I recently picked up a copy of Premarital Sex in America by Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker and was pleasantly surprised at some of the insights. While I have been writing, teaching, and speaking for years to both teens and adults on the issue of premarital sex, this book opened my eyes to some of the more important trends emerging today.
This blog is adapted from the last chapter in the book entitled, “The Power of Stories and Ten Myths about Sex in Emerging Adulthood.” The empirical data suggests that these are not true most of the time. There are exceptions, of course.
MYTH 1: Long-term relationships are a thing of the past
Many emerging adults (ages 18-23) tend to hold two views in tension—that sexual experimentation is valuable and yet one should not cheat on a monogamous partner. Indeed, many consider it stupid and unhealthy not to be sexually active in various relational settings. And yet most desire a lasting exclusive relationship. According to the research of Regnerus and Uecker, at least 50 percent of marriages last a lifetime, despite what most emerging adults tend to think.
MYTH 2: Sex is necessary to maintain a struggling relationship
The reality is that most relationships fail and the sooner one introduces sex into the relationship the greater chance it will fail.
MYTH 3: The sexual double standard between men and women is wrong and should be resisted
The authors of Premarital Sex in America argue that there are genuine differences in how men and women approach and experience sex that are deeply engrained. They conclude, “Unfortunately, many well-meaning adults and educators want so badly to dismantle the double standard that they work to normalize any and all consensual sexual relationships, rather than considering whether common experiences of sexual regret are in fact telling us something” (244).
MYTH 4: Boys are sexual beings and cannot be expected to follow sexual norms
This myth is both false and harmful. Young men can make wise sexual decisions if they are taught how to and the standard is set high.
MYTH 5: You are entirely in charge of your own sexuality; others’ decisions don’t matter
Despite the individualistic mindset that dominates how emerging adults think about sexuality our choices are deeply influenced by other people’s sexual decisions. The choices of other people affect us financially, emotionally, relationally, and in terms of our expectations of sexual behavior.
MYTH 6: Porn will not affect your relationships
I have written on this elsewhere, so I won’t go into detail. The reality is that porn use has a significant negative impact on relationships.
MYTH 7: Others are having more sex than you
Most emerging adults significantly overestimate how much sex is really going on around them. Most think that other people are having more sex than they actually are. As a result, emerging adults act on this false perception rather than reality.
MYTH 8: Sex doesn’t need to mean much
In reality sex is a very significant matter. There is nothing humans do that involves more of our minds, hearts, emotions, memories, self-image, and bodies. Sexual decisions stay with us for a lifetime.
MYTH 9: Marriage can wait for later
Despite common perceptions, the majority of emerging adults want to get married. But most want to wait awhile before doing so. The reality is that this is easier said than done. Life plans don’t always progress as young people envision.
MYTH 10: Living together is a positive step towards marriage
Between 50 and 70 percent of couples cohabit today. But only about 1 in 5 such relationships result in marriage. And the results are consistently pessimistic for those cohabiters who do marry (202).
I would highly recommend Premarital Sex in America for those who work with either emerging adults or younger students. It provides a deeply researched and balanced insight into the sexual lives of 18-23 year-olds.For those who live in Southern California, I would like to invite you to a training session with Josh McDowell on how to help young people make wise sexual decisions. The behavior of emerging adults is the result of the ideas they accepted as early as elementary school. On October 1 (Monday), Josh will be speaking from 8:30am-3pm at Capistrano Valley Christian Schools in San Juan Capistrano. It’s free for the first 50 and then only $10 after that. Reserve your spot here.