Synopses & Reviews
As is evident from contemporary debates about sex education, Americans remain deeply ambivalent about teenage sexuality. While many presume that such reticence is rooted in religion, how exactly religion contributes to the formation of teenagers' sexual values and behaviors has been poorly understood before now. Does religion really motivate the sexual choices of a significant segment of adolescent society? Are abstinence pledges effective? Is there evidence for a "technical virginity" phenomenon among religious teenagers? What does it mean to be "emotionally ready" for sex? Who expresses regrets about their sexual activity and why?
Tackling these and other questions, Forbidden Fruit tells the definitive story of the sexual values and practices of American teenagers, paying particular attention to how participating in organized religion shapes sexual decision-making. Merging analyses of three national surveys of teenagers with stories from interviews with over 250 of them across America, Forbidden Fruit covers a wide range of topics, including sentiment about waiting to have sex until marriage, motivation to pursue sexual relationships, proclivity for same-sex attraction and behaviors, teenagers' experience of virginity loss, and the frequency of several heterosexual practices. Forbidden Fruit reveals the complexity of teenagers' sexual decision-making, documenting that religion affects their sexual attitudes, but that it does not often motivate their decisions to act. Instead, religion often accompanies other "secular" reasons for delaying sex, like concern for safeguarding one's educational future. Forbidden Fruit describes this largely religion-less "middle class sexual morality" in detail, and concludes with a new typology for documenting how religion shapes human action among adolescents and adults.
More broadly, however, Forbidden Fruit puts to rest inane fears about rampant teenage sexuality, concluding that most teenage sex is "traditional," while pointing out new evidence for disturbing trends both in particular sexual practices and how teenagers learn about human sexuality.
"A nuanced sociological treatment of the complex relationship between US teenage sexuality and religiosity. ...Regnerus brings large statistical surveys and secondary sources to life with personal interviews, and his clear prose and frank discussions make the book accessible. This up-to-date sociological study is a shining example of well-articulated research methodologies, statistical interpretations, and explorations of alternative explanations."--Choice
"Regnerus does an excellent job of combining large-scale survey results with vivid interviews to provide a comprehensive portrayal of how sexuality and religion are related in the lives of American adolescents. The book shows how sexuality and religion interact in complex and sometimes surprising ways. It addresses important topics few other books on either sexuality or religion in adolescence have addressed, such as masturbation and Internet pornography. Anyone interested in the lives of today's young Americans should read this book." --Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, author of Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road from the Late Teens Through the Twenties
"Forbidden Fruit is an iconoclastic book that shatters the sexual pieties of the religious right and the secular left. Mark Regnerus shows that churches and Christian parents--especially evangelical ones--have failed to steer their kids clear of sex because they hold out no compelling vision of the sexual good life. But he also shows that the secular left's faith in 'healthy' teen sex is chimerical: adolescents who have had sex look worse on all the outcomes that scholars and parents care about. This important book is bound to get parents, pastors, and scholars talking." -- W. Bradford Wilcox, author of Soft Patriarchs, New Men: How Christianity Shapes Fathers and Husbands
"I've waited for this book my entire ministry. It used to be that only skeptics and mystics noticed the interplay between sexuality and spirituality in young people--but Regnerus confronts the parallels head on as a sociologist, and dares the church to do the same. Forget "forbidden": Forbidden Fruit should be required reading for anyone who loves young people." Kenda Creasy Dean, parent, pastor, professor and author of Practicing Passion: Youth and the Quest for a Passionate Church
"An eye-opening read for those who share concerns about adolescent health and well-being." --Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion
Americans remain deeply ambivalent about teenage sexuality. Many presume that such uneasiness is rooted in religion. But how exactly does religion contribute to the formation of teenagers' sexual values and actions? What difference, if any, does religion make in adolescents' sexual attitudes and behaviors? Are abstinence pledges effective? What does it mean to be "emotionally ready" for sex? Who expresses regrets about their sexual activity and why?
Tackling these and other questions, Forbidden Fruit tells the definitive story of the sexual values and practices of American teenagers, paying particular attention to how participating in organized religion shapes sexual decision-making. Merging analyses of three national surveys with stories drawn from interviews with over 250 teenagers across America, Mark Regnerus reviews how young people learn-and what they know-about sex from their parents, schools, peers and other sources. He examines what experiences teens profess to have had, and how they make sense of these experiences in light of their own identities as religious, moral, and responsible persons.
Religion can and does matter, Regnerus finds, but religious claims are often swamped by other compelling sexual scripts. Particularly interesting is the emergence of what Regnerus calls a new middle class sexual morality which has little to do with a desire for virginity but nevertheless shuns intercourse in order to avoid risks associated with pregnancy and STDs. And strikingly, evangelical teens aren't less sexually active than their non-evangelical counterparts, they just tend to feel guiltier about it. In fact, Regnerus finds that few religious teens have internalized or are even able to articulate the sexual ethic taught by their denominations. The only-and largely ineffective-sexual message most religious teens are getting is, "Don't do it until you're married." Ultimately, Regnerus concludes, religion may influence adolescent sexual behavior, but it rarely motivates sexual decision making.
About the Author
Mark D. Regnerus
is Associate Professor of Sociology and a Faculty Research Associate in the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin.