Premarital sex

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Premarital sex is sexual activity practiced by persons who are unmarried. The prevalence of pre-marital sex has increased in both developed and developing countries.[1]

In some cultures, the significance of premarital sex has traditionally been related to the concept of virginity. However, unlike virginity, premarital sex can refer to more than one occasion of sexual activity or more than one sex partner. There are cultural differences as to whether and in which circumstances premarital sex is socially acceptable or tolerated. Social attitudes to premarital sex have changed over time as has the prevalence of premarital sex in various societies. Social attitudes to premarital sex can include issues such as virginity, sexual morality, extramarital unplanned pregnancy, legitimacy besides other issues.

Premarital sex may take place in a number of situations. For example, it may take place as casual sex, for example, with at least one participant seeking to experience sex; it may take place between a couple living together in a long-term relationship without marriage; for a betrothed couple engaging in sexual activity before their anticipated marriage; and many other situations are possible.


Until the 1950s,[2] the "premarital sex" referred to sexual relations between two people prior to marrying each other. During that period, Western societies expected that men and women marry by the age of 21 or 22; as such, there were no considerations that one who had sex would not marry. The term was used instead of fornication, due to the negative connotations of the latter.[2]

The meaning has since shifted, referring to all sexual relations a person has prior to marriage; this removes emphasis on who the relations are with. The definition has a degree of ambiguity. It is not clear whether sex between individuals legally forbidden from marrying, or the sexual relations of one uninterested in marrying, could be considered premarital.[2]

Alternative terms for pre-marital sex have been suggested, including non-marital sex (which overlaps with adultery), youthful sex, adolescent sex, and young-adult sex. These terms also suffer from a degree of ambiguity, as the definition of having sex differs from person to person.[2]

Cultural and religious views[edit]

The Bible is silent on the issue of consensual, premarital sex between an engaged couple. [3]


Prior to the Marriage Act 1753, British couples could live together and have sex after their betrothal or "the spousals". Until the mid-1700s, it was normal and acceptable for the bride to be pregnant at the nuptials, the later church public ceremony for the marriage.[4] Indeed, in the 1170s in Wales "it was common practice for ordinary couples to co-habit before marriage and for cousins to marry one another" despite the disapproval of clerics sent to Britain by the Paris-based "Reform Church" movement, a Catholic faction that attempted to refocus society's moral compass with a particular emphasis on sex and marriage.[5]

With the Act in force after 1753, for the first time in British history, all marriages in England and Wales had to take place in their parish church. (The law also applied to Catholics, but Jews and Quakers were exempt.) The Act combined the spousals and nuptials and, by the start of the 19th century, social convention prescribed that brides be virgins at marriage. Illegitimacy became more socially discouraged, with first pregnancies outside of marriage declining from 40% to 20% during the Victorian era but returning to 40% by the start of the 21st century.[4]

The 1984 Anglican booklet Foreward to Marriage was also tolerant of premarital sex but strongly endorsed marriage as "a necessary commitment for a long-term relationship".[6]

The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, commenting on Prince William and Kate Middleton's decision to live together before their wedding, said that the royal couple's public commitment to live their lives together today would be more important than their past. Sentamu said that he had conducted wedding services for “many cohabiting couples” during his time as a vicar in south London and that "We are living at a time where some people, as my daughter used to say, want to test whether the milk is good before they buy the cow".

He also said, "For some people, that’s where their journeys are. But what is important, actually, is not to simply look at the past because they are going to be standing in the Abbey taking these wonderful vows: "for better for worse; for richer for poorer; in sickness and in health; till death us do part"."[7]

Likewise, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams did not believe sex outside of marriage was a sin.[8]

By contrast, in 2013 the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby stated that "My understanding of sexual ethics has been that, regardless of whether it's gay or straight, sex outside marriage is wrong."[9][10] He reiterated this belief again later in 2013, further noting that "To abandon the ideal simply because it’s difficult to achieve is ridiculous.”[11]

