Thursday, May 31, 2007

Evangelical Teens Do It Too

This is a really good article on Slate about the sexual beliefs and practices of religious people in America. It's actually the result of a book by UT Austin sociologist Mark Regnerus called Forbidden Fruit: Sex & Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers.

There are of course the depressing facts in the book, which are all-too-well-known:

Teenagers who identify as "evangelical" or "born again" are highly likely
to sound like the girl at the bar; 80 percent think sex should be saved for
marriage. But thinking is not the same as doing. Evangelical teens are actually
more likely to have lost their virginity than either mainline Protestants or
Catholics. They tend to lose their virginity at a slightly younger age—16.3,
compared with 16.7 for the other two faiths. And they are much more likely to
have had three or more sexual partners by age 17: Regnerus reports that 13.7
percent of evangelicals have, compared with 8.9 percent for mainline

The fate of the True Love Waits movement, which began with the Southern
Baptist Convention in the '90s, is a perfect example. Teenagers who signed the
abstinence pledge belong to a subgroup of highly motivated virgins. But even
they succumb. Follow-up surveys show that at best, pledges delayed premarital
sex by 18 months—a success by statistical standards but a disaster for Southern
Baptist pastors..."It just sort of happened," one girl told the researchers, in
what could be a motto for this generation of evangelical teens.

However, the sociologist is a solid researcher, and bothers to go one helpful step further by differentiating between people who are truly dedicated to their faith and those who are marginal:

Regnerus' ultimate conclusion is not all that surprising. What really matters is
not which religion teenagers identify with but how strongly they identify. After
controlling for all factors (family satisfaction, popularity, income), religion
matters much less than religiosity. Among the mass of typically promiscuous
teenagers in the book, one group stands out: the 16 percent of American teens
who describe religion as "extremely important" in their lives. When these guys
pledge, they mean it. One study found that the pledge works better if not
everyone in school takes it. The ideal conditions are a group of pledgers who
form a self-conscious minority that perceives itself as special, even embattled.

Hmm... chalk one up for Dr. Stark and Nate - looks like the "lean and mean" Church wins another one.


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