up to start making all these wack-a-doo assertions that people who don’t have sex before marriage are doomed. Plenty of people don’t have sex with each other before they get married.

  37. Zula
    Zula June 2, 2010 at 4:52 pm |

    @annalouise – And by “plenty of people” you mean five percent.

  38. annalouise
    annalouise June 2, 2010 at 5:55 pm |

    Which is about 6 million people in the U.S., pretty close to the 8 million people who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual. If it was 1 million people or 1,000 people it would still not be okay to have a snotty and dismissive attitude towards that groups’ sexual practices. It’s pretty fucking gross.

  39. annalouise
    annalouise June 2, 2010 at 9:40 pm |

    And I want to ask this question, legitimately, because it comes up again and again: Why, in every post on feministe about abstinence-only education, the double-standard on sexual behavior or anything remotely related to conservative sex politics, there has to be at least two people who take this as an exciting new opportunity to declare other women’s sexuality irresponsible, weird, and so totally marginal that it’s not even worth bothering to be respectful of the tiny minority of sick freaks whose deviant sexuality will destroy any hope of a normal relationship?

    Can we even have an honest conversation about women’s sexuality when I get to read that: Trufax! Having sex on my own terms is irresponsible and will mean that any relationship I have based on that sexuality is probably going to crash and burn.

  40. eilish
    eilish June 2, 2010 at 9:55 pm |

    America, you are very confusing sometimes.

  41. MM
    MM June 2, 2010 at 10:40 pm |

    Agreed, annalouise. Whatever small minority they are, the personal choices of people about their own bodies and lives must be respected. We all know to accept people who engage in different or more sexual practices than us – why is it so hard to accept those who have less?

    Mighty Ponygirl – you are, of course, entitled to your opinion, and I similarly would not ever marry someone without ever sleeping with them first. However, your amount of judgment and snobbery towards other people’s personal decisions is completely unnecessary.

    At any rate, having sex before marriage does not necessarily mean never discussing sexual preferences before marriage, and you also have to take into account the fact that for many people sex is simply not the most important part of a relationship. Even I am willing to compromise sexual satisfaction for things that I hold more important such as love, companionship, and common values. Many people also avoid premarital sex for religious and cultural reasons and I think it’s pretty disrespectful to brush them all off as fools.

    Sex of any sort should never be treated as a requirement. To do so makes a joke of the concept of sexual freedom.

  42. Q Grrl
    Q Grrl June 2, 2010 at 11:38 pm |

    @lasciel Throat jumping, eh? You have no problem with the gendered use of “promiscuous” then? Or am I missing something? Especially when used as a euphemism for men purchasing women’s bodies?

    Nice reversal.

    All White is showing are statistics about sexual encounters before state-sanctioned marriage. How one leaps to the conclusion that only the women are “promiscuous” boggles my mind since no one has statistics for how many women these men slept with before said marriage. In my mind, it is always safer not to moralize from sets of statistics.

    [and really, prostitutes are promiscuous? Here I was thinking it was a business transaction]

  43. Q Grrl
    Q Grrl June 2, 2010 at 11:48 pm |

    I agree with annalouise. I prefer to think that I’m capable of forming adult decisions based on factors other than what my girl bits prefer. That’s not irresponsibility – it’s just using a wider palette. Sexual compatibility does not equal a lasting marriage; nor does sexual incompatibility automatically lead to an unhappy or broken marriage. Some people might even suggest that the mystery of the unknown and the act of negotiating differences builds upon the strength, not the weaknesses, of a union.

  44. Mandie
    Mandie June 6, 2010 at 4:17 am |

    Anecdata point: two very liberal, open-minded Protestant friends of mine fooled around together before getting married, but wanted to save actual intercourse/pregnancy risk as a way to celebrate their public and religious committment to each other.

    So count them in the 62% who have no moral problem with sex before marriage, but in the 5% who still didn’t, anyway (depending on how one defines “sex”).

    (Still happily married, seven years later, with one very recently-born kid)

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