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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”

 

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Sexual Attitudes and Abstinence Among Christian Youth

http://wvvw.tiu.edu/psychology/Twelker/Attitudes.htm

Paul A. Twelker

Professor Emeritus of Psychology

Trinity College

Trinity International University

Deerfield, Illinois

Readers of this document are permitted to download any portion provided "all such use is for . . . personal noncommercial benefit." Please cite the document as follows: Twelker, Paul A. (2003). Sexual Attitudes and Abstinence Among Christian Youth. Internet resource available at URL: <http://www.tiu.edu/psychology/Twelker/Attitudes.htm > (last updated December 13, 2009). Copyright © 2003 Paul A. Twelker.

Introduction

In a previous paper, Youth, Abstinence, and the One-Flesh Union (Twelker, 2002) I discussed two topics: first, the theology of the one-flesh union concept and its importance, and second, the implications of my research on sexual behaviors of Christian youth on the fostering of abstinence. This paper extends the discussion by considering the sexual attitudes and opinions of Christian youth.

In my previous paper, I made a disturbing claim: the message that the Church preaches on sex fails to affect a significant proportion of the Church's young people. This is due in part to the nature of the message in that youth are asked to make ethical choices based on legalistic rules rather than sound Biblical principles that by necessity must include the concept of the one-flesh union. The prohibition of premarital intercourse, when followed, fails to provide any help on deciding exactly what behaviors are appropriate at various levels of intimacy. This leads to youth testing the limits of the prohibition rule by any means imaginable to the point that oral sex (and most other sexual expressions) become permissible, at least in later stages of intimacy (however vaguely defined). The impotence of the Church can also be traced to the strong societal influences that affect youth, such as the media, peer pressure, and relaxed values and morality.

My first paper presented data on sexual behaviors of Christian youth. In this paper, I will present data on their attitudes. This will set the stage for a comparison of what youth do and what youth say. Data were collected from students at a Midwestern Christian college from 1986 to the present Students in an annual Human Sexuality class were invited to participate in the survey, the same one used by Coles and Stokes (1985). Completed surveys were obtained from 173 males and 203 females (mean age = 20.65 years). Since this represents a convenience sample of youth that self-selected themselves into a somewhat unique course, inferences to the general college population or the Christian college population at large, especially regarding the marginal percentages, must be made with a great deal of caution. However, the relationships between the variables and sex, male or female, are probably more representational of what might be found within the larger Christian college community.

What Sexual Behaviors Are Permissible for a Female?

This section and the next examines what youth say about five sexual behaviors at various stages of a relationship: the first date when the couple are strangers, the dating stage, the going together stage, the "in love" stage, and the planning to be married stage. Inasmuch as possible, each stage is examined separately except when the statistical assumptions were violated. In this case, categories were collapsed in logical ways. Percentages that are bold-faced signify that that particular percentage was statistically different from chance, as revealed by an analysis of standardized residuals. Finally, it should be noted that the construction of the survey question forced respondents to select the one sexual behavior that represented the limit of their sexual expression at each stage of relationship. Because of this limitation, there is not a direct way to compare their attitude against their behavior. 

As shown by Table 1, the majority of the students (80 percent) did not approve of sexual behaviors for a girl if the partners were strangers. Only three percent approved of the girl having oral sex or intercourse, while 17 percent approved of making out or touching genitals. There were statistically significant gender differences: more males than females approved of a girl making out (22 percent of males vs.12 percent of females) or having sexual intercourse (five percent males vs. less than one percent females) while more females than males approved of no sexual behavior (87 percent of females vs. 73 percent of males, χ2 = 15.46, p < .001).

Table 1. Approved Sexual Behaviors for Females in Relationship with Strangers

It is impossible to mind read these students with respect to what they had in mind when they considered the next stage, dating (refer to Table 2). The definition of dating has changed through the years, and probably differs in different subcultures. However, it is clear that sexual attitudes become more liberal at this stage. Here, one-half of the students feel that it is OK for a girl to make out if the partners are dating. This is an increase of 33 percent from the stranger stage. Six percent said it was OK to touch genitals, and five percent said it was OK to have either oral sex or intercourse. Thirty-four percent said that no activity was OK for a girl to do if the partners were dating. However, there were gender differences: more males than females said it was OK to touch genitals (eight percent males vs. four percent females). The difference for sexual intercourse is especially striking: nine percent of males vs. only one percent of females (χ2 = 18.11, p = .001).

Table 2. Approved Sexual Behaviors for Females in a Dating Relationship 

Again, it is impossible to definitively define what is meant by "going together". For most youth, this would imply that each person has but a single, exclusive partner. Over one-half of the students feel that it is OK for a girl to make out if the partners are going with each other (refer to Table 3). Eleven percent said it was OK to touch genitals, 8 percent said it was OK to have oral sex , and 9 percent said it was OK to have intercourse. Sixteen percent said that no activity was permissible for a girl to do if the partners were going together. However, there were gender differences: more females than males said it was OK to make out (65 percent for females vs. 47 percent for males). The sex difference for sexual intercourse is especially striking: 15 percent of males vs. only 4 percent of females (χ2 = 19.06, p = .001)

Table 3. Approved Sexual Behaviors for Females Who are Going Together with a Partner

.

As shown in Table 4, forty-six percent of the students said that it was OK for a girl to make out if the partners were in love. Smaller numbers of students approved of girls touching genitals, having oral sex, or having intercourse (14 percent, 13 percent and 14 percent respectively). However, there were gender differences: more males than females approved of girls having sexual intercourse if the partners were in love (20 percent of males vs. 8 percent of females, χ2 = 13.46, p = .009). Other gender differences were not statistically significant.

Table 4. Approved Sexual Behaviors for Females Who are in Love with Their Partner

As revealed in Table 5, forty-three percent of the students feel that it is OK for a girl to make out if the partners are planning marriage. Thirteen percent said it was OK to touch genitals, and 18 percent said it was OK to have either oral sex or intercourse. Only 8 percent said that no activity was permissible for a girl to do if the partners were planning marriage. However, there were gender differences: more females than males said it was OK for girls to touch genitals (17 percent for females vs. 9 percent for males) while more males than females said it was OK to have intercourse (25 percent for males vs. 12 percent for females, χ2 = 14.87, p = .005). The differences for oral sex and making out were statistically nonsignificant.