After Welby made his first statement, a Sunday Times poll found that "A majority of adults (69%, including 76% of those professing no faith) believe Justin Welby to be wrong in condemning sex outside marriage, while 17% think he is right (including 30% of Anglicans and UKIP supporters), and 13% are unsure."[12]

United States[edit]

During the colonial period, premarital sex was publicly frowned upon but privately condoned to an extent. Unmarried teenagers were often allowed to spend the night in bed together, though some measures such as bundling were sometimes attempted to prevent sexual intercourse. Even though premarital sex was somewhat condoned, having a child outside of wedlock was not. If a pregnancy resulted from premarital sex, the young couple were expected to marry. Marriage and birth records from the late 1700s reveal that between 30 to 40 percent of New England brides were pregnant before marriage.[13]

Historically, at least a significant portion of people have engaged in premarital sex, although the number willing to admit to having done so was not always high. In a study conducted in the United States, 61 percent of men and 12 percent of women born prior to 1910 admitted to having premarital sex; the gender disparity may have been caused by cultural norms regarding the admission of sexual activity or by men frequenting prostitutes.[2]

Starting in the 1920s, and especially after World War II, premarital sex became more common; this was especially prevalent among women. By the end of the 20th century, between 75 and 80 percent of Americans had vaginal intercourse before the age of 19. This has been attributed to numerous causes, including the increasing median age at marriage and the widespread availability of efficient contraceptives.[2]

The growing popularity of the automobile and corresponding changes in dating practices also caused premarital sex to become more prevalent. Alfred Kinsey found that American women who became sexually mature during the 1920s were much less likely to be virgins at marriage than those who became mature before World War I. A majority of women during the 1920s under the age of 30 were nonetheless virgins at marriage, however; and, half of those who were not virgins only had sex with their fiancees.[14] A 1938 survey of American college students found that 52% of men and 24% of women had had sex. 37% of women were virgins but believed sex outside marriage was acceptable.[15] Prior to the middle of the 20th century, sexuality was generally restricted. Sexual interactions between people without plans to marry was considered unacceptable, with betrothal slightly lessening the stigma. However, premarital sex was still frowned upon.[2]

Beginning in the 1950s, the stigma attached to pre-marital sex diminished. Love began to become enough for a reason to practice sex, instead of marriage or engagement. By 2000, roughly a third of couples in the United States had lived together prior to marriage. Premarital sex has become, if not acceptable, tolerable.[2]

In a 2005 Kaiser Family Foundation study of US teenagers, 29% of teens reported feeling pressure to have sex, 33% of sexually active teens reported "being in a relationship where they felt things were moving too fast sexually", and 24% had "done something sexual they didn’t really want to do".[16] Several polls have indicated peer pressure as a factor in encouraging both girls and boys to have sex.[17][18] The increased sexual activity among adolescents is manifested in increased teenage pregnancies and an increase in sexually transmitted diseases.

The Episcopal Church only approves "of sex between men and women who are married. In 1979, the U.S. church's governing body voted down a resolution to approve other sexual activity."[19]

An Episcopal Church report published in 1995 entitled Continuing the Dialogue, A Pastoral Study Document of the House of Bishops to the Church as the Church Considers Issues of Human Sexuality noted, in reference to the Song of Songs, that "in praise of sexual love, celebrating youthful passion, with no reference to marriage.... It affirms that sexual love is in itself good and beneficial."[20]

The Episcopal Bishop and writer John Shelby Spong has theorized that the New Testament was not against sex before marriage.[21] The discussion turns on two Greek words – moicheia (μοιχεία, adultery) and porneia (el:πορνεία, fornication see also pornography). The first word is restricted to contexts involving sexual betrayal of a spouse; however, the second word is used as a generic term for illegitimate sexual activity. Elsewhere in 1 Corinthians, incest, homosexual intercourse (according to some interpretations)[22] and prostitution are all explicitly forbidden by name (however, the Septuagint uses "porneia" to refer to male temple prostitution). Paul is preaching about activities based on levitical sexual prohibitions in the context of achieving holiness. The theory suggests it is these, and only these behaviours that are intended by Paul's prohibition in chapter seven.[23]

