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September 22, 2004



Sixteen sounds about right to me. Not because that was how old I was (not telling), but from what I have heard from various friends, etc. I'm actually surprised it's not a little higher, since the number of girls who wait until their older is higher than some would think--I would think it would yank the average up a bit.


But the anecdotal (and not so anecdotal evidence) of certain communities makes clear that 11, 12, and 13 year-olds are having sex, even as in other areas, girls are waiting until college and beyond. Statistics are only moderately useful -- but they are often entertaining and helpful.


The Case for Christ makes me crazy. Lee Strobel has figured everything out - case closed. Right.

It can work as a place to begin discussion, but the fans of the book think its impossible to question Strobel's conclusions. But Strobel (like others on the opposite side of the debate) is hardly interested in fairly presenting those that would disagree with him. Rather than really critique the Jesus Seminar, for instance, he just makes fun of them.

Sorry - sore subject for me. I feel the same way about Greg Boyd's Letters from a Skeptic. Marginally better, but not by much.


I'm with you, Brian -- I don't recommend "Case for Christ" for everyone. For young people who want a simple work of powerful apologetics, it can be very helpful.


Oh definitely. I know alot of people who first had sex as young as 11 or 12. But yeah, since I know more who were 21 or 22, if I had to guess, I would have nudged the average up. Just a random comment from a white girl who isn't in the mold--granted, I come from a community with a good number of people from strict religions.


Hugo, where can I read more about the implications of what you bring out in the last paragraph of this post?


Try Joan Brumberg's "The Body Project"; it's focussed on American girls, but is a terrific analysis of the intersection of biological and cultural changes of the last century and a half. In print. I use it in class.


Two questions:

1) Hugo, as a historian, do you think it would really be sound to assume that all (well of course not all), rather most women were virgins on their wedding night 100 years ago?

2) Did we just travel through a time warp back to 1995?


It's one of the great questions, DJW! We rely heavily on diary/journal evidence, as well as on the earliest sexual behavior interviews (which were done in the 1920s of women who had "come of age" at the end of the 19th century). Most did indeed report being virgins at marriage.

Of course, it is axiomatic that folks lie about this stuff. It is also widely believed that women tend to minimize or hide early sexual experiences while men exaggerate them. And there are plenty of parish registers in 19th century America (and even Puritan America) indicating births four and five months after marriage.

More recent statistics are more helpful. And of course, documenting menarche is much easier.


Thanks Hugo. And I withdraw my second question. For some reason, your page was showing up in black and white with no graphics an hour or so ago on my end. It's back to normal now.


From what I've read, the Victorian times are really the only time in our country's history where virginity on the wedding night was really that huge a deal. The illegitimate birth rates and number of women pregnant on their wedding day was *higher* in colonial times than it is now, wasn't it?

Lynn Gazis-Sax

Daughter of an immigrant, in my forties so maybe the average age of loss of virginity was higher in my youth, and just before 16 does strike me as young. I'm not totally shocked, because I'd heard the anecdotal evidence of the 12 and 13 year olds, and I'd also looked through the Alan Guttmacher site. But, eep, the only people I've known who've actually admitted to me having sex as young as 12 were people who'd been sexually abused by much older people and were unhappy about it. I
myself hadn't actually as much as kissed anyone at 16. On the other hand, nearly everyone I knew was no longer a virgin by graduation from college; it took strong religious convictions to still be a virgin at that point.

On Puritan New England: I don't know, they could well have mostly been virgins on their wedding days, but it's true it's not too hard to find those who weren't. Among my ancestors, I found a court record in which one couple was fined for having sex after their engagement but before they were actually married. On the other hand, occasionally sexual indiscretions could get you worse than fined; one of the first accused Salem witches was a widow who was resented for an apparent sexual relationship with her hired hand (but there was property at stake, as well as sex, in that case).



"I wonder when someone from the national organization of Campus Crusade is going to question my credentials as adviser."

You've made similar statements to this one before. May I respectfully suggest that you may be asking the wrong question? You're serving as an advisor for an organization from which you know that you have different beliefs in several areas. You know that your beliefs about what the student has asked you about, purity, are different from standard Campus Crusade beliefs, even if those beliefs aren't encoded in doctrinal statements. You know that even though you essentially hold to evangelical theology, you don't agree with Campus Crusade on issues such as sexuality.