Table 5. Approved Sexual Behaviors for Females Who are Planning Marriage with a Partner

In summary, it appears that at each stage of the relationship, both males and females liberalize the appropriateness of sexual behaviors for females. For example, five percent of the males approve of sexual intercourse for a girl with a stranger while less than one percent of the females approve of this behavior. But by the time the couple are planning marriage, 25 percent of the boys and 12 percent of the girls approve of intercourse. This latter "approval rating" is far below the actual sexual intercourse rate for the Christian youth surveyed (roughly 54 percent for males and 36 percent for females). There is evidence that intercourse is engaged in at all stages of the relationship: twenty-eight percent of the youth surveyed related to their sexual partner as a "friend" (Twelker, 2002). The bottom line is that what youth say they approve of is very different that what they actually do.

What Sexual Behaviors Are Permissible for a Male?

Most students (76 percent) felt that no sexual activity was appropriate for a boy to do if the partners were strangers (see Table 6). However, there was a gender difference: more males than females felt that it was OK for a boy to make out or touch genitals (28 percent of the males vs. 15 percent of the females). More males felt that it was OK for a boy to have oral sex or sexual intercourse (7 percent of the males vs.1 percent of the females, χ2 = 22.09, p < .001).

Table 6. Approved Sexual Behaviors for Males in Relationship with Strangers

Almost half of the students said that it was OK for a boy to make out if the partners were dating (see Table 7). Very few students endorsed touching genitals, having oral sex, or having intercourse (7 percent, 5 percent, and 5 percent respectively). However, gender differences were evident: more males than females said it was OK for a boy to have sexual intercourse (9 percent for males vs. 1 percent for females, χ2 = 21..47, p < .001). The differences between males and females for the other sexual behaviors were statistically nonsignificant.

Table 7. Approved Sexual Behaviors for Males in a Dating Relationship

As shown by Table 8, slightly over one-half of the students indicated that it was OK for a boy to make out if the partners were going with each other. Eleven percent said it was OK to touch genitals, 85 percent said it was OK to have oral sex, and 10 percent said it was OK to have sexual intercourse. There were statistically significant gender differences: more females than males said it was OK for a boy to make out (63 percent for females vs. 47 percent for males), while more males than females said it was OK for boys to have intercourse (17 percent for males vs. 4 percent for females, χ2 = 19.86, p = .001). Gender differences for touching genitals and oral sex were not statistically significant.

Table 8. Approved Sexual Behaviors for Males Who Are Going Together With a Partner

Table 9 shows that almost one-half of the students said it was OK for a boy to make out if the partners were in love. Fifteen percent said it was OK to touch genitals, 12 percent said it was OK to have oral sex, and 14 percent said it was OK to have intercourse. An analysis of gender differences revealed that more males than females said it was OK for a boy to have sexual intercourse (21 percent for males vs. 12 percent for females, χ2 = 15.14, p = .004). Other gender differences were smaller and not statistically significant.

Table 9. Approved Sexual Behaviors for Males Who Are in Love With Their Partner

About forty-three percent of the students said it was OK for a boy to make out if the partners are planning marriage (see Table 10). Fourteen percent said it was OK for a boy to touch genitals, while 17 percent said it was OK for a boy to either have oral sex or intercourse. Gender differences were evident: more females said it was OK for a boy to touch genitals (17 percent for females vs. 9 percent for males) while more boys than girls said it was OK for a boy to have sexual intercourse (24 percent for males vs. 11 percent for females, χ2 = 14.27, p = .006).

Table 10. Approved Sexual Behaviors for Males Who Are Planning Marriage With a Partner

In summary, the pattern of liberalization of sexual behaviors throughout the stages of a relationship follows that of the females. For example, with respect to sexual intercourse with strangers, about seven percent of the males approve of intercourse for males. The rate increases to 24 percent for a male who is planning marriage with his partner. These rates are consistent with those reported above for females. When females are asked about their opinions, less than one percent approve of a girl having intercourse with a stranger. The rates of approval are consistent with the rates for females having sex through the planning marriage stage, where 11 percent of the females approve of a male having intercourse.  

A cursory inspection of the two sets of data reveal that both males and females approve of sexual behaviors for males and females at the various stages similarly. There is a steady liberalization of sexual behaviors that are approved from the stranger stage to the planning marriage stage, although females' approval of intercourse is much more conservative than that of the males.

What Do Youth Think Parents Think About What is Permissible?

As shown by Table 11. the majority of students thought that their parents would not approve of any sexual behavior for a couple that were strangers (88 percent). However, there was a clear gender difference: more males than females felt that making out, petting, oral sex or sexual intercourse was OK (16.4 percent of males vs. 9 percent of females, χ2 = 4.93, p = .02).  

Table 11. Activities That Youth Think Parents Think Are Permissible For Partners Who Are Strangers

As revealed in Table 12, the majority of students (56 percent) felt that their parents would disapprove of all sexual behaviors for a couple who were dating, a dramatic decrease from the partners as strangers percentage. Forty-one percent of the students felt that their parents would approve of making out or touching genitals. Only 2.8% believed their parents would approve of oral sex or sexual intercourse. Gender differences were not significant (χ2 = 4.12, p = .128).

Table 12. Activities That Youth Think Parents Think Are Permissible For Partners Who Are Dating

As shown in Table 13, about 32 percent of the youth believed that parents would not approve of any sexual behavior for a couple who are going with each other. About 63 percent of the students believed that their parents would approve of making out or touch genitals if the couple were going with each other (see Table 13). The percentage of students who believed their parent would approve of oral sex or intercourse increased to 5 percent. Gender differences were not evident (χ2 = .78, p = .69).

Table 13. Activities That Youth Think Parents Think are Permissible For Partners Who Are Going With Each Other

As shown by Table 14, the percentage of youth that believe that their parents would disapprove of any sexual behavior for partners who were in love dropped to 21 percent. About 71 percent of the students believed that their parents would approve of making out or touching genitals when the couple were in love. About 9 percent of the students believed their parents would approve of oral sex or sexual intercourse. Gender differences were not evident (χ2 = 1.98, p = .37).