Earlier, in 1987, Spong's Newark Diocese had commissioned a report that concluded that the "Episcopal Church should recognize and bless committed non-marital sexual relationships between homosexuals, young adults, the divorced and widowed..." The report aimed "to ignite a new debate on sexual ethics among leaders of the nation's 3 million Episcopalians in the hope that they will amend church doctrine to embrace all believers... Spong, an advocate of the recommendations... said his views are a minority position in the church."[19]

Pastors of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod undertook a survey on premarital sex amongst their congregations in 2010. "These Lutheran pastors reported that over 57 percent of the couples they now marry are living together prior to the wedding, and that the rate of cohabitation in their congregations is increasing." Despite this trend, the Synod believes that "Regardless of the reasons given for living together, cohabitation is simply wrong for Christians."[24]

Alternatively, the Wisconsin Synod takes the view that a Christian couple could engage in sex before marriage but for the fact it would be an act of defiance against civil and religious norms in society. On being asked this question by a couple, the Church's Paul Kleim stated that "Were there no civil laws regulating marriage or Christian rite publicly uniting couples in marriage, your commitment to each other before God would be sufficient basis for you to begin living together as husband and wife. However, the civil and religious expectations that prevail make it wrong for you to practice marriage without a license... In your wedding ceremony you will be asking God to join you in marriage, and you will be testifying to state and church that this is the beginning of your marriage. While sexual intimacy during your engagement might not be fornication, it would certainly be civil disobedience and spiritual dishonesty. And that's wrong before God."[25]

"A comprehensive study published in a 2007 issue of Public Health Reports, the official journal of the U.S. Public Health Service, showed that 95 per cent of respondents had sex before they were married... "Premarital sex is normal behaviour for the vast majority of Americans and has been for decades," said study author Lawrence Finer."[26]

In his book Forbidden Fruit: Sex & Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers, Mark Regnerus notes that "it seems that religious belief doesn't necessarily increase abstinence, either... evangelical Christian teens are more likely to have lost their virginity earlier than mainline Protestants."[26]


According to the 2003 Australian Study of Health and Relationships conducted by La Trobe University, "over three quarters of men and women agreed that premarital sex is acceptable. There was little difference between men and women."[27]

By 2011, a survey of 500 parents found 80 per cent thought sex before marriage was acceptable. "The survey, which was conducted by TV station SBS, also found almost one in five parents thought it was acceptable for young people to start having sex at age 16."[28]

A 1987 study looked at the premarital sex norms imposed on female Aboriginal Australians.[29]

The Lutheran Church of Australia believes that sexual activity belongs within the marriage relationship only and that the practice of pre-marital sex is in "violation of the will of God."[30]

France and Switzerland[edit]

By 2007, according to a Roman Catholic website, "France has probably the highest rate of premarital sex by age 20 of any country in the world: 72% or almost three quarters of the young population."[31]

Calvinism traditionally asserted that engaging in pre-marital sex was a sin.[32] Calvin himself said little on why he thought engaged couples should not have sex but he did seek to reduce the length of engagements amongst couples in Geneva to less than six weeks, to reduce the temptation of premarital sex. [33]

However, some modern Swiss and French Reformed theologians, such as M. Cornuz, believe that it is permitted if the sexual activities take a form which respects the partner and helps the relationship grow in intimacy. These theologians hold that it is when a relationship is exploitive that it is sinful.[34][35] Hence, engaging in sex with prostitutes is always sinful as it is an exploitive relationship and does not allow the participants to grow in dignity.[36] This change has come about within the last two generations in Switzerland. Prior to that, the cultural norm was that the couple would not engage in sex before marriage. Modern Reformed theologians have endeavoured to meet the challenge of applying Christian teaching to this very different culture from that of the past.[37]

Ultimately, the Reformed theologians of today feel that one should always be true to one's individual conscience, so if the person feels sex before marriage is sinful, that person should listen to his or her conscience and abstain.[38] Hence, it is up to the couple themselves to decide if engaging in premarital sex or remaining virgins is the best way for them to reflect the love of God in their relationship.[37]

