Article: 19731101082

Title: Sexual Behavior in the 1970s Part II: Premarital Sex

Sexual Behavior in the 1970s Part II: Premarital Sex
HMH Publishing Co., Inc.
I didn't know what great was.... I've been going with a girl for a year now, and with her, everything we do is special. I'm not just in there to have myself a time--I'm making love to her, and she to me. --Male, 24 (carpenter)
Morton Hunt

I didn't know what great was.... I've been going with a girl for a year now, and with her, everything we do is special. I'm not just in there to have myself a time--I'm making love to her, and she to me. --Male, 24 (carpenter)

Only after we started sleeping together did the relationship develop real depth--and the sex, as a result, has become much more satisfying than ever. --Female, 23 (student)

What matters most to me is balling absolutely wildly with someone new--real knockout stuff, getting to her and getting the maximum turn-on for myself. --Male, 27 (salesman)

The Playboy national sex survey finds that in the generation since Dr. Alfred Kinsey did his studies, the sexual-liberation movement has made sweeping changes in the traditional attitudes of Americans toward premarital coitus and in the sexual behavior of the unmarried young.

Kinsey, using data from 11,000 of the interviews he conducted from 1938 through 1949, found that six out of ten college-educated men had moral objections to premarital intercourse that were strong enough to have restrained or limited their own activities. Noncollege men were less moralistic, but one out of four felt the same way. Among women, educational level mattered little; nine tenths of Kinsey's female sample had moral views that prevented or restricted premarital coital activities. Public-opinion and student-opinion polls showed only moderate increases in permissiveness as late as the Sixties.

The recently completed Playboy survey, however, finds a dramatic shift in national attitudes. Women are not quite as permissive as men, but, taking both sexes together, a large majority of our 2026 respondents feels that premarital coitus is acceptable if the individuals are engaged, or even only in love. Even where there is "strong affection" rather than love, a majority feels that it is all right for men and nearly half feel that it is all right for women.

The new permissiveness is most advanced and most widespread among the young. Nearly nine out of ten men under 25 feel that premarital coitus is all right for men and eight out of ten, that it is all right for women, where there is only strong affection. Under-25 women are somewhat less permissive, but six out of ten condone it for women where there is only strong affection and nine out of ten where there is love.

There is a surprising degree of tolerance of premarital sex in the general population, even when there is little or no emotional relationship between the partners. Six out of ten men and nearly four out of ten women in our total sample sanction coitus for single males where strong affection is lacking; and four out of ten men and two out of ten women do so for single females. Here, too, the percentages of those who approve it are highest among the young. Nevertheless, in every age group, the stronger the emotional commitment between partners, the larger is the percentage of those who approve. Today's adults are becoming more accepting of premarital sex without affection, but not even the young prefer it; their guiding attitude is what sociologist Ira Reiss has called "permissiveness with affection." This, rather than swinging, has replaced the historic belief in premarital chastity.

Our sample, taken as a whole, has had more, and more rewarding, premarital petting and premarital coitus than Kinsey's. Among people under 35, the changes are considerable; among people under 25, they are really extraordinary.

Petting, that curious compromise by which the young manage to have intense sexual experience while preserving virginity, is both more common and less important than formerly. Kinsey reported that very large majorities of single men and single women had petted by the time they reached their late teens and early 20s; today, the majorities are even larger, though the increases are not very great, since the figures already were high. More importantly, the character of petting has altered. Only a little more than a quarter of Kinsey's males had ever petted to orgasm by the age of 25, while more than two thirds of ours have done so in just the past year. (In all direct comparisons with Kinsey, we used data based on our white respondents, because Kinsey's data were based on whites only.) Only about a quarter of Kinsey's younger women had ever experienced orgasm through petting by the age of 20 and about two fifths by the age of 25; of our single women between 18 and 24, substantially more than half--and possibly many more--did so in just the past year.

Nevertheless, petting has become less important--no longer a long-term compromise or a sexual end in itself; today it is a relatively brief period of training in action and response that is transformed into coital foreplay, which is becoming standard premarital behavior at all levels.

The figures:

• A little more than two thirds of Kinsey's noncollege males had had coitus by the time they were 17; today the figure is closer to three quarters. For men who eventually go to college, the increase is more dramatic: In Kinsey's sample, fewer than one out of four had had any coitus by the age of 17, while in our sample, half have done so. At 20 and 25, Kinsey's figures are higher--and ours higher yet.

• For females, the increases show up at all educational levels. Fewer than a tenth of Kinsey's females had had any premarital coitus by 17, and only a third by 25; in our sample, more than twice as many have done so by 17 and, by 25, nearly half of the married women and three quarters of the single ones have had premarital coitus.

• The recency and the sweep of this change can be seen even more clearly in comparisons of the premarital records of each age group of married people in our survey. Most of the increase in premarital coitus, especially among females, has occurred within the past 15 years: clearly, in five to ten years, premarital coitus will be all but universal among the young.

Ever Had Premarital Coitus (total married sample)

Under 25




55 & up













Remarkable as these figures are, they by no means imply a total break with the cultural values of the past. Today's unmarried young, by and large, are not indiscriminate, they do not practice kinky sex and, while they want sex to be physically intense, they also want it to be emotionally meaningful.