Table 14. Activities That Youth Think Parents Think Are Permissible For Partners Who Are In Love

 

As shown by Table 15, the percentage of youth who think that their parents do not approve of any sexual behavior drops to 15 percent. The majority of youth (66 percent) believe that their parents would approve of making out. Seven percent think their parents would approve of petting while 12 percent think their parents would approve of oral sex or intercourse.

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Table 15. Activities That Youth Think Parents Think Are Permissible For Partners Who Are Planning Marriage

 

In summary, if one considers the parents disapproval of sexual activities, a steady liberalization is seen, from a high of 88 percent for strangers behaving sexually to a low of 15 percent for a couple planning marriage. However, if the disapproval percentages for males and female sexual behavior is examined, the percentages range from a high of 76 percent for males and 80 percent for females who are strangers to a low of 9 percent for males and 8 percent for females who are planning marriage. Youths' ratings of their parents disapproval of sexual behaviors were not all that different from their own, although parents are seen are slightly more disapproving in all categories.

What Do Youth Say About Sex Education

Table 16 reveals that a small majority of students felt that their parents taught them that sex was healthy and normal (58 percent). Only 4 percent felt that their parents taught them that sex was not healthy and normal, while 38 percent felt that their parents did not teach them about sex.

Table 16. Youths' Perceptions of Their Sex Education By Parents

As shown by Table 17, most youth found it hard to talk with their father about sex (76 percent). There were gender differences: more females than males found it harder to talk with their father about sex (85 percent vs. 65 percent, χ2 = 20.56, p = .000).

Table 17. Youths' Perceptions About Communication With Their Father

Table 18 reveals that the majority of youth found it hard to talk to their mother about sex (56 percent). However, there was a significant gender difference: more males than females found it hard to talk about sex with their mothers (66 percent vs. 47 percent, χ2 = 13.29, p = .000).

Table 18. Youths' Perceptions About Communication With Their Mother

Table 19 reveals that most youth receive information about reproduction from schools (48 percent). Parents provide information to about 23 percent of the youth, while friends come in a distant third at 16 percent. There are no significant gender differences (χ2 = 1.43, p = .840).

Table 19. Source of Information About Reproduction

As shown in Table 20, most youth receive their information about birth control from school (40 percent). Parents only account for about nine percent of the information while friends account for double that amount, 18 percent. However, gender differences are statistically significant (χ2 = 30.82 , p = .000). Males receive more information than females from their sex partner while females receive more information than males from clinics, doctors and siblings.

Table 20. Source of Information About Birth Control

Table 21 reveals that 40 percent of the youths relied on friends to provide information about masturbation, while only three percent gained information from parents. The media provided 29 percent of the youth information about masturbation. There were statistically significant gender differences (χ2 = 13.28, p = .021). More males than females gained information from friends while more females than males gained information from the media.

Table 21. Source of Information About Masturbation

Table 22 shows that the most common source of information about sexual techniques was from the media, with friends ranking second and sex partners ranking a distant third (35 percent, 31 percent, and 19 percent respectively). There were no gender differences that were statistically significant ((χ2 = 2.89, p = .576).

Table 22. Source of Information About Sexual Techniques

As shown by Table 23, youth receive most of their information about homosexuality from the media (41 percent). Friends are the next most used source, followed by school (26 percent and 21 percent, respectively). Gender differences are not statistically significant (χ2 = 1.43, p = .840).

Table 23. Source of Information About Homosexuality

As shown in Table 24, almost one half of the youths receive their information from friends. Parents provide information to only about 14 percent of the youth, which is about the same percentage attributed to sexual partners (13 percent).

Table 24. Youths' Perception About Whom They Would Talk To For Sex Education

Youths' Perceptions About Their Peers

When asked about whether their same-sex friends thought a student has had intercourse, only four percent answered "none" (see Table 25). Thirty-seven percent answered "a few", 23 percent answered "about half", 30 percent answered "most", and only 6 percent answered "all". However, there were significant gender differences. More males than females answered "most" (35 percent vs. 26 percent) or "all (9 percent vs. 3 percent) while more females than males answered "about half" (26 percent of females vs. 19 percent of males) (χ2 = 10.73, p = .03).

Table 25. Youths' Perceptions About Same Sex Friends Who Think They Have Had Intercourse

As revealed in Table 26, 76 percent of the respondents thought that most or all of their same-sex friends have had intercourse. Only 3 percent believed that none of their friends, or a few of their friends have had intercourse. Twenty-two percent believed that about half of their friends have had intercourse. Gender differences were nonsignificant. Clearly, the expectation is held by these youth that having intercourse is the norm for their peers. 

Table 26. Youths' Perceptions About Same-Sex Friends Having Intercourse

As revealed in Table 27, the majority of students did not feel pressure from the same-sex friends to have intercourse (66 percent). However, gender differences were evident. More females than males felt no pressure from their same-sex friends to have intercourse (83 percent vs. 46 percent, χ2 = 57.42, p < .001). More males than females reported feeling either a small amount, a medium amount, a large amount or a great deal of pressure from their same-sex friends.

Table 27. Youths' Perceptions About Same-Sex Peer Pressure to Have Intercourse

As seen in Table 28, the majority of college students felt no pressure from their boyfriend or girlfriend to have intercourse (62 percent). Seventeen percent reported a small amount of pressure while 12 percent reported a medium amount of pressure to have intercourse. Very few students felt a large amount or great deal of pressure (5 percent and 3 percent, respectively). Gender differences were nonsignificant.

Table 28. Youths' Perceptions Of Pressure From Partners To Have Intercourse

Most students (73 percent) felt that their friends would be shocked if they thought they had intercourse (see Table 29). However, more females than males felt this way (83 percent of the females vs. 60 percent of the males, χ2 = 24.76, p < .001).

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Table 29. Youths' Perceptions of Their Friends Reactions to Their Having Intercourse 

As revealed in Table 30, most students felt that it was not socially backward for a person to be a virgin at their age (94 percent). However, there were gender differences: more males than females felt that a virgin their age was socially backward (9 percent vs. 3 percent, χ2 = 8.14, p = .004).

