New OUP book links premarital sex and promiscuity to poor mental health

Found in the freaking New York Times of all places. (H/T Robert Stacy McCain)


[E]arlier generations of Americans waited longer to have sex, took fewer sexual partners across their lifetimes, and were more likely to see sleeping together as a way station on the road to wedlock.And they may have been happier for it. That’s the conclusion suggested by two sociologists, Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker, in their recent book, “Premarital Sex in America.” Their research, which looks at sexual behavior among contemporary young adults, finds a significant correlation between sexual restraint and emotional well-being, between monogamy and happiness — and between promiscuity and depression.

This correlation is much stronger for women than for men. Female emotional well-being seems to be tightly bound to sexual stability — which may help explain why overall female happiness has actually drifted downward since the sexual revolution.

Among the young people Regnerus and Uecker studied, the happiest women were those with a current sexual partner and only one or two partners in their lifetime. Virgins were almost as happy, though not quite, and then a young woman’s likelihood of depression rose steadily as her number of partners climbed and the present stability of her sex life diminished.

When social conservatives talk about restoring the link between sex, monogamy and marriage, they often have these kinds of realities in mind. The point isn’t that we should aspire to some Arcadia of perfect chastity. Rather, it’s that a high sexual ideal can shape how quickly and casually people pair off, even when they aren’t living up to its exacting demands. The ultimate goal is a sexual culture that makes it easier for young people to achieve romantic happiness — by encouraging them to wait a little longer, choose more carefully and judge their sex lives against a strong moral standard.

Stacy McCain adds:

What if Regnerus and Uecker are right?

What would be the consequences of having scientific proof that pre-marital chastity and marital fidelity — “One Life, One Wife”  – confer socio-economic advantages not only on individuals who uphold such values, but also produce advantages for the larger society?

The implications for public policy, I’ll leave to the wonks. Rather, I suggest the likelihood that this scientific insight could lead people to consider the possibility that the Bible is actually true.

I have to confess that I am always hopeful of getting tweeted by Brian Auten on his Apologetics 315 twitter feed. And when I write posts like this, I just know that Brian takes one look at the headlines and says “tsk! tsk! another anti-feminist political post from WK! Nothing to do with Christian apologetics!”. Then he passes my post over for a philosophical term of the day (like “aseity”). But I wish he would read through my whole post and see what the purpose of these posts are – to show that real research can confirm or disconfirm what the Bible says, and that we need to be thinking, as apologists, about the many ways that we can defend the Christian worldview using evidence. Sometimes, people don’t become atheists because of scientific or philosophical arguments. Sometimes people become atheists because they way to have sexual pleasure without worrying about moral rules (men) or they want to get attention without worrying about moral rules (women). I’m sorry, but that’s really the kind of thing that causes people to become atheists. And broken families and missing fathers have a lot to do with that. So I think Christian apologists need to address that with evidence.

But there’s more to this story.

I get a lot of flak from Christian women (let’s face it – the men all agree with me) because of my intent to raise effective, influential children and my further intent to shepherd those children into good fields where they can make tons of money with impunity and/or have a big influence on society. (The make-money track is to support scholars who are going more for influence than money, like William Lane Craig). All I get when I say things like that is a lot of feminist kickback about how wives are happier when their children are happy, and children are happy whenever they do whatever makes them feel good. There is no room for the wisdom and leadership of fathers in a feminist Christian woman’s home. Their goal is feelings of happiness. But that’s not my goal. I want to raise effective Christian scholars, like Regnerus.

Consider the author of this OUP book that is being cited in the New York Times.

His faculty page at the prestigious University of Texas (Austin):

Mark Regnerus is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin (PhD, 2000, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) and a faculty associate at the university’s Population Research Center. Author of over 30 published articles and book chapters, his research is in the areas of sexual behavior, religion, and family. His book Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying (Oxford University Press, 2011) is available beginning in December 2010. His previous book Forbidden Fruit: Sex and Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford University Press, 2007) tells the story of the sexual values and practices of American teenagers, paying particular attention to how participating in organized religion shapes sexual decision-making. Mark’s research and opinion pieces have been featured in numerous media outlets in the US and elsewhere. Forbidden Fruit has been reviewed in Slate, the Dallas Morning News, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and The New Yorker. His op-ed on marital timing norms appeared in the Washington Post on April 26, 2009.


And do you know what else? He writes stuff for a Christian web site.


Virginity pledges. Chastity balls. Courtship. Side hugs. Guarding your heart. Evangelical discourse on sex is more conservative than I’ve ever seen it. Parents and pastors and youth group leaders told us not to do it before we got married. Why? Because the Bible says so. Yet that simple message didn’t go very far in shaping our sexual decision-making.

So they kicked it up a notch and staked a battle over virginity, with pledges of abstinence and accountability structures to maintain the power of the imperative to not do what many of us felt like doing. Some of us failed, but we could become “born again virgins.” Virginity mattered. But sex can be had in other ways, and many of us got creative.

Then they told us that oral sex was still sex. It could spread disease, and it would make you feel bad. “Sex will be so much better if you wait until your wedding night,” they urged. If we could hold out, they said, it would be worth it. The sheer glory of consummation would knock our socks off.

Such is the prevailing discourse of abstinence culture in contemporary American evangelicalism. It might sound like I devalue abstinence. I don’t. The problem is that not all abstainers end up happy or go on to the great sex lives they were promised. Nor do all indulgers become miserable or marital train wrecks. More simply, however, I have found that few evangelicals accomplish what their pastors and parents wanted them to.

