Abstinence= Don’t think the colour red! Don’t think the colour red!

James books, burdens, BYU, christianity, church, curiosity, Discrimination, education, faith, families, general, General Conference, liberal, marriage, Mormon, Mormons, obedience, orthodox, sexuality, tesimony, women 59 Comments

“The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health” (Add Health),

  1. Found that conservative and evangelical Christian teenagers are more sexually active than mainline Protestants, Jews, and even Mormons. On average, white evangelical Protestants begin having sex shortly after turning sixteen, which is sooner than most other groups.
  2. Moreover, because of the widespread conservative and evangelical Christian belief that contraception is morally wrong, those teenagers were more likely than the other groups to become pregnant and contract sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
  3. The surveys found that abstinence-only sex education is a total failure in stopping premarital sex, unwanted pregnancy, and STDs.
  4. Bush has made it governmental policy in the United States and around the world to support the teaching of abstinence-only sex education. According to a 2001 estimate, two-and-a-half million young people have taken a pledge to remain celibate until marriage. This has been done under the auspices of movements such as “True Love Waits” and “The Silver Ring Thing.” Sometimes the pledges are made at “purity balls” where girls in ball gowns exchange rings with their fathers who vow to help them remain virgins until they marry. The surveys show that 82% of those who take such pledges end up having sex before marriage.
  5. In addition, other surveys show that communities with high rates of pledging also have higher rates of pregnancy and STDs.
  6. The problem with teenage marriages is that they lead to higher rates of divorce by conservative and evangelical Christians than among other Christians, Jews, and Mormons. Social scientists have noted that the states with the lowest age of marriage have the highest rates of divorce.
  7. The problem with teenage marriages is that they lead to higher rates of divorce by conservative and evangelical Christians than among other Christians, Jews, and Mormons. Social scientists have noted that the states with the lowest age of marriage have the highest rates of divorce.
  8. In 2004 the states with the lowest median age of marriage were the (then) red states of Arkansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Utah, and Idaho. The states with the highest age at marriage were New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.
  9. The highest rates of divorce were in the red states of Arkansas, Idaho, Wyoming, West Virginia, and Nevada. The lowest rates of divorce were in the blue states of Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Jersey.
  10. The highest teen-pregnancy rates were in the red states of Mississippi, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada. The lowest were in Vermont, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Maine.
  11. The surveys also showed that there is an important social class and educational aspect to adolescent sex. The more affluent, better-educated blue state teenagers are more cautious about having premarital sex than conservative and evangelical youths.
  12. They are more likely to use contraception when having sex, and are less likely to get pregnant or STDs. Blue state young people are more likely to postpone marriage and children until after they reach emotional and financial maturity.
  13. According to Mark Regnerus: “They (blue state teens) are interested in remaining free from the burden of teenage pregnancy and the sorrows and embarrassments of sexually transmitted diseases. They perceive a bright future for themselves, one with college, advanced degrees, a career, and a family.”

Thoughts and Questions

  • The Church encourages education and the correlation between education and unwanted teenage pregnancy is positive
  • Abstinence seems to be working fairly well in our church doesn’t it? – I honestly don’t know?
  • What is our stand on contraception for teenagers that are going to be sexually active do we bury our head in the sand or is it ever discussed where they could go get help.
  • Mormons don’t think contraception is morally wrong but would we encourage it if we knew abstinence was not going to happen?
  • It appears in the States where religion is practised less but education is higher their seems to be higher abstinence and less teenage pregnancy and STD’s
  • Has the church supported President Bush on abstinence only sex education? Will Obama be advocating abstinence education as well ?
  • Do we formally encourage in our wards and stakes for our teenagers to pledge abstinence?
  • If their is a correlation between the younger you get married the more likely you are to get a divorce, should it be encouraged that members wait longer before they tie the knot?
  • If its true that the trend for BYU students are waiting a little longer to get married will this improve future divorce rates in the church?

Final thought and Question Do you think the more we talk about abstinence the worse the problem will get?

Don’t think the colour red! Don’t think the colour red! Don’t think the colour red!

What colour are you thinking?

Notes: Jack LeMoult

Comments

comments

Comments 59

  1. This is the question that I always have when reading these reports that are continually showing that abstinence ed in schools is a failure, and that these evangelical purity pledges are failures: why does this seem to work for LDS youth but not others?

  2. To respond to some of the questions you ask, here are my thoughts:

    1: The church should not (and does not to my knowledge) provide any information about contraception to anyone, let alone unmarried members. Giving such information to an unmarried member would rightly be considered condoning the sin, and as such the church can not do so.

    2: The question of “would we encourage [contraception] if we knew abstinence was not going to happen?” is a false dilemma- as there is no reason abstinence won’t happen unless a person [i]chooses[/i] to have sex. Therefor, clearly our position should be to encourage people to not have sex. If someone is going to rebel against God’s commands concerning sexual behavior why should we then turn around and promote the world’s solution?

    3: “It appears in the States where religion is practised less but education is higher their seems to be higher abstinence and less teenage pregnancy and STD’s” Right there you highlight the major flaw in this study. No attempt was made to control for other factors. For example, maybe religion does discourage pre-marital sex, but religion is correlated with poverty and lower education which is a cause of pre-marital sex. Maybe abstinence only education does decrease pre-marital sex, but it’s most often taught in poor, less educated areas. In which case the insistence of poor, less educated parents on abstinence and religion are not irrational and counter productive but are actually in [i]response[/i] to the higher rates of pre-marital sex in their communities.

