For more than a year, I’ve been writing the Pure Sex, Pure Love column for BustedHalo. We’ve covered some big topics: When to bring up your faith in a new relationship, how to make sure you are being open to meeting the right person, and, of course, the thorny topics of sex – is premarital sex always a sin, and how far is too far when it comes to intimacy before marriage?
As a social scientist, I’ve used online polls to get a sense of what BustedHalo readers think about these topics. Through the answers I receive, I hope to take a snapshot of the opinions of the young-adult Catholic community as a whole.
Usually, the poll for the upcoming column is posted alongside the previous week’s column. A few weeks later when I’m writing the next column, I tally the results that have accumulated and report my findings.
But the story doesn’t end there. My columns-and those polls-remain posted on BustedHalo and continue to attract many new readers and numerous responders all the time.
Did more responses change the results? Absolutely, you’ll be surprised by what I found.
In the spirit of offering Pure Sex, Pure Love readers the most current and accurate information, I’m here with an update on the most popular topics of the last year.
Be careful of statistics, percentages and opinion polls. They don’t always tell you the whole story.
According to psychologists who study interpersonal interactions, more than 90% of the impression we get from someone comes from their body language, tone, speed and inflection of voice. Men and women flirt with short, repetitive glances, by leaning in and whispering, and offering lingering smiles. Women tend to lick their lips and toss their head when flirting, and men tend to square their shoulders, stroke their tie and raise their eyebrows.
Flirting guides advise men and women to stand apart from their friends to make themselves approachable on the theory that it’s more intimidating to insert yourself into a tightly-knit group than it is to casually chat up someone standing alone at the bar. BustedHalo readers seemed to agree initially-but as more readers responded, it turns out young-adult Catholic men are bolder than we first thought:
In my initial article I reported that 38% of BustedHalo male readers and 23% of BustedHalo female readers said they would introduce themselves to a group of people so they could talk to one person in particular.
After scores more responses in the intervening months, 61% of BustedHalo male readers say they’d take the gutsy step of infiltrating the group and introducing themselves, while 35%–more than one-third!-of women said they’d do the same thing.
I love these results! Keep it up-being outgoing is a really important step toward meeting the right person!
The Catholic Church teaches that sex should be reserved for marriage, and needs to serve the dual purposes of procreation and the sacramental joining of husband and wife in the bond of marriage. Many young people clearly struggle with these teachings, including many unmarried couples in committed relationships who wonder where the appropriate line is for them.
We at BustedHalo tackled this question head-on. I asked readers whether they had engaged in premarital sex-and if they thought it was a sin. In the original results, nearly 70% of BustedHalo readers responding to our survey said that they have had premarital sex – and 54% say they believe that it was a sin. Almost nine months later, I’ve re-tallied the results and with more respondents weighing in, young-adult Catholics are looking more chaste: Some 57% of BustedHalo respondents say they have had premarital sex-down from that original 70%–and nearly 60% believe that sex before marriage is a sin, compared with the original 54%.
It’s impossible to know whether it’s more than one-half or nearly three-quarters of young-adult Catholics who have had premarital sex – but regardless of the exact percentage it’s an issue young people in the Church are concerned about.
The Nitty-Gritty on Sex
Along the same lines, I asked readers when they thought the appropriate time was to have sex in a relationship. In the original survey, 53% said marriage was the only appropriate time for sex. After nine months and more responses, that percentage has increased to 62%. Again, we’re looking more chaste!
We also asked about sexual intimacy before marriage-what’s in bounds and what’s not-and readers expressed diverse opinions. Some readers said kissing, handholding and hugging are the only acceptable forms of intimacy before marriage. Other readers said anything short of intercourse is acceptable within a committed relationship.
In the original survey 75% of readers responding to our survey said that oral sex is a sin on par with premarital intercourse. After nearly 100 more responses during the past few months, that percentage has dropped to 62%.
The good news: More than half of BustedHalo readers in all our polls say they have spoken to a priest about sex.
The Take-Home Message
So what do all these numbers mean? Well, first of all, I’ll tell you something you won’t hear very often from a social scientist: While these snap-shots of a select group of BustedHalo readers are fascinating, just because 75% of readers say something, doesn’t mean it’s true, or what God wants us to do. Be careful of statistics, percentages and opinion polls. They don’t always tell you the whole story.
Second, the more of you who respond-and respond honestly-to our BustedHalo polls, the better! More responses mean more precise results. The BustedHalo readers are doing a fantastic job so far. Keep those responses coming in, and I’ll keep reporting the latest findings. Obtaining an accurate reading of what young adult Catholics believe and how we act is important. I know from the numerous emails I continue to receive that priests and lay people in the Church are paying attention.
And one final plug: This column is for you and about you, so if there are any topics you’d like me to cover, please send your thoughts and comments to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll try to get them in as soon as possible.
Thanks for continuing to read!