On seven questions about love and sex, Americans feel the strongest about three things: they abhor adultery, they don’t believe marriage is an “outdated institution,” and they are not OK with three or more people living together in a sexual or romantic relationship.
On four other questions involving unmarried sex, divorce and gay marriage, about a third of Americans are undecided “fence-sitters” — which denies majority status to people who are either for or against such activities.
This shows there’s still room for people to make their case with others on these social issues, Mark Regnerus, associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, told a Family Research Council event Wednesday.
When so many people say, “I can’t say I agree and I can’t say I disagree,” those who want to woo others to their point of view have an opportunity to do so, he said.
The findings — from the massive Relationships in America survey of 15,738 Americans, aged 18 to 60, in 2014 — also challenge some prevailing concepts about who believes what, said Mr. Regnerus.
For instance, premarital cohabiting is common and 44 percent of Americans say it’s a good idea. But 30 percent of Americans say they are ambivalent about the merits of cohabiting, and another 25 percent say it’s a bad idea.
Similarly, having sex before marriage is the norm, but only 36 percent of Americans say it is OK to “get together for sex and not expect anything further,” he said. Another 29 percent of Americans say they aren’t sure if casual sex and “booty calls” are OK, and 35 percent of people oppose it, said Mr. Regnerus.
On gay marriage, 42 percent of Americans say it should be legal for gay and lesbian couples to marry.
The Relationships in America survey, however, deliberately “gave people an out” if they didn’t want to say “yes” or “no” to that and other questions, said Mr. Regnerus.
As a result, 27 percent of people said they were undecided about gay marriage; another 31 percent opposed it.
On divorce, the survey asked people if married couples with children should stay married unless there’s physical or emotional abuse. The results are 28 percent say no divorce, 39 percent say OK to divorce, and 33 percent are undecided.
The survey, which is sponsored by the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture, distills answers by categories such as gender, religiosity, marital status, race and age.
It finds, for instance, that “political liberalism” tracks with “permissiveness” in sexual and romantic behaviors, said Mr. Regnerus.
But regardless of political and religious views, most Americans draw the line at “polyamory” (55 percent oppose several people living together in a sexual or romantic relationship) and adultery (74 percent of Americans do not approve of spouses having sex with someone other than their spouse).
And for those who long for a revived marriage culture in America, the study provides hope: Sixty-six percent of Americans disagreed with the statement, “Marriage is an outdated institution.”