    In other words: Poverty and Less Education are causes of pre-marital sex, so those communities feel greater need for religion and abstinence-only education as a way of reducing those problems, which is why you see more religious behavior and more abstinence only education, and more abstinence pledges among those groups that are [i]already demographically pre-disposed[/i] to pre-marital sex and pregnancy.

    I need to see the internals of the study before I can judge, heck I don’t even know what measurement they are using of reliousocity. “There are three types of lies, lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Too often I have seen people use statistics to deceive, so I insist on a greater understanding of what the study is actually saying before I accept the arguments being made from it at face value.

    The fact that Utah and Mormons are apparent outliers according to your presented interpretation raises exactly those suspicions- and would fit with the alternative interpretation I just presented above.

    4: “Do we formally encourage in our wards and stakes for our teenagers to pledge abstinence?” Not that I have ever encountered. And I don’t think we should, we simply expect them to be abstinent. There shouldn’t need to be a special pledge- especially considering that our baptisms are a pledge to obey God, including his commandments concerning chastity- and this pledge is specifically renewed again during the endowment.

    5: “If their [sic] is a correlation between the younger you get married the more likely you are to get a divorce, should it be encouraged that members wait longer before they tie the knot?”

    No. Mormons are waiting too long to get married already. Getting married later presents all sorts of problems, including limiting the number of children you can have. Furthermore it is evidence of misplaced priorities- placing career and education before family. Additionally, the problems of early marriage are primarily because people are not growing up and maturing fast enough, and insist on acting like kids well into their late twenties. The solution is to teach children to be mature and ready for marriage, so that they can handle marrying in their early twenties.

    Also, I am suspicious of the numbers, are they measuring divorces per a married couple? Or per capita? It makes a big difference.

    Ultimately each person getting married is different, and should be encouraged or discouraged based on their own readiness- not some average age for the population as a whole.

    6: “If its true that the trend for BYU students are waiting a little longer to get married will this improve future divorce rates in the church?” I doubt it. As most BYU students marry in the temple, and therefor have very low divorce rates. The marriage rates for Mormons are most likely determined at the margins- among mixed religion families. Who by the way, often involve female members who married late, because they could not find a member husband. (Just my personal observation, but that’s how it is out in the mission field).

  3. What does it mean that it “works” for LDS but not others? Only 1% of youth getting pregnant or contributing to it? 10%? 25%? I think you’ll see a different number of youth being sexually active in one congreation than you will in another, so are we hoping to find positive results on the whole, or in individual communities? In answer to your question about abstinence only education, I think the studies are showing it doesn’t work. I think that to be able to make an informed decision, we need to have all the data(or as much as is redily available)before us. Want to NOT get pregnant? Want to NOT get a girl pregnant? Then abstain. Want to avoid completely an STD? Then abstain. Can’t decide abstinence is for you? Then know the risks involved and take these precautions: X, Y, Z. Got that? Ok, now make up your mind as to what you really want. Still not sure? Take some lessons from those who did abstain, those who didn’t and had little to no repercussions, and those who did and now have to deal with the consequences. Yes, Youth are YOUNG, but begin to help their minds develop rational adult thought, and they will begin to see how to make rational adult decisions. They won’t always be perfect, they won’t always make smart decisions, but giving them just one option doesn’t help them develop at all.

  4. Excellent questions, James.

    I’m going to have to word this carefully, and I’m going to flirt with stereotypes a bit, but . . .

    1) I wonder what percentage of the “purity pledges” are made by each sex. Iow, how many of them are made by boys as opposed to girls?

    2) Such pledges are made under specific and very public pressure. If the commitment to abstain is not developed internally over a long period of time, how effective are “temporary” convictions made under emotionally manipulated circumstances?

    3) Active Mormon teenagers (males, particularly, but females, as well) have a clearly identified purpose attached to their commitment – serving a mission at age of 19 or 21. Whether this is seen as a “reward” or not, it certainly helps to have a non-sexual reason to abstain.

    4) Likewise, active Mormon young adults (male AND female) have a clearly identified purpose attached to their commitment – temple marriage. I have not seen any research, but it seems logical to believe that Mormons who are not committed to missions and/or lose hope of temple marriage (due to age, feelings of unworthiness, sexual orientation, etc.) would be much more susceptible to sexual activity than their peers.

    There is a lot more to say, but that’s it for now.

  5. I didn’t word my response very well. I guess what I was trying to get at, is why are so many LDS youth able to abstain from premarital sex while others consistently seem to fail? I think Ray’s response is very insightful. I also think the phrase “if the commitment to abstain is not developed internally over a long period of time” points to one reason why these efforts (pledge chastity events)seem so unsuccessful.

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    Cicero “If someone(your daughter or niece) is going to rebel against God’s commands concerning sexual behavior why should we then turn around and promote the world’s solution?”

    Cicero would you feel differently if it was your daughter!

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    Ray

    2) Such pledges are made under specific and very public pressure.

    Even though our wards don’t make pledges I think their is public pressure for example a Young Women’s Teacher putting a piece of gum in her mouth chewing it and then offering it to the young women- they of course say no it used and disgusting. That’s what your like if you don’t keep your self morally clean.

