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  Chapter Four:

  Marriage Rate and Age
  Premarital Sex
  Cohabiting Couples
  Extramarital Sex
  Attitudes about Sex
  Married Couples
  Married Women
  Nonmarital Births
  Parent-Child Contact



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Premarital Sex

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At the beginning of the century, very few women were sexually active before marriage. By the end of the century, most of them were.
Large-scale research about sexual activity in the United States did not begin until Alfred Kinsey’s 1948 study, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, and a companion volume about females published in 1953. Before that time, the subject had been in the closet. Thus, most of the quantitative information about sexual activity in America during the first half of the century is based on retrospective interviews with middle-aged and older people. To make matters worse, some of Kinsey’s sampling methods and interpretations were questionable. 

After the Kinsey era, research about sexual activity flourished. In Kiss and Tell: Surveying Sex in the Twentieth Century, Julia Ericksen refers to hundreds of sex surveys. But as she points out, this collective effort was impeded by ideological conflicts, linguistic ambiguities, unrepresentative samples, and the tendency of ordinary people to give less than truthful answers about sensitive matters. 

Nevertheless, the trend shown in the chart is supported by sufficient evidence. Although the data on which the chart is based are neither uniform nor precise, there is little doubt about the general pattern the chart displays. It indicates that at the beginning of the century, most American women entered their first marriages as virgins. At the end of the century, about one-quarter of them did. In the second half of the century, some of this difference may have reflected the tendency of women to marry at later ages than they did earlier in the century. But from 1900 to 1960, the increase in premarital sex occurred at the same time as a drop in the average age of first marriage. 

At each point in time and at any given age, the percentage of men with premarital sexual experience was significantly higher than the corresponding percentage of women, and the percentages of black men and women with premarital sexual experience were higher than the corresponding percentages of white men and women.

Chapter 4 chart 2

Source Notes
Source Abbreviations

This series was created by combining data from several sources. See Edward O. Laumann, John H. Gagnon, Robert T. Michael, and Stuart Michaels, The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), page 327; Bruce A. Chadwick and Tim B. Heaton, Statistical Handbook on Adolescents in America (Phoenix: Oryx Press, 1996), tables 11-4 and 11-6; Charles E. Turner and Heather G. Miller, AIDS: Sexual Behavior and Intravenous Drug Use (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1989), page 89; and Charles F. Westoff and Robert Parke, Jr., “Sexuality, Contraception and Pregnancy Among Young Unwed Females in the United States,” in Demographic and Social Aspects of Population Growth (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1972), table 1. See also Alfred C. Kinsey, Wardell B. Pomeroy, and Clyde E. Martin, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders, 1948); Alfred C. Kinsey, Wardell B. Pomeroy, Clyde E. Martin, and Paul E. Gebhard, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders, 1953); and Julia A. Ericksen with Sally A. Steffen, Kiss and Tell: Surveying Sex in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999).


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