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42 Percent of Americans Say Teen Sex Is ‘Morally Acceptable’

FILE - In this Aug. 29, 2013 file photo, students walk through the halls during an open house for incoming freshman and transfer students at a high school in Philadelphia. In the United States, a growing number of Americans think sex between teenagers is morally acceptable.
U.S. Views on Teenage Sex
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In the United States, a growing number of Americans think sex between teenagers is morally acceptable.

Of those questioned in a recent survey, 54 percent said they think teenage sex is morally wrong. But 42 percent said they think it is acceptable.

Gallup, a well-known research company, asked 1,000 adults in the United States what they thought about teenage sex. Researchers spoke with them by telephone in the first two weeks of May 2018.

Gallup first asked this question in 2013. Since then, the percentage who said that teenage sex is morally acceptable has risen 10 percentage points. In the past year alone, that rate has climbed six percentage points.


The 2018 survey also found that a person’s age can make a difference. Different age groups had different opinions about teenage sex. Perhaps not surprisingly, more young adults than older adults said they think teenage sex was fine.

Among young people, from 18 to 29 years of age, 59 percent said it was morally acceptable. For Americans aged 65 or over, that number was about half. Only 31 percent said it was acceptable.


Also, a person’s religious beliefs affected how that person felt about teenage sex.

The more often Americans went to religious services, the more likely they were to oppose sex between teenagers. Among adults who "seldom or never" go to church, 54 percent said it is acceptable. For those who go to a religious service nearly weekly or monthly, 34 percent said it was acceptable. But only 20 percent of weekly churchgoers said that it was acceptable.


Political beliefs also affect opinions about teenage sex. A majority of those who describe themselves as liberal said sex between teens is acceptable (about 60 percent.) But only 26 percent of conservatives said that it was.

Gallup officials released a statement after they released the findings. In it, they make this observation. "Whether sex between teenagers continues to become more accepted among Americans could largely hinge on the views of adults younger than 30 ..." Most of those under the age of 30 said that teen sex was morally acceptable.

The statement added that if young adults "carry their views with them as they age," accepting premarital teenage sex could become a more mainstream viewpoint. But if their opinions become more conservative as they age, "teenage sex could remain a practice that most Americans feel is morally wrong."

In 2017, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 40 percent of American high school students reported having sex. But even with that high number, teenage birth rates continue to fall. In 2015, teen birth rates hit a "historic" low. They were down eight percent from those in 2014.

Now let's talk about sex between adults before they get married. On that subject, Gallup found that nearly 70 percent of Americans thinks premarital sex is morally acceptable. Only 28 percent said it is morally wrong.

So, while most adults in the U.S. feel that premarital sex is morally acceptable, these opinions do not necessarily extend to teenagers.

I'm Anna Matteo.

Matt Hilburn reported this story for VOA News in Washington. Anna Matteo adapted it for Learning English. George Grow edited the story.


Words in This Story

survey n. an activity in which many people are asked a question or a series of questions in order to gather information about what most people do or think about something

teenage – adj. relating to people who are between 13 and 19 years old

seldom – adv. not often : almost never

church n. a building that is used for Christian religious services

hinge on phrasal verb. to be determined or decided by (something) : to depend on (something)

premarital – adj. happening before marriage

mainstream – adj. the thoughts, beliefs, and choices that are accepted by the largest number of people

practice n. something that is done often or regularly