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  10. Ooh, ooh, I knew this sounded familiar!

    from http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/11/03/081103fa_fact_talbot?currentPage=all (which is a longer version, I think, of what was already posted — it references some of the same sources):

    p.s., I apologize in advance because this is a long quote, but I didn’t want to cut anything essential from it.

    Regnerus and Carbone and Cahn all see a new and distinct “middle-class morality” taking shape among economically and socially advantaged families who are not social conservatives. In Regnerus’s survey, the teen-agers who espouse this new morality are tolerant of premarital sex (and of contraception and abortion) but are themselves cautious about pursuing it. Regnerus writes, “They are interested in remaining free from the burden of teenage pregnancy and the sorrows and embarrassments of sexually transmitted diseases. They perceive a bright future for themselves, one with college, advanced degrees, a career, and a family. Simply put, too much seems at stake. Sexual intercourse is not worth the risks.” These are the kids who tend to score high on measures of “strategic orientation”—how analytical, methodical, and fact-seeking they are when making decisions. Because these teen-agers see abstinence as unrealistic, they are not opposed in principle to sex before marriage—just careful about it. Accordingly, they might delay intercourse in favor of oral sex, not because they cherish the idea of remaining “technical virgins” but because they assess it as a safer option… They might have loved Ellen Page in “Juno,” but in real life they’d see having a baby at the wrong time as a tragic derailment of their life plans. For this group, Regnerus says, unprotected sex has become “a moral issue like smoking or driving a car without a seatbelt. It’s not just unwise anymore; it’s wrong.”

    So the real question is…is “abstinence only” really working for Mormons — are LDS youth really the outlier? Or is it just the case that Mormons have this middle class morality? I’m not going to say that LDS youth aren’t socially conservative, so I’m not going to say they see “abstinence as unrealistic” or a lot of the other claims of middle class morality, but I’d definitely think that most Mormon kids are going to agree with seeing “having a baby at the wrong time as a tragic derailment of their life plans.”

    This in fact, becomes problematic for the brethren as, echoing Cicero in #2, now some people wait too long (in Mormon terms) to settle down and have families. They, motivated by aspirations, want to “place career and education before family.” I think this is a clear sign that these people are at least in part motivated by aspirational morality than just religious abstinence-only.

  11. Therefor[e], clearly our position should be to encourage people to not have sex.

    Yes.

    If someone is going to rebel against God’s commands concerning sexual behavior why should we then turn around and promote the world’s solution?

    Is there no value in preventing the addition of an innocent life to a clearly bad situation? If someone is going to “rebel against God’s commands” surely we want to encourage them not to get preggers. I understand that we do not want to condone sin, but I hate the idea of an innocent baby as some kind of just punishment for unchaste behavior. Perhaps parental responsibility does teach them lessons, but too often it does so at the expense of an infant’s well-being.

  12. James, I am a practical idealist. I want my children to remain sexually inactive prior to marriage, and that is the standard they have been taught since before they could walk. I don’t EVER phrase it as “sex is bad and dirty”, but they know what I believe – no question about it.

    Having said that, I also teach them that they can come to me and talk about anything – and I mean anything. My oldest son has completed the process for his mission call, and we had a very open conversation last night about his future after he returns. It included some advice that would surprise some who read here and assume things about me, and it is indicative of how I would approach a conversation with my daughters AND sons about birth control and pre-marital sex.

    My short answer: Yes, I would encourage them to use birth control if they decided they were going to have pre-marital sex. They know I don’t condone it, and they know I would be disappointed in that choice, but if they are going to make that choice . . . I certainly don’t want them getting pregnant or getting an STD or causing that for someone else. They all know that we use birth control (at least all of them that are over 12) and that we used it to plan their own births perfectly, and even my 6-year-old has made comments that lead me to believe she is hearing stuff at school – so I have no hesitancy talking with my kids about sex and birth control. I think it’s irresponsible in this day and age not to do so.

    Bottom line: I want them to be able to talk with me about anything, no matter what their choices are about that anything. I tend to think that openness and honesty and trust and recognition of them as adults and real education is part of true parenthood.

  13. To phrase it differently, I think what works for Mormons is that we DON’T teach “abstinence only”. We teach mission and temple marriage and eternal marriage and on and on and on that ground the PURPOSE for pre-marital abstinence in something other than “mere” abstinence. We give it an eternal purpose that is absent in other theologies, and I say that as someone who doesn’t believe sex as we understand it now is part of our eternal existence. It’s grounding sex in the context of eternal creativity that makes it unique and literally empowering, imo. If kids “get it” (even if only in simplified, outline form), they are less likely to have pre-marital sex; if they don’t, they are more likely to do so.

  14. Quote – “No. Mormons are waiting too long to get married already. Getting married later presents all sorts of problems, including limiting the number of children you can have. Furthermore it is evidence of misplaced priorities- placing career and education before family. Additionally, the problems of early marriage are primarily because people are not growing up and maturing fast enough, and insist on acting like kids well into their late twenties. The solution is to teach children to be mature and ready for marriage, so that they can handle marrying in their early twenties.”

