Relatively extensive evidence has established that more religious adolescents tend to delay first sexual intercourse. In a paper that Sara Vasilenko and I published last year, we wanted to examine whether this association, usually assumed to be in this direction (from religiosity to sexual behavior), was actually bidirectional. We used the 100 participants from the University Life Study who transitioned to first intercourse between their first and seven semester in college. Our findings demonstrated that 12 months after transitioning to first intercourse, students attended religious services less frequently and viewed religion as less important than they had prior to first intercourse.
The upshot? The more religiously engaged your kids are, the more likely it is they will delay first sexual intercourse, BUT, if religious kids do have sex outside of marriage, it tends to kill their desire for religious involvement. The upshot for parents is two fold; First, work hard to cultivate rituals like family prayer and worship and carve out regular time for your kids to develop a personal prayer life. Second, if your kids do end up having sex before marriage, you don’t have to condone their behavior, but make sure to bombard them with your love, forgiveness and guidance and make sure they know that God loves them no matter what they have done. As the saying goes, the Church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints. By all means, let’s work hard to give our kids the skills they need to maintain their virtue, but if they fall, let’s remind them that they are loved and welcome in the Church.
For more information on how to raise kids who can make godly choices in all their relationships, check out Beyond the Birds and the Bees: The Catholic Guide to Raising Sexually Whole and Holy Kids! You don’t have to go it alone. Let us help you do the most important work a parent can do; teach your kids how to love rightly and love well.