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POLICY: Cohn and the wanna-be abstinents, by Jonathan Cohn

I was somewhat doubtful about the Harris Poll on abstinence last week. (Non)-Volvo-driving, latte-drinking Jonathan Cohn actually knows something about abstinence. Not that I’m sure what that says about Harvard in the early 1990s but here’s what he told me.
I wonder about the results of that WSJ poll on abstinence.  I strongly suspect the wording gave a skewed result — as in skewed towards abstinence — perhaps because the word "abstinence" makes the idea seem more favorable. I actually researched this very question not long ago for an article.  When you ask about "sex before marriage," rather than abstinence, you get a much different set of results.  Here’s gallup’s tracking on this, up through 2001, the last time they asked the question…

39. There is a lot of discussion about the way morals and sexual attitudes are changing in this country. What is your opinion about this? Do you think it is wrong for a man and a woman to have sexual relations before marriage, or not?

BASED ON — 491 — NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A; ±5 PCT. PTS.

Yes, wrong

No, not wrong

No opinion

2001 May 10-14

38

60

2

1998 Nov 20-22

40

56

4

1996 May 28-29

40

55

6

1991 Aug 29-Sep 3

40

54

6

1987 Jul 10-13

46

48

6

1985 Apr 12-15

39

52

9

1973 Jul 6-9

47

43

9

1969 Jul 24-29

68

21

11

And here, for good measure, is a press release from Concerned Women For America (last seen lobbying against Plan B) pointing to the poll as proof of our society’s moral decay:

>Also, an ABC primetime live poll from last year had the number at 61 percent overall saying it’s ok to have premarital sex.  That’s pretty damn close to 60, which gives me confidence that it’s correct.
Now, as for your question whether there are some hypocrites out there, this Kaiser/ABC poll from April 1998 seems to answer that question — in the affirmative:

Q34. Did you have sex before you got married?

Based on those currently or ever married, n=910

66 Yes30 No4 Don’t know/Refused

I also seem to recall CDC data suggesting a much higher figure among people married in the last ten years, although of course that skews heavily by age so that’s not so surprising. Alas, all of this probably means the support for universal health care isn’t as high as the wsj poll suggests.  But, of course, you and I both knew that already…

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