    A bit OT, but I have a few questions for anyone that cares to give their opinion. What are the problems presented by getting married at say 27-30 as opposed to 21-24 (alluded to in Cicero’s post)? Does getting married at 27-30 really limit the number or children anymore than someone that gets married at 21-24 and has three kids? Don’t most mormons limit the number of children they have anyway (through some kind of birth control)? Is waiting till graduation or having a steady job/income really a sign of misplaced priority (ie putting career and education before family)? Or isn’t it possible that a person’s desire to obtain a steady job/income may be motivated by a desire to adequately provide for his/her’s future family (I mean I can the point if you wait till you’re retired to get married, but not when you simply wait a few more years)? Finally, even if people are mature enough for marriage (solving the supposed problem of why young marriages aren’t working out) does that automatically mean that in today’s age people should still get married? Isn’t it possible that society (economic pressures, educational necessities, etc.) has changed enough to make a completed college education and a stable job important requisites (not absolute requisites mind you) for a successful marriage/family?

  15. #15 – Strictly from a practical standpoint, not taking religious issues into play at all:

    1) Waiting to marry decreases the available pool from which to marry. That’s simple mathematics.

    2) Postponing marriage to someone whom you love and want to marry increases the potential for pre-marital sex exponentially – especially if you find that someone and feel that way at 22 and have to wait for 5 years or more to get married.

    3) Waiting to have kids until after 35 radically increases the risk of lots of birth defects – which leaves a window of only five years for those who want to have their kids prior to that age.

    4) Having three kids in five years certainly is doable and not at all harmful for many, but it will derail the wife’s career in many cases – and will be hard on anyone who has extended post-partum issues.

    5) Waiting to get married to such an age that 3 or fewer kids is the only “safe” option doesn’t leave any room for those who want more – especially if they want 5 or more. Our kids are 14 years apart, spaced and planned meticulously, and our oldest was born almost two years after we were married, so my wife would have been 43 years old when our youngest was born if we had married when she was 27. Our last two would have been born after the 35 year target and been subject to increased risk as a result.

    6) If our youngest had been born when we were 43, she would not graduate until we were 61 – at which point I would be considering retirement. Not only do I not want to be dealing with a teenager when I am 61 and multiple times a grandfather, but I also want to have a few years left in my 50’s to be alone with my wife and have some freedom BEFORE I contemplate retirement. Currently, we have 6 kids, and the youngest will graduate when I am 54. That’s a BIG difference.

    7) A mature 24 is much better in a marriage and family than an immature 30.

    There’s more I could add, but starting that much later has consequences that must be considered – especially when the data suggests marrying after 20 removes almost all increase in divorce rate that can be attributed primarily to age.

  16. I just asked my 17 year old son what he thought of the data presented here. He attends High School with a small LDS group and a very large and active Evangelical Christian student population with which he interacts often. His immediate response was that the Evangelical kids do not value the biblical idea of “works”. “All they have to do is believe, Mom, that’s one of the big reasons for this problem.”

    An recent anecdotle experience gives me some perspective. My 6th grade son came home after the end of his first week in middle school and asked me for a copy of “For the Stregth of Youth” he could keep in his binder. When I asked why he said, “A girl keeps asking me to be her girlfriend and school and I want to show her why I won’t do it.”

    The co-ordinated message in “For the Strenth of Youth”around sexuality has been a guide for me and my family

  17. I think there should be a separation between church and state. So if the LDS church does not believe in premarital sex, then that’s what they should preach.

    However the schools are a completely different situation. The fact is teenagers have sex, even LDS ones so being education on safe sex is essential to dropping teen pregnancy rates and STD transmission.

    “Has the church supported President Bush on abstinence only sex education? Will Obama be advocating abstinence education as well?”

    I don’t know how the church feels about this but you better believe that Mr. Obama will change this.

  18. You don’t seem to be making much distinction between teaching “abstinence only” in a school sex ed class vs. teaching abstinence at church. There’s a big difference between the two.

    In a school health class, the students should receive accurate information about S.T.D.s, pregnancy, and contraception. In your church, teach kids whatever you think is appropriate. I think what this study shows most of all is that ignorance and fear aren’t good tools for keeping kids away from sex — giving them the information they need to make responsible choices works better.

  19. #20 & #21 – Amen, with the emphasis on your point that the sex ed classes should give **accurate** information about those things AND abstinence. It really is the only “safe sex” practice there is. Everything else is “less safe” – or “safer than no protection”.

    Much of the problem for some kids who are sexually active is that they believe, based on the way the information is presented in some sex ed classes and by their parents, that simple contraception (like condom use) is “safe sex” – that it prevents pregnancy and STD’s.

  20. #15 – My thoughts on your thoughts:

    1) It only decreases the pool in the event that most people decide to marry young (the supposed trend within mormon circles is that the average marriage age is going up). Once most people are getting married at an older age (earlier I suggested 27-30), such simple mathematics are no longer a problem. I realize you made a caveat that religion was not to be involved in your thoughts, but I can’t help but think you had in mind the available population as being mormons who currently tend to marry quite young. Otherwise, the national average for marriage is right around my proposed low range of 27 (which would currently leave many many people available). At any rate, I don’t think the numbers (outside of mormon circles) truly decrease at such a rate as to leave a dearth of available women/men. In other words its not a drastic decrease in the pool of potential mates.