Table 30. Youths' Perceptions About Virginity Indicating Social Backwardness

As shown by Table 31, more students felt that their sexual activity was influenced by their parents' thinking than not (54 percent vs. 46 percent). There were gender differences: more females than males felt that parents influenced their sexual activity (60 percent vs. 49 percent, χ2 = 4.48, p = .022).

Table 31. Youths' Perceptions of Parental Influence on Their Sexual Activity

The majority of students (91 percent) felt that teens were doing more things sexually than before (see Table 32). There were no significant gender differences ( χ2 = .41, p = .258).

Table 32. Youths' Perceptions About Increase in Teen Sexual Activity

As revealed in Table 33, most students did not believe it was a good idea to cohabit (91 percent). However, more females than males felt this way (96 percent females vs. 85 percent males, χ2 = 14.80, p < .001).

Table 33. Youths' Perceptions About Desirability of Cohabitation

The point was made above that what youth say they approve (or do not approve) is very different that what they actually do. These data on how these respondents perceive their peers have important implications in interpreting these data. When asked whether their same-sex friends thought they had intercourse, only four percent answered "none" and 41 percent answered most or all (see Table 19). Further, 73 percent of these respondents (73 percent) felt that their friends would be shocked if they thought they had intercourse (see Table 29). Yet when these same respondents were asked if they thought that their same-sex friends have had intercourse, 76 percent of the respondents thought that most or all of their friends have had intercourse. Only 3 percent believed that none of their friends, or at most a few of their friends, have had intercourse. Twenty-two percent believed that about half of their friends have had intercourse. Clearly, the expectation is held by these youth that having intercourse is the norm for their peers. Yet they are able to say that these same peers do not necessarily see them as having intercourse, and would in fact be shocked if they have! This represents a logical inconsistency! The tragedy of holding these views is that youth act on these expectations. When they see their peers as seeing them as different, there is a subtle pressure to act in similar ways, that is, to engage in intercourse. Youth pastors need to counteract the myth that most youth are having sex. Clearly, from the data reported here (Twelker, 2002), and elsewhere, the majority of youth are not having sex. And the data clearly suggest that the myth does not have substance because these youth hold false perceptions about how their friends perceive them   

Youths' Perceptions About Gender Issues

Most students felt that it would be better if women work at home while men pursue careers, as revealed by Table 34. There were no significant gender differences revealed (χ2 = .10, p = .75).

Table 34. Youths' Perceptions About Women Staying At Home

As revealed in Table 35, 78 percent of the respondents felt that women should be allowed to do anything physically possible. There were no gender differences revealed (χ2 = .84, p = .21).

Table 35. Youths' Perceptions About Women Being Permitted To Do Any Job

How Do Sexual Attitudes Relate to Level of Religious Commitment?

As shown in Table 36, there is a significant relationship between religious commitment and sexual attitudes with respect to what is appropriate for females when the partners are strangers: as religious commitment increases, attitudes toward making out, petting, oral sex and intercourse become increasingly negative (χ2 = 42.23 p < .001).

Table 36. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Females When the Partners Are Strangers, and Religious Commitment

Tables 37 through 40 reveal statistically significant relationships between religious commitment and sexual attitudes with respect to what is considered appropriate sexual behaviors for women. In each case, as religious commitment increases, youth find making out and petting more appropriate for women while oral sex or intercourse are found less appropriate (Table 37, χ2 = 71.18, p = .000; Table 38, χ2 = 73.73, p < .001; Table 39, χ2 = 80.92, p = .000; Table 40, P2χ2 = 66.48, p < .001). It is interesting to note the percentages of youth approving of oral sex and intercourse for women increases at each level of the relationship. If the partners are strangers, less than one percent of the youth in the highest category of religious commitment approve of oral sex or intercourse for women. The percentages for partners dating, partners going together, partners in love, and partners planning marriage, are 3 percent, 8 percent, 16 percent, and 25 percent, respectively. On the other hand, the percentages of youth who state they have a medium level of religious commitment and who approve of oral sex or intercourse for women are remarkably higher: 6 percent, 16 percent, 41 percent, 65 percent, and 77 percent, respectively, for the various stages of relationship as noted above.

Table 37. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Females When the Partners are Dating, and Religious Commitment

Table 38. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Females When the Partners Are Going Together, and Religious Commitment

Table 39. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Females When the Partners Are In Love, and Religious Commitment

Table 40. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Females When the Partners Are Planning Marriage, and Religious Commitment

As shown in Table 41 , there is a statistically significant relationship between sexual attitudes about what is appropriate for males in a relationship with a stranger, and religious commitment (χ2 = 39.99, p < .001). Youth who state that they have high levels of religious commitment are least approving of boys making out or petting (17 percent) while youth with medium levels of commitment are most approving of boys making out and petting (36 percent). On the other hand, youth who are most approving of oral sex or intercourse show the least religious commitment (16 percent).

 

Table 41. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Males When the Partners Are Strangers, and Religious Commitment

Tables 42 through 44 show statistically significant relations between sexual attitudes regarding appropriate sexual behaviors for boys, and religious commitment. At each level of relationship, from partners dating, partners going together, and partners "in love", as religious commitment increases, youth find oral sex and intercourse less appropriate for women. (Table 42, χ2 = 59.49, p = .000; Table 43, χ2 = 72.84, p < .001; Table 44, χ2 = 78.86, p < .001). Table 45 also shows a significant relationship between sexual attitudes and religious commitment, but there is an interesting deviation from the other three relationship stages. When partners are planning marriage, youth with the highest levels of religious commitment again find oral sex and intercourse least appropriate for boys (24 percent), but youth with medium levels of commitment (not the lowest levels) find oral sex and intercourse most appropriate for boys (77 percent, χ2 = 70.46, p < .001).

It is instructive to again note the percentages of youth approving of oral sex and intercourse for men increases at each level of the relationship. If the partners are strangers, only one percent of the youth in the highest category of religious commitment approve of oral sex or intercourse for boys. The percentages for partners dating, partners going together, partners in love, and partners planning marriage, are 4 percent, 9 percent, 16 percent, and 24 percent, respectively. These percentages are for all practical purposes identical with those obtained for girls. On the other hand, the percentages of youth who state they have a medium level of religious commitment and who approve of oral sex or intercourse for women are remarkably higher: 8 percent, 18 percent, 44 percent, 63 percent, and 77 percent, respectively, for the various stages of relationship as noted above. These percentages are very similar to those noted for girls.

