In November, The Michigan Daily administered a women’s health survey to 1,000 randomly selected respondents at the University of Michigan campus. There were 147 respondents, with 115 self-identifying as female.
The following article includes data collected in this survey, particularly with regard to beliefs about sex on campus.
From a young age, LSA senior Ariana Headrick considered premarital sex a healthy and important component of a relationship. In contrast, LSA junior Alexis Babbitt, a volunteer team leader for the Christian ministry organization Young Life, does not believe in premarital sex because of personal and religious reasons, and thinks it can be damaging for relationships.
According to a women’s health survey administered by The Michigan Daily to female students in November, both of these views are prevalent on campus, though the latter is much more common. Of the 50 people who responded to this question, 72 percent of respondents said they have parents who oppose premarital sex, and of the 25 who responded to this subsequent question, 28 percent said they oppose premarital sex.
Many respondents identified a variety of factors that influence opinion and belief about premarital sex, including religion, individual values and culture. The data from the survey indicated that 56 percent of students feel their parents’ religion influences how they view health issues.
Respondents represented a wide range of religions, such as Christianity (50.41 percent), Judaism (5.69 percent), Hinduism (3.25 percent) and Islam (0.81 percent).
One student, who asked not to be named due to familial concerns, said her parents grew up in south India and have conservative Christian views about relationships and marriage.
“My parents don’t believe in premarital sex because of the Bible, because of religious reasons,” she said. “They don’t want guys to be a distraction when it comes to school.”
However, she noted that her parent’s opposition to premarital sex, she is sexually active, hiding her relationships and atheism from her parents.
“I don’t talk to my parents when it comes to that kind of stuff because they are conservative,” she said. “They don’t even want me to see a gynecologist.”
For many teens and young adults, sex education takes place primarily through conversations with peers. Views of premarital sex are context-dependent, influenced by the environment in which individuals are brought up and the friends with whom they surround themselves, making a campus enviornment host to many different views.
Headrick credits her willingness to talk about sex to the communities she’s involved in, including her role as peer facilitator at the University’s Program on Intergroup Relations — a social justice education program — and position as president of the Eugene V. Debs Cooperative House.
“I tend to surround myself with people who are open to talking about things,” Headrick said. “In general, it is very stigmatized, but you can find pockets where it’s celebrated and encouraged to communicate about sex.”
For there to be a reduction in the stigma she sees around sex, Headrick said, there needs to be an understanding of why premarital sex is important.
“First of all, if you are thinking about marrying someone, you should have sex before so you know that you are going to enjoy your lifetime of sex,” Headrick said. “I think it’s an important part of your life, and if you end up with someone you are not compatible with, that would be a bummer.”
However, Babbitt, who plans to pursue a career in full time ministry after graduation, said for those that practice the teachings of the Bible devoutly, premarital sex is wrong and should be saved for marriage. While Babbitt opposes premarital sex partly because of her religious beliefs, she also said she thought sex can be damaging to relationships and should be postponed.
“I have witnessed so many couples get caught up in sex and don’t end up resolving issues,” Babbitt said. “There is increased jealousy and problems. I think a lot of problems come up when a couple starts having sex.”
The survey results also found that many students are not engaged in open communication with their parents on a number of health topics, including sexual health — only 4.35 percent of those surveyed said they talk with their parents about sexual activity “very often,” while 36.52 percent said they never talk with their parents about sexual activity.
Respondents attributed this lack of communication largely to the fact that they have different views than their parents and that they would rather talk to peers or medical professionals.
In contrast to the overall trend, Babbitt said she feels like she can talk openly to her parents about issues surrounding sex despite their differing viewpoints. While Babbitt said her parents do not oppose premarital sex, they support her decision to postpone having sex until marriage, support she said she feels lucky to have.
“I tell my parents everything,” Babbitt said. “If I told my parents I was having sex, they would be concerned because they know how dead set I am on this. They wouldn’t be upset that I actually had sex.”