    2) Once again it seems that your point here appears to take into account religious issues. Many non-religious (and plenty of religious) people have no qualms with safe and careful pre-marital sex. In fact, many people do have pre-martial sex with their future spouse. From a practical standpoint, this point does not seem to present a problem for those that decide to marry from 27-30. From a mormon/religious view I see what your getting at.

    3) It does appear that there are a few birth defects that negatively correlate to a mother’s age (particularly past the age of 35 as you note). I did put a span of 27-30 and you took the oldest age. Going off that assumption then yes there would be 5 yrs or so to have children as safely as if the woman were having children from 20-25. Most people wanting three children could have three with no problems (of course the last child would be right on or a year past that 35 year mark but most people wanting 6 children or more would have at least one child right at the mark as well). You do address couples that would want more children below. Besides those couples that want more than three children (naturally, I might add), and since many couples outside of religious folks do not want more than three or four children, marriage from 27-30 does not present a significant problem.

    4) It appears to me that a woman having 3-5 children before the age of 30 would derail her career more than having three kids in five years after the age of 27 (and even more so 6 children from 21-35 or so). In fact, many woman having children at such ages never even begin to exercise any type of career even if they may graduate with a degree (although of course there are some that do). I may be missing why you believe this is a good point in favor of younger marrying ages so I would be interested in hearing your explanation. I have no studies to back up my anecdotal evidence, but most young mormon brides do end up having three children in 5-6 years, so it seems like the post-partum issue is equal in either case.

    5) I do agree that for those that want more than 5 children it would be difficult (and perhaps a bit risky) to have that many children naturally. However, a couple could always adopt (I understand that there are other issues involved in such a proces, but I believe adoption should be a more frequently used option by parents who are interested in having many children – just my opinion of course). Also, if a family wanted 6 children (or more), you ostensibly run into the problems you cited above (career wrecker, post-partum, hard on mother, birth defects). Would you argue against a family wanting 6 or more children in the same way you argue against marrying from 27-30 (since they would apparently run into the same problems facing those that wait until 27-30)?

    6) I understand that some people are not interested in dealing with teenagers when they are in their 50’s. But what of the couple that had two children and ended at age 34? They would be in the exact same boat as yourself. If a couple were interest in having as many children as you and your wife did then yes I see your point. At any rate, isn’t 50 the new 40? =)

    7) I agree that a mature 24 is better than an immature 30. But that isn’t really a point for marrying younger since a 30 year old could be and is likely to be more mature than a 24 year old. More importantly, is it likely that a 24 year old (especially a mormon-male 24 year old) will have a decently mature career or be financially mature? Highly unlikely. The reality is that a 30 year old is likely going to be more mature than a 24 year old in nearly every fact. However, if you put it between a mature 24 year old an an immature 30 year old (equally immature in career and financial status as the 24 year old), then yes, I agree with you on that point. Perhaps my bigger questions in what do you mean by mature? Do education, careers, and economics not play into your definition of mature?

    Thanks for your thoughts Ray. PS, if you have any studies specifically that back up your assertion for the idea that after 20, early age is a negligible factor for divorces, I’d love to take a look at them. Thanks!

  21. “On average, white evangelical Protestant”……..”teenagers were more likely than the other groups to become pregnant and contract sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

    Yeap, they all have crabs! Except the southern baptists ones, they just have syphilis.

    “The surveys found that abstinence-only sex education is a total failure in stopping premarital sex, unwanted pregnancy, and STDs.” Maybe the schools should teach protection and the churches teach abstinance. Should keep everyone happy.

  22. Abstinence seems to be working fairly well in our church doesn’t it? – I honestly don’t know?

    That’s a great question. Has a study actually been done solely on a Mormon population? Having been a member of a bishopric of a small town conservative area, I know of a number of instances, mostly from inactive teens.

    The best way we can test how much the church has to deal with sex before marriage is to look at how often it is talked about at General Conference. Just off the top of my head, I would say that there are enough teen and young adult Mormons who engage in sex before marriage for the church to consider it an issue worthy of discussing at General Conference.

    While abstinence is obviously the best way to avoid the transmission of sexual diseases and the consequences (i.e. child birth) before being ready, I really and sincerely desire for those who promote abstinence only realize that it just simply does not stop teens and young adults from engaging in sex. What do you do with those who do engage? Preach to them abstinence? How does that stop the kid from being born? How does that stop the transmission of sexual disease?

  23. Our message to our kids has been that if you don’t have the moral fortitude to be abstinent until you marry, have the common sense to take safety precautions with all the risks that promiscuous sex brings with it. It seems they got the message.

    I think there is no problem that the Church preaches chastity. That’s the Church’s purview. Parents are the ones who should teach sex ed to kids, not schools or churches. Around here the methods of teaching abstinence in the Church are different. They’re also fairly realistic from what I’ve heard from my kids and family and friends who have worked with the youth.

    Anyhow, there is always the sociological aspect. Just like smoking is becoming more and more the hobby of the less-educated people, promiscuous sex seems to be associated with low education level. Income plays a part in that it pretty much chooses your neighborhood for you – and thus the schools your kids end up attending and the friends they’ll be having in school. Think about such well-educated people as teachers and librarians, who get peanuts for their trouble.

  24. jgtown, Sorry for the confusion. I inadvertently misspoke. I was answering from the Mormon social perspective, but I meant I would keep the specific theological aspects out of the answers.