Indeed, over 90 percent of American adults experience sexual intercourse before marrying. The percentage of evangelicals who do so is not much lower. In a nationally representative study of young adults, just under 80 percent of unmarried, church- going, conservative Protestants who are currently dating someone are having sex of some sort. I’m certainly not suggesting that they cannot abstain. I’m suggesting that in the domain of sex, most of them don’t and won’t.

What to do? Intensify the abstinence message even more? No. It won’t work. The message must change, because our preoccupation with sex has unwittingly turned our attention away from the damage that Americans—including evangelicals—are doing to the institution of marriage by discouraging it and delaying it.

The article goes on to explain his ideas, supported by research, on how to solve this problem. (I disagree with everything he says about why there are more Christian women than men, but still… smart guy – his solution to the marriage problem seems to be similar to Danielle Crittenden in her book “What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us”)

Do you see what I mean about people having an influence? What sense does it make to talk about what you like and what you are good at? No one cares. God doesn’t care about what you like nor does he care about what makes you happy. He cares about what increases knowledge of him, and what increases goodness in all of our behavior – Christians and non-Christians. You are expected to lay aside your need for happiness, and ease, and to do hard things. Hard things that will actually count.

10 thoughts on “New OUP book links premarital sex and promiscuity to poor mental health”

    1. But it’s good to have evidence. It’s always good to have evidence. Leave no doubt. Elijah had his fire from Heaven to leave no doubt. We have research to leave no doubt.


  1. These are just my musings, so anyone can disagree.

    Basically we have the following major results:

    (1) Fewer sexual partners correlates with more emotional well-being and more happiness

    (2) More sexual partners correlates with greater chances of depression

    (3) More sexual partners correlates with a greater chance of divorce – if you have more than 1 sexual partner in your life your odds of divorce may rise to ~45%

    (4) Men have to do less to get sex these days, which makes them less likely to commit in a relationship
    (4a) Men who want sex won’t commit because they can get what they want without much effort
    (4b) Men who want marriage don’t want to be with someone who’s been around the block

    (5) Men have to do less to get sex since rampant contraception has diminished the consequences of sex, making the sexual landscape more masculine
    (Google Bitter Pill First Things and you’ll get an economic analysis)

    Aside: I’m rethinking contraception, and starting to see that the Catholic position, which is the same as the Reformers, may be right. On the other hand, I don’t see how (5) can be reversed.

    (6) Alternatively, this forces women to behave more like men, since men will choose women who put out

    (7) When women do stop, and want marriage, they are back towards points (1), (2), and (3).

    This, of course, is not zero sum. By having men and women behave in this way it ruins things for both. Men won’t get the lady they’d like since their behavior encourages sexual immorality, and women definitely won’t get the relationship they want since the behavior they engage in is counterproductive to their goals. Quite sad.


  2. Wintery,
    The confidence and surety of your position may be off-putting to some, but in theory, it’s very Alpha and you should have no problem attracting a certain kind of lady. The question is whether your personality is as forceful as your Internet persona. Here’s hopin’!


    1. No, I am not really like that in person – ECM bugs me about it, because he is more alpha than I am. My manager even called it out in my performance review. She is working on it with me – trying to get me to apologize less and to be less emotional when things go wrong. I could talk a lot about it with you. I’ve met you in person, and I would probably benefit from being more like you. I think I sound better on moral/spiritual things when I write – because I actually know what I am talking about there.


  3. The NYT article put the cart before the horse: it claimed that “a young woman’s likelihood of depression rose steadily as her number of partners climbed and the present stability of her sex life diminished” but never explored the far more plausible correlation: that depressed women tend to seek out sex as a way of making themselves feel better.

    This was a valid point made by one of the contributors, along with many other valid arguments provided by the NYT audience. If you haven’t read their comments, it is worth fifteen minutes of your time.


    1. I would say that both are true. Premarital sex and promiscuity often leads to depression and poor mental health because sex is meant for the context of love and lifelong commitment. The high level of sexual commitment only goes with a high level of commitment on other levels. On the other side of the coin, for some insecure women (especially those without a strong, loving father figure), depression leads to premarital sex and promiscuity as they seek approval and affection from a male figure. It’s a vicious cycle.


  4. Good to see research backing up what we know Biblically and (as Glenn said) as a matter of common sense.

    I read the full article from Regnerus and also have some concerns when it comes to his “solution”. I agree that we should encourage marriage among young people, but this has to be coupled with a lot more training on how to select a spouse and a lot more steering towards marital preparedness. I disagree with his idea that it doesn’t matter much who you select. I think it matters a great deal.

    One objection to your commentary. You said:
    “I get a lot of flak from Christian women (let’s face it – the men all agree with me) because of my intent to raise effective, influential children and my further intent to shepherd those children into good fields where they can make tons of money with impunity and/or have a big influence on society.”

    I’d rather you said “SOME Christian women” or even “MANY Christian women” and avoided blanket statements that imply 100%. This morning, I was chatting to my mom (a Christian woman) about a certain influential atheist who promotes the idea that “faith schools” should be disallowed and all children should be taught liberal ideas on sexuality. Guess what my mom said. She said that we need to have more Christians in positions of influence. And I (a Christian woman) heartily agreed with her.


    1. To clarify my objection, the statement of yours that I quoted didn’t, on its own, imply 100% of women. :-P

      However, it did when combined with this one:
      “All I get when I say things like that is a lot of feminist kickback about how wives are happier when their children are happy, and children are happy whenever they do whatever makes them feel good.”

      I don’t think that’s all you get from Christian women.

      I know I’m being picky and yes, I know what you mean. I’m just trying to encourage accurate wording.

      But, lest I sound crabby (as opposed to merely lobsterous), thanks for the post! This is useful stuff. :)


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