French Polynesia[edit]

Traditionally, "Polynesian societies condoned premarital sexual expression, access to partners was strictly structured. Gregersen (1983), for example, reported that on the island of Raroia in the Tuamotu Archipelago, there were only 109 people in 1951. Such a small population meant that seven of the nine women of marriageable age were prohibited from having sexual partners because of incest regulations. In the neighboring atoll of Tepuka in the 1930s, the young people were all related and had to journey to other islands or await the arrival of visitors to find a partner. Among traditional French Polynesian societies, and for Polynesia generally, there were two standards for premarital sex that varied by status and rank, according to Davenport (1976). For example, among the Tahitians, firstborn daughters in lineages of firstborns were very sacred. As a consequence, their virginity was valued and protected until a marriage with a partner of suitably high status was arranged. Among these elite daughters, virginity was demonstrated, for example, by the display of a stained white bark cloth following coitus. Subsequent to the birth of their firstborn child, females of high rank were permitted to establish extramarital liaisons. On Pukapuka, according to Marshall Sahlins (1967), the chief kept a sacred virgin in his retinue as a symbol of his spiritual power."[39]


In 2014, a survey of German Roman Catholics showed that most disputed the Church's ruling against premarital sex. [40]


In 1989, 15% of women in Beijing engaged in premarital sex against 2013 where between 60% and 70% had done so.[41] Chinese Academy of Social Sciences professor Li states that this shows an increase in the types of relationships amongst new generations in China.[41] While several factors have been responsible for the increase, these figures were associated with the equally increasing trend of a growing educated generation of women who are foregoing or delaying marriage in lieu of further education, their careers, and personal independence. They have also been called sheng nu or the leftover women.


A 1998 study conducted by the University of California-Irvine indicates that the "Japanese frequently answered the question on premarital sex as wrong only sometimes, a unique response. This might be interpreted that the Japanese are favorable to premarital sex as long as it is done discreetly and does not interfere with one's social responsibilities. Also the Japanese tend not to choose extreme response categories."[42]


In India, 85% of population didn't accept premarital sex and most of the societies in India were restrict the people to stay in live in relationship. For the Muria people of Madhya Pradesh, sexuality prior to marriage is accepted and at times expected.[2]


In 2011, there was a televised debate between Barbadian Anglican priests Charles Morris and Errington Massiah as to whether pre-marital sex was indeed the sin of fornication or not.[43]

Other countries[edit]

According to the 1998 study by the University of California-Irvine, "Premarital sex was the most accepted of these four types of nonmarital sex. On average, 61% of respondents across 24 countries agreed that premarital sex is not wrong at all. On the other hand, only 7% of respondents across the 24 countries agreed that there is nothing wrong at all with teenagers younger than 16 having sex. The countries most tolerant of both premarital and under 16 sex were East Germany, West Germany, Austria, Sweden and Slovenia. The most sexually conservative country on all four questions was the Philippines. Five other countries considered sexually conservative were the USA, Ireland, Northern Ireland and Poland."[42]

According to a 2001 UNICEF survey, in 10 out of 12 developed nations with available data, more than two thirds of young people have had sexual intercourse while still in their teens. In Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States, the proportion is over 80%. In Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, approximately 25% of 15-year olds and 50% of 17-year olds have had sex.[44]