    Your points are excellent. My response:

    1) You are correct that it only decreases the pool among those who choose to marry younger than the average, but it still decreases the pool for them. What it does is shrink the age difference range for marriages, since it eliminates 7-10 years of previous marriage eligibility. It also makes the “fight for a mate” more intense, since there is less time available to find a suitable mate – especially at the 30-years-old state for women. Compact the available time for ANY major decision, and the pressure ratchets up accordingly.

    2) I was speaking entirely from within the Mormon social construct with this one. (pre-marital sex)

    3) I think it is optimistic (and perhaps even unrealistic) to assert that “most people wanting three children could have three with no problems” – especially if we are not speaking of Mormons only. Many people don’t want their children to be born only two years apart, in succession, especially when there are career issues at play. Three to five years apart is quite normal, which would put the last child of three being born when the mother was 33-40.

    4) All others issues aside, career tracks are derailed most by multiple children spaced closely together. That is avoidable the more childbearing years are available for actual childbearing. It becomes less avoidable when that window is closed partially. If this issue alone were the key, the ideal for minimal impact on a mother’s career development probably would be entering the workforce around 22 (after graduation from college), first child born at 23, second child born at 29, third child born at 35. This would equate to one maternity leave every six years, and only one child in all-day child care at a time. This option (or anything similar to it) is not available when the mother starts at 27-30 and wants to stop at 35.

    5) As to family size, three children actually is considered to be a large family right now (the small end of large, but large nonetheless), so there would have to be encouragement for many couples to have as many as three. There is a reason that is demographically dangerous, since the elimination of statistically large families (5 kids or more) would decrease the average fertility rate significantly. (Large families tend to cancel out non-married individuals and marriages with less than two children.) The population replacement level for the US is approximately 2.1 children, and a 2007 Washington Post article says that the US hit that level for the first time in 35 years in 2006. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/12/20/AR2007122002725_pf.html)

    There are incredible social ramifications of the only large families being poor, socially-marginalized families, but this is not the thread for that.

    6) Two children are easy to have by the age of 34. For those wanting less than three children, 27-30 is a perfectly acceptable starting point.

    7) Your response highlights my point about maturity. There would have been no point whatsoever for my wife and me to wait seven more years to get married. We were “mature enough” at 21 and 20, and we didn’t want only three kids. Our family is planned so meticulously and perfectly that we could have been a poster family for Planned Parenthood, if the size wasn’t such an issue for them. Otoh, there are those who should never get married at 27-30. They are older, but they aren’t any more mature.

    I tend to think missions do for many Mormon men and women what the first few years of an occupation away from family do for others – put them in a situation where they have to grow up. I realize that doesn’t happen for all missionaries, but it also doesn’t happen for all college-educated employees. I think it probably is a statistical wash, meaning the AVERAGE Mormon RM is as mature (and more aware of the world at large) as the AVERAGE non-Mormon college grad who has worked for 2-3 years after graduation. The only difference is 3-5 years in age – incidentally, the same difference in average marriage age between the two groups.

  25. “Much of the problem for some kids who are sexually active is that they believe, based on the way the information is presented in some sex ed classes and by their parents, that simple contraception (like condom use) is “safe sex” – that it prevents pregnancy and STD’s.”

    I’m not sure I follow this. From what I remember of Sex Ed in high school and college (within the last ten years), Abstinence was taught to be the obvious best choice for avoiding unwanted pregnancies and STD’s – so there we agree. Following that, the absolute second best alternative, and frankly first best for those who actually choose to be sexually active, was condoms, ie “the barrier method”. I’m not sure I recognize the “problem” referred to in this post.

  26. Based on the data listed in “The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health”, I am not sure we can draw the conclusion that things are “working”, especially working well, with Mormon youth and sexual abstinence. The only conclusion that we can safely draw is that evangelicals (the contemporary born again movement?), are fairing particularly poorly as compared to Jews, mainstream Protestants, and Mormons. The only specific mention Utah recieves – and by extension Mormons – is that we are listed among the states with a lower mean marriage age. The study does not show any examples where Mormons stand out above the rest. While I agree that the data is not entirely self evident, the only final other conclusion which can be drawn is that children who are raised in affluent, educated, environs have a greater tendency to make rational decision with long term consideration. So if anything I think we can learn that by stressing education among our Children, as they get smarter they begin to act smarter, which is in turn reflected in the manner in which they care for their own self interest. It actually makes quite a bit of sense.

  27. Cowboy, I worked in the public school system for years. I have heard FAR too many teenagers talk about using a condom as being “safe” – that as long as they “use protection” pregnancy and/or STD’s won’t occur. I’m not saying that the textbooks or curricula make that claim; I’m saying I’ve seen too many instances where that’s the message that the kids hear.

    I’ve already said I have no problem telling my kids to use contraception if they decide they are going to have sex – that I want them to make that choice if they don’t choose abstinence. All I’m saying is that too many teenagers get the message that condoms alone actually guarantee no pregnancy or STD’s – and they don’t even consider STD’s that are not transmitted only through full sexual intercourse.

    I want full, accurate information – carefully worded and fully explained.

