- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 30, 2006

“Premarital sex is nearly universal among Americans.” That’s what it said on the homepage of the Guttmacher Institute. The claim related to a study by the organization in which some 40,000 people were asked over a period of 20 years if they had sexual intercourse before they were married.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 95 percent of people said, yes, they had premarital sex. The claim was further made that premarital intercourse crosses all demographic lines. An example of that was the claim by the group that some 90 percent of women born in the 1940s married as something other than virgins.

Those are pretty strong numbers. And they are expected to be a pretty strong tool for the Democrats as they call in the next Congress for slashing federal money now allocated to abstinence education. In fact, many believe this report was conjured up just for that looming political fight.

So, I’m not sure how objective, honest or accurate these numbers are.

One thing I do know, however, is that the Guttmacher Institute is an activist group with a keen interest in promoting abortion and birth control. It takes its name from Alan Guttmacher, a former national president of Planned Parenthood. It is not an honest broker of information, it is an activist group with a liberal agenda at odds with traditional and religious values as they relate to chastity. So I’m taking this study with a grain of salt.

And I’m betting the impact of the study would be significantly different if a few more questions were asked. “Did you have premarital sex?” leaves the issue half explored and the truth half obscured. So I would add three questions to the survey.

The first is: Did you later marry the person with whom you had sex?

I’m betting, as a matter of human behavior, that a good percentage of people who had premarital sex were soon thereafter married to the person with whom they had sex. I’m betting a fair number of those 95 percent who supposedly had premarital sex have also been monogamous all their lives. Yes, Grandma may have slept with somebody before she married, but it was Grandpa she slept with and they’re celebrating their golden anniversary pretty soon. Those people, and their portion of that alleged 95 percent, would not be sexual adventurers or in particular need or support of the attitudes and policies of the Guttmacher Institute.

The second question is: How old were you when you first had sex?

Most surveys show the majority of people graduate from high school with their virginity and their virtue intact. That means that, at least through that stage of their lives, these people had been abstinent — by choice or necessity. If this 95 percent is thrown out to justify yanking what little money now goes to abstinence education, it would be worthwhile to remember that in the population affected by sex education — school-age people — the majority have not had intercourse and so are not represented by the 95 percent.

The final question is: Do you regret you had sex before marriage?

Looking back, was it the right thing to do? That question is valid and informative because the likelihood is that a good percentage of people sexually active before they married wished afterward that they hadn’t been. Evaluating the wisdom and propriety of an activity from the perspective of hindsight and experience is very useful in deciding whether you want to promote or facilitate an activity. “Yes, I had sex before I married,” some people might say, “but I sure wish I hadn’t. It was the right thing to do.”

The fact something is commonly done does not mean it should be condoned or accepted. Years ago, polls would have shown a majority of people smoked cigarettes, and yet that would not have been used as an argument for pulling the plug on antismoking education. The fact a large number of people have premarital sex does not mean it is good or right, or that schools shouldn’t expose them to a different and arguably better choice.

Personally, I don’t believe these numbers. Ninety-five percent is too high. Intuitively, in my gut, it just doesn’t make sense. Certainly, many people do, probably most. But there are people whose religion or culture shun such activity, and some of those people live up to that restraint. I believe they account for more than 5 percent of the population.

And I believe this number gives a distorted view of this society’s attitude toward abstinence before marriage. It’s not the way the activists say it is. People have desires, certainly. And people will often follow those desires. But I don’t believe it’s as broad as the activists make it out to be. I believe Americans are better than that.

BOB LONSBERRY

Commentator and talk show host in Rochester, NY. Online at [email protected]

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