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  Chapter Four:
 
FAMILY
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  Marriage Rate and Age
  Premarital Sex
  Cohabiting Couples
  Extramarital Sex
  Attitudes about Sex
  Divorce
  Married Couples
  Married Women
  Fertility
  Nonmarital Births
  Parent-Child Contact

  

 

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FAMILY

Attitudes about Sex

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Tolerance of premarital sexual activity increased steadily, but tolerance of extramarital sex remained extremely low.
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These conclusions about the level of tolerance for premarital and extramarital sexual activity are based on data from the General Social Survey, an omnibus inquiry that was first administered to a national sample of Americans by the National Opinion Research Center in 1972 and repeated annually or biennially thereafter. The two questions charted here were asked sixteen times between 1972 and 1996, with remarkably consistent results. Although the series is regrettably short, it is long enough to confirm the public’s growing tolerance of premarital sexual activity and steadfastly low tolerance of extramarital sexual activity during the last quarter of the century. 

The proportion of respondents expressing full tolerance of premarital sex (“Sex before marriage is not wrong at all”) rose from 27 percent in 1972 to 44 percent in 1996 with some variability along the way, as shown in the upper chart. During the same interval, the proportion of respondents expressing unqualified intolerance (“Sex before marriage is always wrong”) declined from 37 percent to 24 percent. 

The trends in attitudes toward extramarital sex shown in the lower chart are very different. The proportion of respondents expressing full tolerance of extramarital relations (“Sex with a person other than one’s spouse is not wrong at all”) never rose above 4 percent during the twenty-five-year period. In fact, the level of tolerance for extramarital sex seems to show a downward trend, never exceeding 2 percent between 1988 and 1996, but the percentages are too low for the trend to be considered reliable. The proportion of respondents expressing unqualified intolerance of extramarital relations (“Sex with a person other than one’s spouse is always wrong”) rose from 70 percent to 78 percent during the quarter-century.


Chapter 4 chart 5

Source Notes
Source Abbreviations

GSS on premarital sex, questions 217 and 795A.

 

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