Mark Regnerus' Forbidden Fruit: Sex & Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers.

Reading between the lines.
May 30 2007 1:34 PM

Even Evangelical Teens Do It

How religious beliefs do, and don't, influence sexual behavior.

(Continued from Page 1)

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.

I recently spent a year among some evangelical teenagers who belong to this elite minority, and I can attest to the inhuman discipline they exert over their hormones. They can spend all evening sitting on the couch holding hands and nothing more. They can date for a year, be alone numerous times in a car or at the movies, and still stick to what's known in the Christian youth literature as "side hugs," to avoid excessive touching. Muslims have it easy compared to them. At least in Saudi Arabia the women are all covered up, so there's nothing to be tempted by. But among this elite corps of evangelicals, the women are breezing around in what one girl I know called "shockingly slutty conservative outfits" while the men hold their tongues. (No, they don't hold anything else. Masturbation is strongly discouraged in the literature because it promotes selfish, lustful behavior.)

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So, where does that leave our Romeo, still scanning the bar for a date? If he wanted to stick with the wholesome blonde, he would have to introduce himself and ask the relevant follow-up, namely, how often do you see Pastor Ted, or do you go to Bible study every week? If he ruled her out, here are some general guidelines: Definitely out of the question is an Asian-American who attends church weekly—84 percent of them are virgins. A Mormon is a long shot. They are unlikely to have sex and if they do, they don't tend to repeat the experience. A Catholic or a mainline Protestant teenager is a much better bet than a Jew (around 30 percent of the first two groups have had sex, compared with 17.6 percent for Jews). But a Jew could net a higher reward: Jews are more likely to say sex is pleasurable and more likely to have experienced oral sex.

Romeo's best bet confirms the conventional wisdom. From out of the millions of shy, guilt-ridden teenagers, there emerges this 17-year-old from Florida who calls herself nonreligious: "I don't see why sex is such a sacred thing to so many people," she told the researchers. " 'It's just pleasure, it's physical pleasure, and that's what it is,' said Carol, who estimates she's had 10 or 11 sexual partners."

Romeo, that's a sure thing.

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