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Premarital intercourse (also called premarital sex, non-marital sex, youthful sex, adolescent sex, and young-adult sex) is sexual activity, including vaginal intercourse, oral sex, and anal sex, practiced by persons who are unmarried. Although it has always been practiced, in the West it has increased in prevalence since the mid-1950s. Historically considered taboo by many cultures and considered a sin by numerous religions, it has become more commonly accepted in the last few decades.


Until the 1950s,[1] the term "premarital sex" referred to sexual relations between two people prior to marrying each other.[2] 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.[1]

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.[2] 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.[1]

Alternative terms for premarital 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.[1]


Vaginal intercourse

Vaginal intercourse is the penetration of a woman's vagina by a man's penis. Although its biological purpose is reproduction, it is often performed entirely for pleasure and/or as an expression of love and emotional intimacy.[3]

Oral sex

Oral sex is the use of the mouth to sexually stimulate a partner's genitals in an attempt to bring him or her to orgasm.[3] In Western societies, premarital oral sex has become more frequent as it becomes less taboo. Historically, a couple would practice oral sex only after practicing vaginal intercourse. Oral sex is now often practiced prior to intercourse. Explanations for this trend include the reduction of the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and the retention of virginity without sacrificing sexual satisfaction.[1]

Anal sex

Anal sex is the insertion of a male's penis into the anus of his partner.[3] This can occur in either homosexual or heterosexual partnerships.[4]


In some cultures, for example in many modern-day Western cultures, sexual abstinence before marriage is not valued. In some cultures, sexual abstinence is discouraged.

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 double standards regarding the admission of sexual activity or by men frequenting prostitutes.[1]

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.[1]

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.[5] 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".[6] Several polls have indicated peer pressure as a factor in encouraging both girls and boys to have sex.[7][8] The increased sexual activity among adolescents is manifested in increased teenage pregnancies and an increase in sexually transmitted diseases. The rates of teenage pregnancy vary and range from 143 per 1000 girls in some sub-Saharan African countries to 2.9 per 1000 in South Korea. The rate for the United States is 52.1 per 1000, the highest in the developed world – and about four times the European Union average.[9][5] The teenage pregnancy rates between countries must take into account the level of general sex education available and access to contraceptive options.

Cultural views

The cultural acceptability of premarital sex varies between cultures and time periods. Western cultures have traditionally been disapproving of it, on occasions forbidding it. In other cultures, such as the Muria people of Madhya Pradesh, sexuality prior to marriage is accepted and at times expected.[1]

Individual views within a given society can vary greatly, with expectations ranging from total abstinence to frequent casual sex. These views are dependent on the holders value system, as formed by his or her parents, religion, friends, and the media.[1]

United States

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.[1] 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.[10]

Beginning in the 1950s, as premarital sex became more common, the stigma attached to it diminished. Love began to be seen as enough of a reason for 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.[1]


Physically, premarital sex poses the same risks as post-marital sex. It can be a disease vector, transmitting chlamydia, gonorrhea, genital herpes, HIV and other such diseases.[11] There is also a risk of an unplanned pregnancy in heterosexual relationships.[12] As such, it is recommended that practitioners of premarital sex use a condom.[13]

See also


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 Sex and Society 663-666.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Regnerus, Uecker & 2011 Introduction.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Discovery Health, Sexual Intercourse.
  4. Dean and Delvin, Anal sex.
  5. 5.0 5.1 UNICEF. (2001). A League Table of Teenage Births in Rich NationsPDF (888 KB). Retrieved July 7, 2006.
  6. U.S.Teen Sexual ActivityPDF (147 KB) Kaiser Family Foundation, January 2005. Retrieved 23 Jan 2007
  7. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. (1997). What the Polling Data Tell Us: A Summary of Past Surveys on Teen Pregnancy. Retrieved July 13, 2006.
  8. Allen, Colin. (May 22, 2003). "Peer Pressure and Teen Sex." Psychology Today.'.' Retrieved July 14, 2006.
  9. Treffers PE (November 2003). [Teenage pregnancy, a worldwide problem]. Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd 147 (47): 2320–5.
  10. includeonly>""Youth and Sex": 1,300 boys and girls answer questions", Life, 1938-06-06, pp. 66. Retrieved on December 09, 2011.
  11. Center for Disease Control.
  12. Speidel, Harper, and Shields; 2008.
  13. Planned Parenthood.

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