Table 42. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Males When the Partners Are Dating, and Religious Commitment

Table 43. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Females When the Partners Are Going Together, and Religious Commitment

Table 44. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Males When the Partners Are In Love, and Religious Commitment

Table 45. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Males When the Partners Are Planning Marriage, and Religious Commitment

How Do Sexual Attitudes Relate to Parents' Marital Status

As shown in Table 46, there is no significant relationship between sexual attitudes of what is appropriate for girls when partners are strangers, and the parents' marital status (χ2 = 4.66, p = .097).

Table 46. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Females When the Partners Are Strangers, and Parental Marital Status

Table 47 reveals that when partners are dating, youth from intact families are more apt to approve of making out or petting (60 percent) than youth from non-intact families (43 percent; χ2 = 10.13, p = .006). On the other hand, when partners are dating, youth from intact families are less apt to approve of oral sex and intercourse for girls as compared with youth from non-intact families (8 percent vs. 17 percent).

Table 47. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Females When the Partners Are Dating, and Parental Marital Status

Table 48 reveals that when partners are going with each other, the same pattern described above applies in this case (χ2 = 10.61, p = .005). Youth from intact families are more apt to approve of making out or petting (72 percent) than youth from non-intact families (54 percent). On the other hand, youth from intact families are less apt to approve of oral sex and intercourse for girls as compared with youth from non-intact families (14 percent vs. 27 percent).

Table 48. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Females When the Partners Are Going Together, and Parental Marital Status

Tables 49 and  50 reveals that although the relationship of sexual attitudes about what is appropriate for girls and parental marital status trends in the same direction as noted above for partners who are in love or planning marriage, the relationships are non-significant (χ2 =2 .26, p = .332 and χ2 = 3.54, p = .170, respectively).).

Table 49. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Females When the Partners Are In Love, and Parental Marital Status

Table 50. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Females When the Partners Are Planning Marriage, and Parental Marital Status

As shown in Table 51, there is no significant relationship between sexual attitudes of what is appropriate for boys when partners are strangers, and the parents' marital status (χ2 = 5.34, p = .069).

Table 51. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Males When the Partners Are Strangers, and Parental Marital Status

Table 52 reveals that when partners are dating, youth from intact families are more apt to approve of boys making out or petting (59 percent) than youth from non-intact families (41 percent; χ2 = 11.73, p = .003). On the other hand, when partners are dating, youth from intact families are less apt to approve of oral sex and intercourse for boys as compared with youth from non-intact families (8 percent vs.18 percent). These percentages are very similar to those obtained for girls' approved behaviors.

Table 52. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Males When the Partners Are Dating, and Parental Marital Status

Table 53 reveals that when partners are going with each other, the same pattern described above for girls also applies for boys ( χ2 = 9.54, p = .008). Youth from intact families are more apt to approve of boys making out or petting (70 percent) than youth from non-intact families (52 percent). On the other hand, youth from intact families are less apt to approve of oral sex and intercourse for boys as compared with youth from non-intact families (16 percent vs. 27 percent).

Table 53. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Males When the Partners Are Going Together, and Parental Marital Status

As shown in Tables 54 and 55, there are non-significant relationships between sexual attitudes about boys' sexual behaviors and parental marital status for partners in love and planning marriage (χ2 = 2.60, p = .273 and χ2 = 3.42, p = .181, respectively).

Table 54. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Males When the Partners Are In Love, and Parental Marital Status

Table 55. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Males When the Partners Are Planning Marriage, and Parental Marital Status

Reflections

I have a word of warning when it comes to interpreting these data. Do not place too much importance on sexual attitudes as though they have a one-to-one relationship with real-time moral behavior. Many individuals simply assume that attitudes lead to behavior. However, Ichheiser (1970) distinguishes between “views in principles” and “views in fact.” Views in principle are those views that are held about an issue but have no serious implications for one’s actions. Views in fact are those that actually determine one’s actions. The problem, according to Ichheiser, is that people rarely are able to state their views in fact. They are usually capable of only stating their views in principles.

A related warning is that since many people assume that an individual’s conscious opinions and evaluations are the major cause of their actions, they fail to account for other factors that work against (or for) the individual following their beliefs or opinions. Three factors that are seen in sequential fashion in moral development include: 1) fear of parental punishment and rejection; 2) peer pressure, and social praise or blame; and 3) maintenance of abstract moral principles. Other factors might include moral passion, empathy, guilt, remorse or Godly sorrow, sense of honor (whether rational or irrational), and moral introspection.  

The discrepancy between how youth think and how youth behave has been discussed at great lengths. This should come as no surprise. Writers such as David Elkind have attributed this discrepancy between thought and action to youths not being fully able to exercise their newly-developed skills in formal operational thought. The youth in this study come across as espousing what might be termed traditional values in a number of areas including gender roles, cohabitation, and limits to sexual behavior in relationships. One could argue that perhaps these are not really values at all, but simply attitudes or opinions that do not have the commitment behind them that guides behavior. We hear a lot of rhetoric about the erosion of values in our society. Perhaps what we are facing is a Christian subculture that is not being guided by any values at all, just whims and attitudes and opinions. This argument can be substantiated by the observation that youth today are being affected by myths or false expectations about what their same-sex peers are doing (such as having sex) as well as what peer are thinking about them (such as shock at their being sexually active). These data suggest that opinions and attitudes that are based largely on myths and false perceptions must be corrected before values can be fostered that guide abstinence behavior.

How do youth internalize moral values in a way that assure their implementation? Hogan (1973) suggests two psychological dynamics that work toward implementation: sensitivity to social expectations, and concern for the welfare of those with whom the youth interacts. In the report on sexual behaviors (Twelker, 2002), discussion centered on how positive expectations (for example, expectations for marrying a virgin) exhibited a powerful effect on abstinence. However, not all youth develop these expectations and use them to enhance abstinence. Further, the expectations that youth develop are not necessarily positive or life-enhancing—they can also be negative or dysfunctional. The second dynamic, concern for others with whom the youth interacts, would seem even more difficult to develop. Egocentrism, which develops as adolescents begin using formal operational thought, plays a huge role here. For a time, self-centeredness takes center stage in an adolescent’s life. Perspective-taking and empathy eventually will be developed, but not at the beginning.