One clue to their swinging-caring balance is the number of premarital coital partners they have. Although there are no data on this for males in Kinsey, we can look for change by comparing older males in our sample with younger ones. Married males 35 and over have had a median of six premarital coital partners, and the median for married males under 35 is still six; that is, there has been no significant increase in casual sex. (Medians are midpoints; half of the males in question had fewer partners, half had more.)

Kinsey does give data on the premarital partners of females. Of those in his sample who had had premarital coitus, a little more than half had had only one partner. The same was true of the females in the Playboy sample, even among the younger women. There is undoubtedly more casual coitus among single people today than a generation ago, but most ofit seems to occur among those who are 25 and older. More than three fifths of all single people are under 25, and their dominant sexual pattern is not casual or indiscriminate.

Further, while many more single girls are having coitus, they do so with men they love and hope to marry--as did girls a generation and more ago. The figures:

Premarital Coital Partners of Married Females


Born before 1900

Born 1910--1919

Fiancé only



Others only



Fiancé and others



Playboy Survey:

Born 1938--1947

Born 1948--1955

Fiancé only



Others only



Fiancé and others



Yet more evidence: Among under-25 singles, only about one male out of six and one female out of 20 have ever experienced such impersonal forms of sexual contact as partner swapping and sex with more than one partner simultaneously, and most of these have done so only once.

Sexual liberation notwithstanding, many worries and tensions still surround the first premarital coital experience. Peer-group pressure pushes many young people into coitus before they are ready for it, and only four out of ten young males and two out of ten young females find the first experience "very" pleasurable. (Some others find it "mostly" pleasurable.) More than a third of our young males and close to two thirds of our young females experienced regret and worry afterward; and even after many experiences, a fair number continue to worry about pregnancy and V. D. and to be troubled by emotional and moral conflicts. Moreover, a new, contemporary problem concerns performance. As John Gagnon and William Simon, sociologists and former Kinsey Institute associates, put it, "The kid who worries that he has debased himself is replaced by the kid who worries that he isn't making sex a spectacular event."

Though they worry about performance, single men and women today are much more adept and less inhibited in their premarital coitus than their precursors were. They spend a reasonable amount of time in foreplay--the median duration is more than 15 minutes--much of it in highly advanced techniques. The increase in oral-genital practices since Kinsey's time is particularly noteworthy:

Oral-Genital Foreplay Used Premaritally

(high school and college-level males combined)


Playboy Survey









Today's singles also are much freer in their use of variant coital positions. Our single people are at least twice as likely as were Kinsey's to use, occasionally to often, the female-above, on-the-side, sitting and standing positions--and rear-entry vaginal intercourse is reported by 37 percent of our young single females, or six times as many as in Kinsey's. Anal intercourse was so uncommon in the Forties that Kinsey published no data on it: today, more than one sixth of single males and females under 25 who have had coitus have tried anal intercourse, and nine percent of the males and six percent of the females used it--at least occasionally--in the past year.

Kinsey published no figures on the duration of premarital coitus; he did say, however, that some three quarters of married males reached orgasm within two minutes, and there are other indications in his survey that single males were just about as speedy. Single males (and females) today have a different concept of the act: The median duration in our 18-to-24 group is ten minutes, according to males, and 15 minutes, according to females. (The discrepancy is due to the subjective nature of the estimates.) In the 25-to-34 cohort, the medians for both male and female are 15 minutes.

Those singles who are having coitus are doing so more often today. In the Kinsey sample, single males 16 to 25 who were having coitus (with nonprostitutes) had a median frequency of 23 times a year; in our sample, the median is 33. For women, the increase is even more striking: The Kinsey median for single women 16 to 20 was once every five weeks, and for women 21 to 25 once every three weeks, as compared with more than once a week for our 18-to-24 cohort.

But are they enjoying it more than their Kinsey counterparts did? The greater freedom and sensuousness of present-day premarital coitus would seem to suggest this. But there is more concrete proof, at least as far as females are concerned: According to Kinsey, only about half of the young single females who were having coitus were having any orgasms at all. As compared with three quarters in our survey; further, considerably more of those in our sample than in Kinsey's have orgasms at least half the time, and the median frequency of more than one coital orgasm every two weeks is three times as high as in Kinsey's sample.

Compelling as they are, these numerical abstractions do not portray the mixture of concern and pride, of sensuality and emotional sincerity, that is typical of contemporary premarital coitus. We have seen in the statements by young people at the beginning of this article that while some of the young stress the purely physical, more typically they speak of the special meaning that sex has in a caring relationship and they report their peak sexual experiences as occurring only with partners with whom they have loving relationships.

The sex ethic of most young single people today is essentially liberal-romantic; the much-touted philosophy of recreational sex is definitely a minority view.

This is the second in a series of articles reporting the results of a comprehensive Playboy Foundation--funded survey of sex in America. Morton Hunt's full report will be published as a book, "Sexual Behavior in the 1970s," by Playboy Press.