My question is, can you serve as a model of integrity to the students and remain as advisor? At the very least, I would think that while you are in that position, you should NOT teach the students anything that goes against the organization's standards. If you're acting on your own apart from Campus Crusade, that's one thing, but when you're speaking as a Campus Crusade advisor, you should be upholding sex as only within the boundaries of marriage between a man and a woman. And I know you don't believe that.

This is not meant to be harsh, Hugo -- just challenging. With all due respect, the issue is not whether Campus Crusade ever finds out your beliefs on different issues and then decides whether you're fit to be an advisor. If you can't uphold Campus Crusade beliefs, don't let yourself off the hook by rationalizing that these ones aren't particularly specified in a given doctrinal statement. Believe me, from my college days (and I'm less than a year older than you, so we were in college at roughly the same time), Campus Crusade's position on sex outside of marriage was VERY clear.

Of course, we DON'T have to agree with everything related to an organization we join. But you're in a different position -- you're an advisor. To me, that means you're bound to uphold Campus Crusade's values to those students even if you don't agree with them. And what type of example are you giving these Campus Crusade students if they find this website and see a quote like the one I posted above?

I can draw a real-life comparison that's not exact, but close. I'm an Anglican/Episcopalian, but there's a Bible church not too far away. One of the areas in which I differ from that church is in its eschatology. It's premillenial, and that view is written in its doctrinal statement; I'm amillennial. That church has a definite eschatology espoused by the pastor and the elders. Now if I were a member and a teacher there, I would not feel free to teach a class there asserting amillennialism over premillenialism (and, indeed, the church has a requirement that teachers will not contradict the church's doctrine). If I wanted to do something on my own, fine, but not under the church's umbrella. And I would feel the weight of that responsibility even if premillenialism were espoused by the pastor and elders but NOT written into the doctrinal statement -- at least, I wouldn't do anything without their permission. I may think, "What's the big deal about eschatology when we have many other things in common," but that wouldn't take away my responsibility to submit my teaching to the church. It seems to me that you're in a similar situation.

Just some thoughts,


It's hard to correlate entry of marriage data in colonial times with pre-marital sexual history. Think about what it was actually like in many colonial communities -- they were isolated, and people may have "formalized" their marriage only after they actually considered themselves to be married because it took time and energy to find a church, especially if you were picky about denominations. The idea of a marriage "license" was not ubiquitous. Having done genealogical research, there are definitely members of my family whose marriage was recorded after the birth of their first child. That doesn't mean that these people were indifferent to marriage and out-of-wedlock births. It probably means that marriage was more culturally than legally significant, and the date upon which a marriage was "legalized" was therefore not nearly as important as the fact that family and community considered the couple to be married.

What has clearly and distinctly changed (I believe) is the extent to which women (and men too) have sexual experience not only outside of a formalized marriage, but outside any expectation of formalized marriage. Whatever age it is at which women today lose their virginity, they not only lose it outside of marriage, but in a relationship that most would agree is unlikely to lead to marriage. I doubt if that was true in colonial times.


Barbara, absolutely. This is where we get to the issue of "bundling" -- a fascinating practice that was captured, more or less accurately, in of all places "The Patriot".


Thanks for a terrific reply. I was asked to advise Campus Crusade because I'm known as one of the few Christian professors on campus. I know well the faith and ethics stance of C3, and in the course of leading discussions, would never deviate from that. I would not try and undermine the standards of purity to which these fine young people aspire.

When I'm wearing my C3 hat, I do so with unabashed enthusiasm for Christ and uncritical acceptance of conventional evangelical morality. But of course, you're right -- my students do have a way of finding this blog. I think I may have a sit-down chat with the student president of C3 soon. BTW, you weren't harsh at all! Hugo needs to be challenged. Lots.


Lynn, the Puritans themselves may have held themselves to that standard, but members of that religious movement were not even remotely a majority of the population of this country, especially by colonial times. During the Revolution, I do believe something like a third of children were born out of wedlock. Benjamin Franklin never married his longtime companion, and no one seemed to think much of that fact.

