But, according to Add Health data, evangelical teen-agers are more sexually active than Mormons, mainline Protestants, and Jews. On average, white evangelical Protestants make their “sexual début”—to use the festive term of social-science researchers—shortly after turning sixteen. Among major religious groups, only black Protestants begin having sex earlier.
Another key difference in behaviour, Regnerus reports, is that evangelical Protestant teen-agers are significantly less likely than other groups to use contraception. This could be because evangelicals are also among the most likely to believe that using contraception will send the message that they are looking for sex. It could also be because many evangelicals are steeped in the abstinence movement’s warnings that condoms won’t actually protect them from pregnancy or venereal disease. More provocatively, Regnerus found that only half of the sexually active teenagers who say that they seek guidance from God or the Scriptures when making a tough decision report using contraception every time. By contrast, sixty-nine percent of sexually active youth who say that they most often follow the counsel of a parent or another trusted adult consistently use protection.
The gulf between sexual belief and sexual behaviour becomes apparent, too, when you look at the outcomes of abstinence-pledge movements. Nationwide, according to a 2001 estimate, some two and a half million people have taken a pledge to remain celibate until marriage. Usually, they do so under the auspices of movements such as True Love Waits or the Silver Ring Thing. Sometimes, they make their vows at big rallies featuring Christian pop stars and laser light shows, or at purity balls, where girls in frothy dresses exchange ring with their fathers, who vow to help them remain virgins until the day they marry. More than half of those who take such pledges—which, unlike abstinence-only classes in public schools, are explicitly Christian—end up having sex before marriage, and not usually with their future spouse.
The stats just keep rolling in — Evangelical shame and Catholic guilt once again just doesn’t seem capable of arresting the misplaced human teen’s longing for love. Whatever shall we do???
Perhaps that might be a reason to offer it to them some other way — like maybe just being fathers and mothers to the fatherless and motherless???
Or, we could just launch another purity ball instead…