In that same report (Twelker, 2002), it was also mentioned that sexual ideology is one of the most important factors in determining sexual expressions (cf., DeLamater and MacCorquodale (1979). It was argued that ideology is a force that dominant institutions use to legitimize the status quo through the communication of values, of worldview, and of symbol systems. It was suggested that ideology forms the basis of self-control. But a number of institutions with their particular worldviews compete for youths’ attention. It would be simplistic to view this competition as an all-or-none game. Rather, the youth most likely selects parts and pieces from many if not all of the competing worldviews. Herein lies the problem. How a youth exercises self control relates to the meanings of the values and the worldview adopted. If the youth envisions sex as simple recreation or tension relief without the need for commitment, self-control takes on a very different meaning than that suggested by scripture. Using a condom might qualify as self-control in that it shows both one’s sensitivity to societal expectations as well as one’s concern for others. If the youth envisions sex as the occasion for establishing an authentic one-flesh union, then self-control takes on a very different form that illustrates Christian thinking and behavior.

If my premise that sexual attitudes per se do not necessarily have all that much relevance to sexual behaviors, and they are but one factor among many that relate to moral implementation, then the questions remains: what are the implications for parents and church leaders, with respect to forming Godly values and worldviews in their children and adolescents? Should the parent simply stop trying to instill moral attitudes in their children? Heaven forbid! Sexual attitudes are the building blocks that teach children to live with authority. That naturally leads to the youth being able to live with other people in healthy, functional ways. And that life skill is the basis for a third skill, living with oneself. Living with oneself implies living in compliance with internalized ethical principles. This skill is at the heart of autonomy, in the sense that the adolescent acts with self-control and self-regulation. But the communicating of moral attitudes go hand-in-hand with parenting style. Autonomous (self-regulated) youth who have close relationships with their parents report fewer conflicts with their parents, turn to their parents for advice, and report that they would like to model their lives after their parents. On the other hand, youth who are not autonomous and self-regulating are more likely to be rebellious, negative, and highly involved with their peer group. Parents of autonomous youth enable in the sense that they accept adolescents, they help adolescents develop their own ideas through questions, and they tolerate different opinions. Parents of non-autonomous youth respond negatively to adolescents’ expressions of independence, and they cut off discussion of adolescents’ opinions. But there is more. Parents must foster increasingly abstract thinking in youth. They must make sure that beliefs become increasingly rooted in general principles that have ideological relevance. And finally, they must reject the notion that all youth have to do is copy their values (or those of other authority figures) without making sure that they are increasingly rooted in the youth’s own value system. And parents must recognize that the autonomy I am talking about here means having a set of principles about what is right and wrong, and having priorities about what is important and what is not. This autonomy must be rooted in the Church's teaching of a correct, coherent, biblical worldview with respect to sexuality that results in youth accepting the importance of thinking and acting Christianly in a postmodern world. And I have argued that this ideology must include the primacy of the one-flesh union concept.

There is another very interesting finding that relates to the remarkable consistency that was revealed: males were much more likely than females to permit or encourage intercourse at all stages of a relationship, for both males and females. However, as the relationship progresses, females become perceptively more permissive so that by the time the couple is planning marriage, the percentage of females agreeing with the males rises to about 46 percent of the male percentage. At the stranger level, less than 10 percent of the females agreed with the males about allowing intercourse. This might suggest that the female holds the key to abstinence by communicating in an assertive manner her values to the male, and bringing him to agreement on abstinence.

When it comes to sex education, parents seem to be falling short of the ideal. About 38 percent of the youth said that their parent did not teach them about sex. Males were consistent in their assessment of the difficulty in talking with parents: over 65 percent found it hard to talk with either parent. Females found it much harder to talk with father (85 percent) than with mother (47 percent). If youth were able to talk with their parents, and vice versa, without getting bent out of shape, youth might have an opportunity to better understand their parents’ expectations while parents would have a better understanding of the pressures facing youth today. This could naturally lead to the formation of a family accountability relationship where the parents would be the first line of support for their children's abstinence. Of course, this assumes that parents are serious about holding the line on abstinence. Unfortunately, data were not collected from parents in the present study. However, youths' ratings of their parents’ disapproval of sexual behaviors were not all that different from their own, although parents were seen are slightly more disapproving in all categories.  One thing is clear, however: youths' perceptions about the inadequacy of parental sex education bring into question their perceptions about what their parents expect.

There is a general undertone of pessimism among many parents in their own confidence and ability to teach their children about sex, and distinguishing right from wrong, and they look to outside resources to fill that void. A Gallup Poll in 1987 found that 85 percent of parents feel that sex education should be taught in the schools (West Virginia Department of Education, 1987). A recent poll of 1,245 adults by Zogby International commissioned by conservative Christian groups found that most parents want schools to teach their children sex education but disapprove of the more explicit guidance commonly used in sex-education classes, such as masturbation, sexual fantasies, and homosexuality (Schemo, 2003). Seventy-four percent of parents approve or strongly approve of abstinence-centered sex education, while 61.1 percent of parents disapprove or strongly disapprove of "comprehensive" or "safe-sex" education.

Since schools in the public sector are not perceived as able to lay good moral foundations, (let alone keep the peace in the classroom,) parents are turning to independent schools, especially church-related schools to teach values. Either way, parents are bound to be disappointed. The public school will teach sex education, but often too late, and when it is taught, it largely assumes that all youth are sexually active. The church-related school is often out of touch with its youth to the point that it acts as though most youth are sexually naive, and its best to keep them that way. In abstinence-only classes, the issue of contraception can't even be discussed.

Abstinence Programs

A number of secular programs, often school-based, have begun across the country in recent years to promote abstinence. Typically, the program asks a teen to pledge abstinence until marriage. Recently, a highly publicized report taken from the federally-funded National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health.by Hannah Bruckner of Yale University and Peter Bearman of Columbia University has thrown doubt on these programs. These researchers analyzed data from interviews of 20,000 teen-age virgins in grades 7 through 12 in 1994 and 1995. Follow-up interviews were done in 1997 with 14,000 individuals.  