  28. Ray,

    If your point is that even the barrier method poses risk, and nothing but abstinence is full-proof, then I agree with you and sorry for the confusion. While acknowledging that their is risk to using condoms, my understanding is that it is about the “safest” sex that can be had. I am not suggesting that we should minimize the risk in explaining contraception to kids, I am just stating that if you are going to educate any form of prevention, it ought to be the one with the highest success rate – like 98%. I believe contraception only fails when the prophylactic is faulty.

  29. Hi,

    Nothing really works as far as the LOC is concerned. Pre-marital sex rates are in the mid 90’s in the US.

    There is also a big elephant in the room when you compare teenage sexual stats across state borders. When you compare say Mississippi with New Hampshire. Utah has the lowest out of wedlock birth rate. 18.8% compatred to a national average of 38%
    I am of the view that teens need accurate info on BC with a focus on abstinence being the best policy. AKA: its best you not have sex but if you do here is how a condom works.

  30. Shoot – I don’t have time to read all these insightful comments as I’m just dashing, but here are a few quick observations (I agree with a lot of what Ray said):

    1 – Evangelical pledges are ineffective when teens who have already strayed are now making the pledge. It’s much harder for a previously sexually active teen to keep an abstinence pledge.
    2 – Evangelical pledges are ineffective when the parents of these teens have strayed (is there a genetic predisposition toward poor impulse control and/or empty promises?)
    3 – The requirement to confess sexual sins is a strong deterent for LDS youth whether that comes up in a mission context, temple marriage, or even prior to that.
    4 – The line for LDS youth is drawn after first base, so second base = confession to a priesthood authority. That’s a pretty small window for opportunity. Things are less likely to go for broke if second base is avoided.
    5 – The norm within church youth groups is both younger marriage and no premarital sex. Kids monitor each other to some extent.

    As to this statement: “Blue state young people are more likely to postpone marriage and children until after they reach emotional and financial maturity.” I was not aware that blue states ever reached emotional or financial maturity. Boo-yah! (Let the stoning commence)

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  32. There are, by far, too many analytical comments here. I don’t believe you can relegate love, marriage and children to a perfect formula that fits all. We have moral laws given us by the One who possesses more wisdom and love than any mere mortal–therefore, we should trust them.

    For myself, though, being a virgin bride at age 33+ was clearly the best thing. My husband had just turned 24, and I believe it was really great for the two of us to have married each other. We had four children spaced out: 18 months, 27 months, and 18 months, and that worked out, too without having a child with Downs Syndrome, even in my youngest who was born the day before I turned 40.

    I am now 60, and my youngest was married last year, a teenage bride, two days before she turned 20. I think she did the right thing, too. Her husband at age 27, is probably the only one who ever could have captured her attention enough to bring her to the altar. I expect that our other three children will marry when it is right for both them and their future spouses.

    Teaching them abstinence before marriage has had more to do with teaching fundamentals like modesty in dress, staying clear of pornography, not dating until 16, and the rest of the content of the “Strength of Youth” pamphlet, than the issue of when to become sexually active. (Don’t think the colour red.)

  33. Do we formally encourage in our wards and stakes for our teenagers to pledge abstinence?

    No. Just like we teach our children at home, we teach them why it’s important that they wait. We teach them that the commandments are not there to limit us or make life more difficult, but to make our lives happier and easier.

    Then we hope parents of youth are giving them the tools they need to protect themselves no matter what choices they make.

  34. Cowboy, in response to your question about how well things are “working” regarding sexual abstinence among Mormons, I’ll share my personal experience. I’m a physician in Salt Lake City, and I have practiced here for several years. My patients are about 50% LDS. My non-LDS patients are almost all some variety of christian. Because of my job, I routinely inquire about sexual practices, prescribe contraceptives, etc. It is very common for young LDS women to come see me for “premarital exams” (this is an anachronism everywhere but Utah!), and to get prescriptions for birth control because they are getting married in two months. It is very common for LDS young people to succeed in remaining abstinent until marriage. I literally never see this in non-LDS people. I know there is a lot of concern in the church that many young people are having problems with chastity, and I share that concern. But if 50% of Mormons are virgins on their wedding night (I don’t know what the actual percentage is, this is just a guess), that is hugely different from what happens in the larger culture.

  35. And oh yes, is anyone else totally creeped out by the idea of adolescent girls exchanging rings with their fathers in a ceremony where the fathers promise to help them remain virgins until their wedding night?!?

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  37. ” Sometimes the pledges are made at “purity balls” where girls in ball gowns exchange rings with their fathers who vow to help them remain virgins until they marry.”
    Can I say that I think that this is sick?
    Am I the only thinking that this is sick?

    Oh no, phew. I see that E is grossed out too.

