Premarital Sexuality: A Five-Year Follow-Up Study of Attitudes and Behavior by Dating Stage

Article excerpt

The primary purpose of this study was to examine the state of premarital sexual attitudes and behavior among college students during the 1980s. Respondents surveyed in 1988 were compared to those studied in 1983. Data from both studies permit us to judge the direction in which the "sexual revolution" moved in the 1980s and to assess the degree to which concern about contracting AIDS affected premarital sexual attitudes and behavior.

Studies conducted in the late 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s indicated a growing permissiveness in premarital sexual attitudes and behavior (Bell & Chaskes, 1970; Ferrel et al., 1977; King et al., 1977; Mahoney, 1978; Glenn & Weaver, 1979; DeLamater & MacCorquodale, 1979; Bell & Coughey, 1980; Roche, 1986; Earle & Perricone, 1986). However, recently some have contended that public concern about the spread of AIDS in the heterosexual population has halted and reversed this trend toward greater permissiveness (Chapple & Talbot, 1989). Others believe that college-age heterosexuals are not too concerned about AIDS. It is said that young men and women believe and act as if AIDS could never happen to them (Rubin, 1990).

Even before there was concern about the spread of AIDS in the heterosexual population, some felt that young people in the 1980s were becoming more conservative in their attitudes toward premarital sex. One study done in 1980 found an increase in the percentage of students who regarded premarital sex as immoral or sinful (Robinson & Jedlicka, 1982). However, these researchers did not find any decline in the frequency of reported sexual behavior. Also, a review of the literature and a study of 280 students in our 1983 study did not find any significant evidence of a decline in the liberalization of the 1970s and early 1980s. Still, some writers sense that there has been a movement in the conservative direction since the early 1980s.

This 1988 follow-up study allowed us to measure the direction and magnitude of change in premarital sexual attitudes and behavior during the 1980s. It provided information regarding respondents' views as to what they think is proper sexual behavior, what they do, and what they think others are doing at five dating stages. The influence of social factors such as age, gender, religion, father's education, mother's education, nationality, residence, and, religiosity was examined. Respondents' views and experiences regarding cohabitation, changes in behavior and attitude since learning about AIDS, and views as to the morality of premarital sex were also explored.

METHOD

The sample for this 1988 survey consisted of students enrolled in undergraduate social science classes at a state college in southern New England. The characteristics of the 268 students included in this 1988 sample reflect the general composition of the college's student body. The sample was 97% white and almost 80% Roman Catholic. Approximately 70% of the students were of Italian (37%), Irish (21%), or French-Canadian (12%) background. About 60% lived at home with their parents and commuted to college. Thus, this sample included a high percentage of Roman Catholics, commuters, and students of urban ethnic and working-class backgrounds. The composition of the 1988 and 1983 samples was quite similar. The 1988 sample was nonrandom and therefore tests of significance were used in an explanatory sense. Results indicate relationships that appear to be significant, but further research is needed before these findings may be confidently asserted.

The questionnaire used in the 1988 study was essentially the same as the one used in the 1983 research. The only significant difference was that the 1988 questionnaire contained more detailed questions regarding oral-genital contact and several questions regarding AIDS. The 72-item questionnaire gathered basic demographic information and asked respondents what they thought was proper premarital behavior at five dating stages, what they did at these five dating stages, and what they thought others were doing at these stages. …