Inside the new sex stats: Who is who?

It's time for another quick tmatt and LeBlanc double team effort on a news story. I first heard about this teen-sex study this past weekend during a lively lunch meeting in New York City with friend of the blog Dawn Eden. I noted that clearly the age-old question of how far is too far is alive and well in church youth groups everywhere, especially in the post-Clinton era.

OK, cheap joke. But he did grow up in a Southern Baptist church youth group.

Back to the story. As a professional copyeditor, Eden said she still could not make sense of many of the statistics in the basic wire service reports on this survey. It was hard to separate the basic groups in the survey, pledgers vs. non-pledgers. Non-pledgers who were virgins vs. those who were not. How large were the samples for these various groups?

Dawn, if you're out there -- chime in.

Here is part of an Associated Press report that gives a hint of what is going on:

The latest study, published in the April issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that teens pledging virginity until marriage are more likely to have oral and anal sex than other teens who have not had intercourse. That behavior, however, "puts you at risk," said Hannah Brueckner, assistant professor of sociology at Yale and a study author.

Among virgins, boys who have pledged abstinence were four times more likely to have had anal sex, according to the study. Overall, pledgers were six times more likely to have oral sex than teens who have remained abstinent but not as part of a pledge. The pledging group was also less likely to use condoms during their first sexual experience or get tested for STDs, research found.

So the scandal here is that students who take pledges are under a unique form of pressure, in comparison with teens who choose to remain abstinent on their own?

The AP notes that the data were taken from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The stats came from an in-school questionnaire -- public schools? Christian? Homes? -- that was given to a nationally sample of students in Grades 7-12. You can read the other details in the report.

Here is another statement from the wire service report that I found confusing:

Last year, the same team found 88 percent of teens who pledge abstinence have sex before marriage, compared with 99 percent of teens who make no pledge.

Now read that again. So precisely how many young people in America are virgins on their wedding day? Is the number really that low?

GetReligion readers are urged to provide us with their favorite sites for statistics on this. I imagine the picture is a bit more complicated than in this particular dash of headlines.

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