Lynn Gazis-Sax

Amanda, yes, absolutely, a lot of people were not members of the Puritan movement at all. But I was thinking of cases when even respected Puritan church members had fallen short of that mark, in late seventeenth century Salem (where I have my most detailed information, because of the witchcraft trials). It looks to me as if people, including church members, had had sex out of wedlock without disastrous social consequences, but once the witchcraft scare got going, it didn't help to be "off" in any way. The earliest accused witches were a bad-tempered homeless woman, a slave, and Sarah Osborne, the widow who had moved hired hand Alexander Osborne into her bed (and eventually married him), and then maneuvered with him to get more control of her husband's lands than his will was meant to allow her. Probably the property dispute was more relevant here than the fact that she'd had sex with her second husband before she married him, though; property disputes seem to have heavily influence who got accused as a witch.

On the other hand, it didn't always help, at that point, even to be a model of Puritan piety (Rebecca Nurse). What helped was being rich enough and high enough in social standing that your friends could squirrel you off to New York. Skepticism about the trials grew as the accusations worked their way up the social hierarchy (eventually including even the governor's wife).

I expect that urban Pennsylvania at the time of the Revolution had a looser attitude toward sex out of wedlock than did little Salem Village in 1692. But even in Salem Village, Martha Cory, one of the accused witches, had given birth out of wedlockt to a mulatto son who was still living in her house; this fact didn't keep her from being a covenenting member of the Salem Village church. The couple among my ancestors who were fined for not waiting for their wedding day, John and Rebecca Putnam, were respected church members (and, sadly, part of the family which did the most to promote the witch-hangings, though they themselves aren't on record as accusers in any of the witch cases).

Of course, if you look at the colonies as a whole by the time of the Revolution, you get a very different picture from what you get by looking at Salem Village in 1692.


The book What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew, about life in 19th-century England, included the stat that in 1800 a third of brides were pregnant on their wedding day. It basically said the same thing as Barbara, that premarital sex was winked at but it carried the definite expectation of marriage with it. Also, I do gather that common-law marriage was a much realer idea than it is now. Especially in rural areas, the legal niceties weren't as important as social recognition.


That's really interesting, Lynn, and I didn't know alot of that. My guess is that so many years away, it's difficult to tell exactly what made someone an "outsider" enough to get accused as a witch--then, as now, interpersonal social relationships probably had more bearing than any other recordable factor. For all we know, ugliness or mouthiness was all it took to get a woman accused.
The sad fact is that the vast majority of people view social history as one long slide downhill in sexual "morality". All the blustering and pontificating you hear comes from this notion that modern day Americans invented homosexuality and premarital sex. Even social history as recent as the 50's is whitewashed--I'd be surprised if most people now knew that grandma was as likely as not to go down the aisle not a virgin.

Lynn Gazis-Sax

My guess is that so many years away, it's difficult to tell exactly what made someone an "outsider" enough to get accused as a witch--then, as now, interpersonal social relationships probably had more bearing than any other recordable factor.

Agreed. The Salem witchcraft trials are interesting, though, because so much got recorded, both about the allegations, and about various conflicts that went on in Salem Village before the witchcraft scare even hit. Check out, sometime, The Devil in Massachusetts, by Marion Starkey, which has a fascinating portrayal of the main players, or the classic Salem Possessed, by Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum, which analyzes the pattern of witchcraft accusation in terms of two village factions which had been struggling over politics, property, and control of the local church for many years before the trials.

For all we know, ugliness or mouthiness was all it took to get a woman accused.

John Proctor, for example, saw first his wife and then himself accused, after he repeatedly and openly denounced the trials. Susannah Martin seems to have been a rather mouthy woman, and one bold enough to laugh at her accusers in court. Both executed (John Proctor's wife's pregnancy got her enough respite to survive until the colony came to its senses).

While I doubt sexual sin as such was a really major factor in who got accused, it's interesting that two of the executed witches, Bridget Bishop (keeper of a popular tavern whose shuffleboard games annoyed some of her neighbors) and Susannah Martin, were accused of sending their Shapes to the bedchambers of good God-fearing Puritan men, at night. Even if you're chaste yourself, better watch that Shape of yours; there's no telling what it could be getting up to.

Some interesting discussion in Starkey's book, too, of how the tide turned, as Puritan ministers began to come out against the use of spectral evidence (after all, the main grounds for convictions had been what the afflicted girls said the accused witch's spectres were doing).

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