Hanna Rosin reviews Mark Regnerus' Forbidden Fruit: Sex+Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers

A 19-year-old virgin walks into a bar. He’s got his lucky cross in his pocket and his best jersey on. Please God, he says to himself, let this be the night. He spies a girl sitting at a table””blonde, wholesome-looking, just his type. He sidles up closer to the girl, who is chatting with some friends. Over the din, he can make out snippets of her conversation: at Bible study the other night ”¦ Pastor Ted says ”¦ saving it for marriage. Discouraged, he walks away in search of a more promising target.

Did he make the correct decision? Or did he make a hasty judgment and miss a chance for a possible love connection? The answer to such a question can be found in Forbidden Fruit: Sex & Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers by Mark Regnerus, a professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. The book is a serious work of sociology based on several comprehensive surveys of young adults, coupled with in-depth interviews. But it could also double as a guide for teenage boys on the prowl (who’s easier, a Catholic girl or a Jew?) or for parents of teenage girls worrying about what will happen if their daughters keep skipping church.

Regnerus goes to some length to justify his unusual pairing of subjects. Most researchers of youth behavior tend to ignore the influence of religion, he argues, and instead focus on other factors””parental input, peer pressure, race, or socioeconomic status. But sex is one area where religion has a strong impact, at least on attitudes. When academics do consider religion, they tend to make lazy assumptions that religious communities are inherently conservative, universally condemn sex, and encourage abstinence. Regnerus complicates the picture by examining the varying attitudes of different religious communities. And while sex surveys are notoriously unreliable, his great innovation is to compare conservative attitudes with actual practices.

Read it all.


Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Books, Evangelicals, Other Churches, Religion & Culture, Teens / Youth

6 comments on “Hanna Rosin reviews Mark Regnerus' Forbidden Fruit: Sex+Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers

  1. john scholasticus says:

    Sleazy stuff. But it’s not news. The important issue that turns up yet again is: hypocrisy.

  2. Billy says:

    John S., #1, I didn’t see anything sleazy in this article. Secondly, the important thing is not hypocrisy. The important thing in this article is that religion and talking to young people about sex as a part of religious beliefs does make a difference, if you read to the end of the article. I repeat what I argued with John Wilkins about in another thread, if the church (all churches) stood up to secular society, instead of trying to be a part of it, and said “Enough!” to Hollywood, to anything goes discipline in schools, to anything goes discipline of parents, to anything goes government employees and politicians … if they all stood up and said, “God wants to be a part of any relationship you have with another, and that means committing to that person for a lifetime before God and with God as a part of that relationship before you engage in the most unique and wonderful communication you can have with that person, sexual intercourse, i.e. get married and commit to each other before God and the church,” then would not society rein itself in? The immediate response from secular society might be scoffing. But the ultimate response would be to raise the standards and delay sexual gratification until the right time.

  3. TonyinCNY says:

    Interesting article. Before seminary I was the lay chaplain at the Episcopal University Center at the University of Florida. I was invited to a lecture at the Presbyterian Center (PCUSA) given by a sociology professor from UF. The Presbyterian chaplain introduced the prof and in the intro talked about what a profound effect this prof had had on a number of students. During his lecture the prof gave a number of sociological reasons why young singles had sex before marriage. He ended his talk by basically saying you can’t fight the raging hormones and he advocated a vague love ethic (sex is permissable if there is “real” love between the partners). To my surprise the Christian educators in the audience from mostly area Presbyterian churches expressed agreement with the prof and talked about how parents are neanderthals and that they couldn’t safely (meaning without risking their jobs) support his viewpoint in their congregations. My conclusion is that anyone in a mainline congregation has to do a lot of parental teaching and keep close tabs on what kids are told even in church.

  4. Dale Rye says:

    The statistics in the article are pretty much consistent with everything published in the last 20 years (except that the median age at first intercourse has fallen again, to around 16.5 from the 16.8 that was seen in most studies last decade). Persons who self-identify as Evangelicals have significantly higher rates of early sex, domestic violence, and divorce than non-Evangelicals. Some studies show that abstinence-only programs and virginity pledges delay sexual activity by 18 months (still before the average age at high-school graduation), but produce higher rates of unprotected sex, while other studies show no effect at all.

    Adults talking to young people about sex (one way or the other) has no long-term effect at all, because the key influence is the peer group. If that is a tight-knit set that is religiously observant and regards chastity as socially important, it does have an effect. Otherwise, the only practical way to lower the premarital sex rate is to significantly lower the median age of marriage by providing support (education, health care, babysitting, etc.) for young families. True love waits, but not for very long.

  5. Reactionary says:


    You’ve almost got it right. The better ideal would be twenty year old parents raising an infant with the assistance of forty year old grandparents, along with nearby cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. And your post raises another issue: the increasingly suspect practice of keeping sexually mature people capable of indepent thought in classrooms through at least age 18.

  6. Navorser says:

    Sex allied to religion: yes! The church does interfere in this subject.