Given the Bible’s teaching on premarital sex, a new survey from Pew Research Center has concerning news for church leaders. A majority of American adults who identify as Christian see no problem with having sex outside of marriage, particularly if two people are in a committed relationship.
“Most U.S. Christians say it’s acceptable in at least some circumstances for consenting adults to have sex outside of marriage,” said Pew, in a tweet about its findings. However, people from different Christian traditions have different opinions on the subject. In his summary of the findings, Pew writer Jeff Diamant observed that out of all the respondents, “Evangelical Protestants are less likely than most of the other Christian groups in this analysis to find these practices acceptable.”
The “practices” Pew asked people about included having casual sex, having sex in a committed relationship, having an open relationship, and sending sexually explicit images.
NEW: Most U.S. Christians say it’s acceptable in at least some circumstances for consenting adults to have sex outside of marriage.
More data on religious groups’ views toward sex and relationships here: https://t.co/RW6yF00JXf pic.twitter.com/9xx9TSNg4o
— Pew Research Religion (@PewReligion) August 31, 2020
Americans, Christians and Premarital Sex
Researchers conducted the survey from Oct. 16 to 28, 2019, taking a national random sampling of the home addresses of adults in the U.S. Said Pew, “The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories.” The survey sample size was 3,998, which was not large enough to evaluate answers from other religious groups, although Pew did report on the views of the religiously unaffiliated.
Diamant noted that the survey did not ask respondents to answer based on what they personally would do, but based on what they believe, irrespective of their own choices.
Pew found that 57 percent of U.S. adults who identify as Christians believe that sex in a committed relationship is sometimes or always acceptable, while 49 percent think that casual sex (two consenting adults not in a committed relationship) is sometimes or always acceptable. As might be expected, the percentage of people who are religiously unaffiliated and approve of both of these practices is much higher than the percentage of Christians who do. Seventy-nine percent of American adults not affiliated with any religion believe that sex in a committed relationship is sometimes or always acceptable, while 83 percent believe casual sex between consenting adults is sometimes or always acceptable.
Both Christian adults and the religiously unaffiliated expressed less approval of having an open relationship and of having sex on a first date. Eighteen percent of Christians said that having an open relationship is sometimes or always acceptable compared to 54 percent of the religiously unaffiliated. Only 19 percent of Christians thought having sex on the first date is sometimes or always acceptable versus 49 percent of the religiously unaffiliated.
As noted, evangelical Protestants were the least likely to approve of the sexual practices Pew researchers asked about in the survey. Only 36 percent said that casual sex was sometimes or always acceptable. This contrasts with 54 percent of mainline Protestants, 56 percent of Protestants in the historically Black tradition, and 62 percent of Catholics.
Diamant observed that “the gap between Christians and the unaffiliated is less stark” when it comes to premarital sex in a committed relationship. Forty-six percent of evangelical Protestants said that sex in a committed relationship is sometimes or always acceptable, compared to 57 percent of Protestants in the historically Black tradition, 64 percent of Catholics, and 67 percent of mainline Protestants.
Another interesting finding was that there is a connection between how often people attend worship services and how likely they are to disapprove of premarital sex (and the other practices the survey asked about).
Out of American adults who attend worship services at least once a month, 46 percent said that sex in a committed relationship was sometimes or always acceptable. That number jumped to 74 percent among U.S. adults who attend worship services less frequently. Thirty-five percent of American adults who attend services once a month said that casual sex was sometimes or always acceptable, whereas 75 percent who attend services less frequently said the same.
Diamant pointed out that younger adults are less likely to identify with a particular religion and to take issue with the practices mentioned in the survey. Age, therefore, could be a determining factor in how the respondents answered these questions.