Adolescents and the Benefits of Saving Sex for Marriage

Pediatricians are in a unique position to encourage adolescents to make healthy life choices, especially in the realm of sexuality. Given the adverse consequences of early sexual activity—physically, emotionally, and even financially—pediatricians can promote risk avoidance strategies for adolescents.

American media saturate youth culture with sexual images, thereby desensitizing them and promoting early sexualization, as well as encouraging adolescents to make bad choices about sex. Among high school students surveyed in 2013 in the United States, 46.8% stated they have had at least one experience of sexual intercourse. In 1991, 54.1% of teens had sexual experience. It is encouraging that more adolescents today are choosing abstinence.

Most parents consider premarital sex unacceptable (based on a survey of American parents and adolescents released in August 2010 by the Department of Health and Human Services).

Many health professionals endorse the concept that teen sex is an inevitable outcome of adolescent growth and development, so their educational focus is on the anatomic and physiologic aspects of sexual health, typically without mention of the adverse consequences of adolescent sexual experimentation.

  • As advocates for the health and well-being of young people, pediatricians should promote the healthiest option: sexual abstinence until marriage. Teens who are sexually abstinent avoid many physical, emotional, and financial problems and can thus devote more time and energy to academics, extracurricular activities, and pursuit of their dreams.
  • Medical professionals should not give teens the impression that they can have “safe sex” by using condoms and other contraception measures, nor should they downplay the psychological injury (i.e., depression, anxiety, guilt, alcohol and drug abuse, remorse) that accompanies casual sex or an abortion.
  • We should partner with parents (and educate those who have chosen to believe that adolescent sexual activity is inevitable) to give a consistent message to parents and young people that abstinence is the best choice for their children’s health and well-being and is achievable. It is not simply a matter of preventing unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

The benefits of saving sex until marriage are huge. Abstinent teens are more likely than sexually active teens to: finish high school and college; have a happy marriage; not get divorced (girls who are virgins through adolescence are about half as likely to divorce; the divorce risk is also lowered for boys if they choose to wait); and not experience mental health problems as an adult.

Adolescent sexual activity has no lasting benefits, but many possible consequences, such as unintended pregnancy, STIs, infertility from STIs, mental health struggles (low self-esteem, guilt, depression, anxiety, suicide, alcohol and drug abuse), and increased divorce risk due to difficulty bonding with and trusting a future marital partner. Non-coital behaviors such as oral sex, anal sex, and mutual masturbation are often not considered by teens as “sex,” yet these behaviors can also affect adolescents negatively both physically and mentally.

Teen sexual activity adds nothing to healthy adolescent development and has major costs, both to the individual and to society. Abstinent behavior can save society billions of dollars that are used to treat STIs and provide welfare support for young, unmarried parents as well as for care of their infants, who are more likely to have developmental and behavioral difficulties.

This conversation usually occurs during pre-teen and teen visits.
This conversation involves the young teens.
Ask the teen: Do you really want to marry someone who has had sex with multiple partners?
Most people don’t. Most young people who are saving sex for marriage are looking for someone else who has also waited. Girls should be told that there is much to be said for a man who demonstrates the self-control and conviction to save sex until marriage. Such a man is much less likely to cheat on them in the future.
Did you know that when you have sex with someone your brain releases a hormone (oxytocin) that promotes strong bonding to that person?
This bonding effect from oxytocin is like emotional glue, providing a powerful connection that can result in great emotional pain if or when the relationship is broken. If you have multiple sex partners, the secretion of oxytocin loses much of its bonding effects (almost like tape that loses its stickiness after being applied and removed multiple times).
This is very difficult to handle emotionally and could make it very hard for you to trust and bond with your future husband or wife. Many teens also find that if they have sex with their boyfriend/girlfriend it complicates their relationship and makes it very hard to determine if that is the person they want to marry.
When the teens are together, they are told by the media to expect a sexual experience. Other forms of communication are ignored or diminished.
Breaking up with a boyfriend/girlfriend with whom you have had sex is often very difficult and may cause teens to feel depressed, anxious, or even suicidal.
These feelings tend to worsen when repeated breakups occur. Most teens regret sexual activity outside of marriage and often feel ashamed or feel they have lost their self-respect. This also applies to sexual activity besides intercourse, such as oral sex.
Did you know that there is an epidemic of STIs in our nation? Each year, 25% of sexually active teens contract an STI. For some STIs (such as herpes), there is no cure.
When you have sexual contact with another person, remember you will be exposed to all the infections that person has. Think of this as having sex with every person your partner has had sex with. Female adolescents should know they are considerably more susceptible to STIs than men. Several of the common STIs can damage a woman’s internal female organs so it may be difficult to have babies later on. Many teens do not even know they have an infection, such as chlamydia, that may lead to infertility.
How do you feel about cohabitation?
Many young people believe that cohabiting with someone before marriage is a good idea to see if they are compatible. However, research shows that if you live with someone before marriage you are actually more likely to divorce and less likely to have a happy marriage.
How do you think the music you listen to and the TV you watch will affect your behaviors towards abstinence?
Be careful of the type of TV and movies you watch and the type of music you listen to. Hollywood rarely portrays the traumatic aftermath that occurs in the lives of unmarried people having sex.
A lot of teens who choose to save sex for marriage ask the question, “How far is too far?”
There isn’t a simple answer to this, but it is important to remember that there is a natural tendency to progress toward greater intimacy with each other. So it is very important to talk about this with your boyfriend/girlfriend ahead of time and then stick firmly to that agreement. Make plans to avoid tempting situations where you will be alone together. Avoid alcohol because drinking lessens your ability to make healthful decisions. One good way to think about this may be to not do anything together that you wouldn’t feel comfortable doing in front of your parents or Grandma.

Do you know the N.I.C.E. way to say “No?”

N – N is for No. No” is said with a firm and low voice. “No” is said with a firm look. No” is said while looking the other person directly in the eyes. Not “I don’t think so” or “not now,” which  shows weakness

I – is for an “I” statement. (“I don’t go with strangers” or “I don’t drink because …”)

C – is for a change of plans, people, or topics. (“I need to check with Julia over there about tomorrow’s game” or “I’m feeling sick to my stomach” or “How ‘bout those Cardinals?”)

E – E is for “Exit.” Each teen always needs a safe way home.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexual risk behavior: HIV, STD, & teen pregnancy prevention.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Trends in the prevalence of sexual behaviors and HIV testing, national YRBS: 1991-2013.


  1. American College of Pediatricians position statement, “Abstinence Education,”
  2. Flying High: Helping Teens Choose Abstinence by Douglas Abbott and Joseph White (
  3. Your Kids at Risk: How Teen Sex Threatens Our Sons and Daughters by Meg Meeker, MD (
  4. Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting Our Children by Joe McIlhaney Jr. and Freda Bush ( )
  5. God’s Design for Sex series by Carolyn Nystrom (series of four books for kids/teens, each targeted to a different age group) ( )
  6. Handout: Strategies for Parents of Teens (
  7. Handout: Strategies for Teens (
  8. Handout: How Far is Too Far? (
  9. Handout: Facts About Cohabitation for Teens and Young Adults (