In some ultra-conservative Islamic societies with sharia law, the penalty for premarital sex is 100 lashes; a ruling derived from sura An-Nur, the 24th chapter of the Quran.[45]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ World Population Monitoring, 2002: Reproductive Rights and Reproductive Health, page 20
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Sex and Society 663–666.
  3. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ a b "The no-sex 'myth'". BBC News. 3 October 2002. Retrieved 24 May 2012. 
  5. ^ "Gerald of Wales: Patriotic Welshman or arrogant agent of English imperialism?". Wales Online. 3 October 2002. Retrieved 14 October 2013. 
  6. ^,1598815
  7. ^ "Royal wedding: Archbishop backs William and Kate's decision to live together before marriage". 
  8. ^ ""Sex outside marriage is no sin, says Archbishop"". 17 Mar 2013. 
  9. ^ ""Whether it’s gay or straight, sex outside marriage is wrong" Archbishop Justin Welby". 17 Mar 2013. 
  10. ^ "'My wife keeps an eye on my drinking and I never do it alone': Archbishop of Canterbury reveals his fears of following father into alcoholism". 17 Mar 2013. 
  11. ^ "Lunch with the FT: Justin Welby". 10 May 2013. 
  12. ^ [1]
  13. ^ Carl R. Weinberg (1 January 2013). "Courtship and Sexual Freedom in Eighteenth-Century America". 
  14. ^ Ling, Peter (November 1989). "Sex and the Automobile in the Jazz Age". History Today 39 (11). 
  15. ^ ""Youth and Sex": 1,300 boys and girls answer questions". Life. 6 June 1938. p. 66. Retrieved 9 December 2011. 
  16. ^ U.S.Teen Sexual Activity PDF (147 KB) Kaiser Family Foundation, January 2005. Retrieved 23 January 2007
  17. ^ The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. (1997). What the Polling Data Tell Us: A Summary of Past Surveys on Teen Pregnancy. Retrieved 13 July 2006.
  18. ^ Allen, Colin. (22 May 2003). "Peer Pressure and Teen Sex." Psychology Today.'.' Retrieved 14 July 2006.
  19. ^ a b [2]
  20. ^ "Premarital Sex – Not a Biblical Conflict". 
  21. ^ John Shelby Spong, The Living Commandments.
  22. ^ arsenokoitēs (masc. noun of fem. 1st declension), literally a man who shares a bed with other men (see LSJ and BDAG).
  23. ^ Syriac- Christian and Rabbinic Notions of Holy Community and Sexuality Naomi Koltun-Fromm April 2006 pdf
  24. ^ "Where Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect". June–July 2011. 
  25. ^ "Premarital sex, tithing, and cremation". Jan 1984. 
  26. ^ a b [3]
  27. ^ [4][dead link]
  28. ^
  29. ^ Author(s) Burbank, V K (2 June 1987). "Premarital sex norms: cultural interpretations in an Australian Aboriginal community (Closing the Gaps: the National Indigenous Clearinghouse)". 
  30. ^ "Birth Control in Australia". 
  31. ^ "FEED MY SHEEP". The DailyCatholic. 11 September 2001. 
  32. ^ "Sex, Marriage, and Family in John Calvin's Geneva, Volume 1: Courtship, Engagement, and Marriage". Jul 2006. 
  33. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  34. ^ "La sexualité avant le mariage, est-ce un péché? (in French)". 1 Oct 2007. 
  35. ^ "Sexualité, relations avant ou après mariage... qu'en dit la Bible? (in French)". 12 Sep 2004. 
  36. ^ "Est-ce que coucher avec une prostituée est un péché? (in French)". 22 Jun 2010. 
  37. ^ a b "Est-ce important de rester vierge jusqu'au mariage? (in French)". 26 Mar 2005. 
  38. ^ "Vierge pour le mariage? (in French)". 12 Jul 2005. 
  39. ^ "French Polynesia". The International Encyclopedia of Sexuality. 21 June 1993. 
  40. ^ "German Catholics reject sex rules, bishops tell Vatican". ABC Online. 4 February 2014. Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  41. ^ a b Larson, Christina (23 August 2012). "China's 'Leftover Ladies' Are Anything But". Bloomberg Businessweek (China). Retrieved 29 March 2013. 
  42. ^ a b "". 
  43. ^ [5]
  44. ^ UNICEF. (2001). A League Table of Teenage Births in Rich Nations PDF (888 KB). Retrieved 7 July 2006.
  45. ^ Adultery Is Universal: But I'm Getting Married Anyway - Page 39, Ph D Rica Gold, Rica Gold - 2011