The researchers estimated that close to 10 percent of adolescent boys and 16 percent of adolescent girls have taken virginity pledges. Those that gave pledges were more religious and more oriented toward school. Further, the subsequent decision to abstain from intercourse seemed related to factors other than the giving of a pledge. When 30 percent or more of the teens in a program gave pledges, they were no more likely to delay intercourse than non-pledgers. On the other hand, when only one teen took the pledge, it did not have the desired abstinence effect. Apparently, holding to the pledge required peer support. Also, among teens 18 and older, pledges made little difference. The most significant impact occurred among 16- and 17-year-olds.

The pledges delayed intercourse by about 18 months. Among black females, for example, the median age of first sexual encounter for those who took a virginity pledge was 18.6, compared with 16.3 for those who did not take a pledge. The delay for males was similar. Among 15-year-olds, 90 percent of the pledgers remained virgins while 82 percent of the non-pledgers were virgins. At 16, 79 percent of the pledgers were still virgin while 68 percent of non-pledgers had abstained. At age 17, 65 percent of the pledgers had not initiated sex while half of the non-pledgers had initiated sex.

The researchers also found that the pledgers had fewer sexual partners, got married earlier, and were less likely to use condoms. Of those males who pledged abstinence, 59 percent used a condom during sex while only 40 percent of male pledgers used a condom.  The pledgers also contracted sexually transmitted diseases (chlamydia, gonorrhea and trichomoniasis) as often (2.8% vs. 3.5% for whites not pledging; 18.1% vs. 20.3% for blacks not pledging; 6.7% vs 8.6% for Hispanics not pledging; 10.5% vs. 5.6% of Asians not pledging.) These differences were not judged to be statistically significant. Those infected were less likely to know they were infected. 

It should be noted that not all abstinence programs are equal. Richard Ross, one of the founders of the True Love Waits movement and professor of student ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, points out that most programs offer a limited number of class sessions led by a stranger, who asks that teens sign a vow of abstinence in their notebooks at the end of the program. The True Love Waits program involves weeks of study and discussion before signing of pledge cards, often in public ceremonies with family and close friends. Support continues after the pledge though church youth leaders and peers. Finally, Ross notes that the pledges are made “to God Himself rather than a notebook”. Jimmy Hester, a spokesman for True Love Waits, minimized the importance of the pledge alone. He claims that the important element missing from other programs is a commitment to God. The True Love Waits pledge reads, "Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my friends, my future mate, and my future children to be sexually abstinent from this day until the day I enter a biblical marriage relationship." To enhance its program, the True Love Waits movement is planning to challenge local health organizations, businesses, educational institutions, government and churches to form a coalition to provide a consistent abstinence message and support to students (Curry, 2004; Bearman and Bruckner, 2001). 

Certain national groups such as The Alan Guttmacher Institute, Planned Parenthood and SIECUS (Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States) may tend to view such studies in a negative light, maintaining that abstinence programs do not work. Clearly, abstinence programs seem to work in the short run by postponing sexual intercourse, but the data include the somber truth that many youth eventually discard the pledge and engage in intercourse before marriage. And when they do, they often fail to use protection and end up contracting STDs at the same rate as non-abstainers. This suggests that most of these teens are not waiting to have sex with the one they eventually want to marry, a possibility suggested by data in the present study. One of the chief contentions of these national groups is that sex education does not drive teens to experiment earlier, but enables them to think critically about sexual choices. Obviously, abstinence education and the pressing for an abstinence pledge is usually inconsistent with one segment of sex education that focuses on contraception and perhaps STDs. These national groups are also critical of the abstinence pledges in that the higher the number of teens taking the pledge in a program, the less effect it has. Clearly, more attention has to be paid to what factors make for a strong and long-lasting pledge of abstinence. Peter Bearman went into the study thinking that the pledges made no difference. "We didn't expect to see any effect from these pledges, but it was just the opposite...The average delay among pledgers is 18 months. That is significant. And that is a pure pledge effect." By that, the authors mean that "pledging works because it embeds kids in a community and makes them feel different." Although this may be true for some teens, the remarks by Richard Ross and Jimmy Hester suggests that more is at work here than peer pressure or community expectations. Indeed, the present study suggests that the strength of the faith commitment, guilt as a preventative factor, intactness of the family, and parental influence have a strong relationship to abstinence as well as pastoral and peer support.

Abstinence groups such as True Love Waits are not at all interested in changing their programs to include information on contraception. Data from the Bearman and Bruckner study are not convincing for these folk. Critics of abstinence-only education see the findings as evidence that adolescents benefit from sex education. I would suggest that if the goal is for teens to wait until marriage to engage in sexual intercourse, then it does not follow logically that withholding information on contraception or STDs is dysfunctional to that goal. The practical failure rates of contraceptive methods can lend rationale support to abstinence. Further, the fact that contraception does not protect adequately and completely against STDs lends further support to the teaching of all relevant facts about sexuality to teens.  

This position is supported by recent changes in thinking by a number of physicians who collaborated on an abstinence program, Prescriptions for Parents: A Physicians' Guide to Adolescence and Sex (Morse, 2003).  The program points out that even when there was a significant decline in the teen birth rate and sexual activity rate in the 1990’s, the incidence of STDs increased. Today, one-quarter of all new HIV cases occur in those aged 21 and younger.  Herpes and the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is linked to cervical cancer, are infecting more and more teens.  More than one in five teenagers and adults in the United States has genital herpes, and HPV affects 24 million Americans.  The Medical Institute of Sexual Health (MISH) estimates that 33 percent of all women are infected with HPV. The people most at risk for this disease are college and high school students.  Estimates of HPV on college campuses are staggering: Sharon Kennedy, a nurse practitioner, estimates that about 70 percent of the college population at Colorado State University is positive for HPV. The University of California at Berkeley found that almost half of its female students were infected with HPV. In a clinical study at the University of Washington, Winer et. al. (2003) found that the cumulative first-time infection incidence was 32.3 percent (95% confidence interval: 28.0 to 37.1).  Infection in virgins was rare, but any type of nonpenetrative sexual contact increased the risk of infection. HPV is spread through skin-to-skin contact, and does not depend on the exchange of bodily fluids so condoms, whether used correctly or incorrectly, do not always protect against these STDs.  A single sexual contact with a person infected with HPV, whether external genital warts are visible or not, carries about a 60 percent chance of transmission (Cantu & Farish, N.D.). There is no such thing as safe sex. The only guaranteed method of stopping this public health epidemic is sexual abstinence until entering into a lifelong, monogamous marriage with an uninfected partner. Considering that one in fifty American women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer, and that almost all cervical cancer in the United States is caused by HPV, to withhold information from adolescents on STDs and the inefficacy of contraceptive methods in combating these epidemics, is shortsighted if not inexcusable.

