Investigating the Role of Religion-Supported Secular Programs for Explaining Initiation into First Sex


  • Acknowledgments: This study was generously supported with a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The author is grateful to Brittany Hayes for reading and commenting on earlier drafts of the article. Findings from this study were presented at the 2010 Annual Meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.

Amy Adamczyk, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York, 899 10th Ave., New York, NY 10019. E-mail:


Research finds that religious youth, compared to less religious youth, are more likely to delay their sexual debut (sometimes until marriage). This study is one of the first to examine the influence of involvement in religion-supported secular activities for shaping initiation into vaginal sex. Does involvement in religion-sponsored secular programs produce any health-related benefits for youth? Using two waves of data from the National Study of Youth and Religion this study finds that among teens who have engaged in some of the precursors to first sex, namely, sexual touching, involvement in religion-sponsored secular activities is associated with lower odds of having first sex between W1 and W2. Conservative attitudes about sex outside of marriage explain, in part, the relationship. Conversely, network overlap, the number of friends who belong to a youth group, and pressure from friends and partners to have sex do not significantly mediate the relationship.