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    44 E You can do it just click in the red and it will be over in a minute!1

    Courage is reckoned the greatest of all virtues; because, unless a man has that virtue, he has no security for preserving any other. ~Samuel Johnson (Thanks, Frank Lynch)

    Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear. ~Ambrose Redmoon

    Every man has his own courage, and is betrayed because he seeks in himself the courage of other persons. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

    Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen. ~Winston Churchill

    Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow. ~Mary Anne Radmacher

    It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare. ~Mark Twain

  39. E.

    The study was comparing evangelicals against the lump sum of Jews, mainstream Protestants, and Mormons. The study demonstrated nothing which would lead one to believe that Mormon youth are particularly better behaved than the other three groups. Utahns were listed among the short list of states which on average marry at a younger age, but that would be the only notable point of distinction that Mormons recieve (I’m taking a little bit of license by conflating Utah with Mormonism in this example). There are no doubt a vast number of Mormon youth who wisely make appropriate choices regarding their sexuality, and my point was not to limit that. I was being a little pessimistic with assumed attitude that Mormon youth are much different than the average good kids/parents/religions/cultures, who believe it or not, share a similar set of values regarding premarital sexual relations. My personal experiences from my almost exclusively Mormon peer group (Utah County) suggests that Mormon youth are just as prone to sexual indiscretions as other groups. I do agree with the observation that the strictness of Mormon culture regarding sexual purity likely serves as a pretty strong deterrent to the youth of the Church. Nevertheless, there is quite a bit that goes around. This is a little late, but it should also be remembered that for the bulk of the study the sample group was teenagers from these different backgrounds, adults and teenagers in their early twenties probably should not figure into the conclusions we draw.

    Out of curiousity, would an already sexually active LDS woman, non-LDS even, come and see you for the “pre-marital” exam if she already knew that everything was in working order?

  40. E. 47 & 49

    Fair enough, you clearly have some experience to draw from which satisfies your conclusion that hopefully LDS teenagers are better at managing their sexual proclivities. Like I mentioned earlier, I don’t want to diminish the positive and ignore the fact that many LDS youth do conduct themselves prudently. I still maintain however that the information provided in the above research does not merit the conclusion that the LDS youth are anything but average, nor that frankly the LDS values of chastity are any stronger than those of Jews, mainstream Protestants, or even evangelicals, despite the relative shocks in analytical experience.

  41. Cowboy, Take a look at the attached data

    The relevant data for your #50 is found in the latest CDC report on childbirth. Utah’s rate of out of wedlock birth’s is half the national average. Utah is #1 and Idaho is #2. The rate would probably be even lower in Utah County if there was a breakout county by county. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr57/nvsr57_07.pdf See page 58

    Data on abortions in Utah: utak is about 2/3rds less then the national average http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/sfaa/utah.html

  42. bbell:

    Thanks for the study, I skimmed through it and the data about utah having the lowest non-marital birth rate (19%) in 2006, next to New Hampshire (29%), where there was a ten percent difference. It is good to see that, though I would like to keep up my argument for just a moment. I doubt we could know this, but it would be interesting to know what impact the younger mean age for marriage has on the equation. In other words, when a teenage mother becomes pregnant in Utah is she any more likely to get married than she would in other states (religions). In other words, how many teen (late teen – early twenties) pregnancies result in a marriage prior to the birth? Lastly it is difficult to compare the two studies because the one which was the subject of this post seems to be comparing groups against religious demographics, while the data referred to in the links you provide focuses on state and ethnic factors.

  43. Cowboy,

    Another good way to compare is to add the abortion numbers into the mix. You can get another “feel”for the data by throwing in the abortion rate. Utah’s is so low by comparison.

    Alos I know for sure that Utah ranks #5 for teenage birthrate. I am pretty sure utah would be #1 if there were more abortions and fewer LDS teenage brides. FWIW 2 women in my ward gve birth prior to age 20 and were 18 year old Temple brides. This is another factor

  44. bbell:

    I don’t dispute the data, and on the whole I think the youth of the Church manage their sexuality with prudence. To clarify my point, the purpose of my comments was to respond to this question and other like minded sentiments:

    “I didn’t word my response very well. I guess what I was trying to get at, is why are so many LDS youth able to abstain from premarital sex while others consistently seem to fail?”

    While the remainder of E.’s comments reflect a reasonable attempt to answer this question from a sociological context, I believe this general assumption that LDS youth succeed where so many others fail is not entirely supported. Especially considering that the study only demonstrated that evangelicals were the dinstinctive outliers compared against Mormons, Jew’s, and mainstream Protestants. The other thing the study showed was that a correlation can be drawn between promiscuity and poverty, and that frankly this was probably more of a driver than religion. This conclusion is further substantiated by the fact that some of the more “liberal” regions of the country (even according the links you provide) have competitively low rates as Utah. This particularly interesting given that we might be naively tempted to expect a hollywood version of sexual liberalism from that crowd. I am just pointing out the LDS youth, as good as they are, do not have the market cornered on traditional sexual values. Perhaps this is an irrelevant point, I’ve been known to shoot first and ask questions later. I must admit though, that when I ask questions later I’m really just looking for a reason to shoot again.

  45. Cowboy your assertions on the more liberal portions of the country are not backed up by the inclusion of the Abortion data Abortion rate in CA is literally 5.5 times more then Utah. MA is 3.5 times. This abortion data is exteremely unfavorable to the idea that the more liberal states like MA or NH are as prudent as LDS folks. Utah has the “trifecta” going on in this area. Aboertion rate, out-of wedlock birthrate, and teenage birthrate.

    What happens in say MA based on the data is that the teenage girl gets pregnant and then simply gets an abortion. The total teenage pregnancy rate is actually much higher in MA then Utah when the 2 rates are combined

  46. E, with all respect, no sexually active mormon girl/woman would go near you for contraceptives unless you work for planned parenthood. We have all heard the stories about someone being turned in to church authorities by the Doctor, a nurse in the facility, etc. So, I posit, your data set is skewed in such a way that makes conclusions meaningless.

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