Some Concluding Thoughts

There are those who say that it is time that parents assume full responsibility for teaching and nurturing their children about sex. Some of these people feel that the school might serve as a backup, but not the initiator of or prime disseminator of sex education. For this strategy to succeed, parents must be comfortable with their own sexuality, well-versed in sexual ethical decision-making strategies, and comfortable in initiating sex education with their children. If parents did a good job, then whatever the school did could be complementary. Unfortunately, we cannot assume that parents will be in a position to act as teachers and nurturers without some assistance in the form of sex education, sexual counseling, or in some cases, sexual therapy.

I wish I had an answer to this dilemma. For some Christian families, public school options that teach comprehensive sex education will not be satisfactory since it will include information on masturbation, contraception and homosexuality. For other Christian families, the favored abstinence program will fall short if contraception is not included since a significant portion of the teens will become sexually active. Further, many programs will fail to show how many precoital sexual behaviors in addition to sexual intercourse carry the risk of STDs. I am firmly persuaded that Christian parents must not cease trying to be salt and light to people in their community, and this includes speaking out for an appropriate. age-graded sex education curriculum. On the other hand, parents must accept primary responsibility for educating their children about sexuality, and do whatever it takes to make this education effective. Sex education should begin when the infant is in the cradle, when she cannot understand a word being said. This will help desensitize parents and will provide then with valuable practice in "talking sex" later. Also, the various components of sex education throughout the child-rearing years should be initiated about two years earlier than the time thought appropriate. Most sex education has already be done on the street and in the locker room before parents get around to it.

Where does the church fit into all of this? First, it must get its act together when it comes to a theology of sexuality. The primacy of the one-flesh union concept must be affirmed, and thought must be given to the place of singleness as well as marriage in a Christian's life. Second, the "do nots" and "thou shalt nots" must be replaced by a reasonable and effective approach to sexual ethical decision-making where the virtues of holiness, love, wisdom and ideals and the relationships of self with God, with others, with oneself, and with created order are considered (cf., Forlines, 2001). Third, the pastor and youth pastor must not be allowed to replace parents as primary opinion-leaders and change-agents. God created the family to function in this capacity, and the church should support parents to function as God planned. The emphasis on experience-oriented worship and teaching, whose effectiveness seems directly related to the charisma of the leader, must be evolved into relationship-oriented groups, such as small multi-family accountability groups. Fourth, the church must recognize the strong role that the culture and post-modern thought is playing in socializing its youth. Rather than treating its youth as though they were pilgrims in a post-modern world, it must recognize that for the most part, youth have bought into post-modern thought to the point that they are practitioners and purveyors of post-modernism.

And what about the church-related college? What should be its role in these matters? Apart from the obvious interventions in the classroom, it seems to me that the church-related college must attend to parent relations and parental involvement. Now I am not talking about fostering inappropriate involvement, or rather enmeshment, that emotionally stifles youth and their legitimate quest for autonomy. What I am referring to is, first of all, the information that is being shared with parents about matters of sexual attitudes and behaviors of college students. Colleges must communicate honestly about these realities, and in ways that move them toward problem-solving. The "head-in-the-sand" approach just won't do anymore. And then, parents must be encouraged to partner with the college in the pursuit of the common interest of promoting healthy sexuality and abstinence. Student development offices, along with academics, should decide those areas where parents can become involved in constructive ways, and then discuss these matters openly with parents through educational venues. These efforts could involve the use of electronically-enhanced educational programs, such as the Internet, teleconferencing, chat rooms and message boards. It is time that faculty as well as student development begin to share their critical insights with parents. This educational involvement could extend from the admissions process through commencement to help parents become effective partners in their children's development while away at college.

References

Bearman, Peter S. and Hannah Brückner (2001) . “Promising the Future: Virginity Pledges and the Transition to First Intercourse.” American Journal of Sociology. 106, 4 859-912.

Curry, Erin (2004) Leaders: True Love Waits 'different' from other programs. Internet resource available at URL: http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?ID=17818

Forlines, F. Leroy (2001). The Quest for Truth: Answering Life's Inescapable Questions. Nashville: Randall House.

Ichheiser, G. (1970). Appearances and reality. San Francisco : Jossey-Bass.

Hogan, R. (1973). Moral conduct and moral character. Psychological Bulletin, 79, 217-232. 

Morse, Jodie (2003). An Rx for Teen Sex. Internet resource available at URL: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/subscriber/0,10987,1101021007-356071,00.html

Schemo, Diana Jean (2003). Explicit Sex Education Is Opposed By Most Parents in Survey. New York: The New York Times ( February 13, 2003 ). Internet resource available at URL: www.nytimes.com/2003/02/13/education/13SEX.html?ex=1066449600&en=ad33fe9711b8bc7f&ei=5070

Twelker, Paul A. (2002) Youth, Abstinence and the One-Flesh Union. Paper presented at the American Association of Christian Counselors 2002 Super Conference, Dallas, Texas, April 24-26, 2002. Internet resource available at URL: <http://www.tiu.edu/psychology/Twelker/AACC_Paper.htm > (last updated December 13, 2009).

Yvette C. Cantu and Heather E. Farish (N.D.). The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Epidemic: Condoms Don’t Work. Family Research Council, Boulder Colorado.  Internet resource available at URL:  http://www.ccv.org/images/HPV-Epidemic.PDF.

Winer, R. L., Lee, S. K., Hughes, J. P., Adam, D. E., Kiviat, N. B., and Koutsky, L. A. (2003)  Genital human papillomavirus infection: incidence and risk factors in a cohort of female university students. Am J Epidemiol, 157(3), 218-226.