Sexual Purity on the Rise?

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Photo by Kristi Thomas
A recent study suggests that more young evangelicals may be abstaining from sex than previously thought.

More young evangelicals are remaining sexually pure, according to a study conducted last May by Grey Matter Research for the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). The study may come as a surprise, especially compared to the contrary statistics usually uncovered by studies on evangelicals and sexual activity.

The study broke new ground by specifically defining what it means to be an evangelical and comparing sexual activity to a timeline of when the respondents came into their faith.

According to the study, titled “Sex and Unexpected Pregnancies: What Evangelical Millennials Think and Practice,” 56 percent of unmarried evangelicals ages 18-29 have never been sexually active. Meanwhile, a quarter say they have been sexually active within the last three months.

19 percent of the respondents said they have been sexually active before, but not within the last three months. For these respondents, an average of 3.3 years has passed since they were last sexually active.

“I don’t think that’s true,” freshman theatre arts major Linda de la Fonteijne said. “I think that probably a bigger percentage of people have been sexually active. It’s probably because it’s the National Association of Evangelicals. They want to make it seem like less people are sexually active because that would be the stereotypical Christian moral, so they put strict limitations on who could [qualify for] their survey.”

The term “sexually active” was not defined as part of the poll.

“If you’re [sexually] active, it means you’re having sex,” junior political science major Tyler Fischella said.

Though scarcely over half at best, these numbers stand in contrast to those published by other studies. An Oct. 2011 article in evangelical magazine “Relevant” cited studies that said a full 80 percent of unmarried young evangelicals admitted to having sex. This number was only a little lower than the 88 percent of unmarried adults who admitted the same.

Even more surprising is the fact that the NAE, the very same organization that published this latest study, acknowledged the 80 percent statistic as late as July 2012.

According to their website, the NAE used a combination of five different online access research panels and the data was adjusted to account for race, geography, gender and marital status to ensure a demographically representative sample of 1,007 individuals. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

This wide discrepancy seems to originate from this study’s definition of an evangelical. While previous polls have defined an evangelical as anyone who claims to be so, this poll placed a series of stipulations on the label. In order to qualify, respondents had to: Attend worship services at least once a month, attend a Protestant church, reject other theological positions on life after death and believe they will go to heaven after death because they have accepted Jesus Christ as their savior.

They also had to strongly agree with the following statements: The Bible is the written word of God and is accurate in all it teaches, the individual has made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in his or her life today, eternal salvation is possible only through Jesus Christ and the individual is personally responsible for telling other people about his or her faith.

With these constraints, only 10 percent of respondents qualified. Thus, the NAE claims this study represents 5.2 million of the nation’s 52 million 18-29 year-olds.

“I don’t think it’s too stringent. I would hope as a devout Christian that you would attend a worship service more than once a month,” senior music major Andrew Pelt said. “It’s Hebrews that tells us we shouldn’t get out of the habit of meeting each other and once a month isn’t that much. These terms seem to cover most things without getting into deep theology.”

These findings on the sexual activity of young millennials were released as the first out of five reports on the study, “Sex and Unexpected Pregnancies: What Evangelical Millennials Think and Practice.” The other reports discuss attitudes toward extramarital sex, the correlation between bible reading and extramarital sex, unexpected pregnancies and abortion and contraception issues.