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Research Paper on Sexual Behaviors of Young Adults in the United States

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Often times, students have to write research papers about sexual conduct and how it has changed over the last generation. The following sample research paper on sexual behaviors of young adults will clearly show how children tend to be more liberal with their sexual attitudes. This paper covers the field of sociology and is suited for college level quality. 

Sexual activity among young adults has remained a longstanding sociological issue in America. The moral and societal changes witnessed throughout America over the last several decades have been immense; and the root and fabrication of the American family has been altered from such change. In this paper, I will seek to understand teen and young adult sexual relationships aged 14-22 by identifying ways such intimacy connects to gender, age, education, parenting, health, and race to find any possible correlations, specifically hypothesizing that inferior education can be associated with or help to promote heightened sexual activity at a young age. Furthermore, the larger hypothesis of this research paper suggests that when all of the previously mentioned sociological classes (gender, age, etc.) are inferior, one will more likely have sexual encounters at a younger age. Many different socioeconomic issues have an impact on a young adult's sex life, and such examples serve as an illustration to understand a broader range of sociological trends in the United States.

Background Information on Sexual Behavior of Young Adults

To prepare for this paper's hypothesis, it was prudent to incorporate well-documented sociological research from various studies and academic journals. Primarily, the sources used from this paper findings in this paper were done from university professors in the field of sociology. While much of the research initially found was from contemporary studies, additional information has been attained to help acknowledge shifts in young adult sexual behavior over the past several decades. This study also focuses specifically on American young adult sexual intimacy, and while a few findings used are from different countries, they serve to illustrate American trends more explicitly. I have previously studied young adult sexual behaviors by looking at sociological studies that focused on the topic; however, after address my hypothesis, I have coded my data differently, choosing to acknowledge studies that may serve to hamper the strength of this paper's hypothesis. In doing so, this paper demonstrates a more full and complete sociological study of a specific age group, and helps to look at the impact alternative beliefs pertaining to youth sexual behavior can be shaped and looked at in an unbiased matter. 

Trends in Sexuality

To begin this study, it is important to note who is having sex in the United States and how general trends have shifted over the last several decades. Sociological studies completed prior to the twenty-first century help share insight into teen and young adult sexual intimacy, and one such study, completed in 1981, provides “data on 334 university students in a random sample,” and gives statistical evidence that “between 50 and 80% of university students report engaging in intercourse during their premarital dating years” (Knox and Wilson, 255). These statistics have stayed roughly similar in contemporary American society, yet some figures have suggested that young adult sexual activity has slightly dropped in recent years, and that in some cases, over 50% of students at private universities retained their virginity through college (Strzemien, 1). This data suggests that general social conceptions regarding sexual behavior have altered over the past few decades, however, it is important to note that Strzemien's work only looked at students at private universities, not at public ones, so it can also be suggested that students at public universities have a greater chance of becoming sexually active at younger age than their peers in similar private institutions. 

Furthermore, such results may stem from large class discrepancies that were not as prevalent as in the past. According to a study done by two sociologists, many young people are beginning to date and have sexual relations at far earlier ages than in the 1980's. The study emphasized that “the majority of adolescents [start] dating by 8th grade,” partially because “most adolescents prefer romantic partners and sexual activities that do not jeopardize their status amongst their peers,” presuming that such data only pertains to heterosexuals (McCarthy and Casey 944, 47). Thus, while sexual intimacy in college has dropped, it has increased for individuals without such education. The growth in American class discrepancies that has taken place in the country over the last several decades, with the collaboration of this statistical data, serves to suggest that individuals and young adults possessing a higher education may be more sexually abstinent, and that younger, less educated individuals, often those who have not yet attended college, are involved in greater sexual encounters.

Defining "Sexual Behavior" Among Young Adults

In order to fully address the hypothesis of this study, however, it is prudent to identify what many young adults recognize as “sexual behavior,” understanding how such information will illustrate sexual trends for many young people. In a recent study, “analysis of survey data from 326 undergraduates [with a median age of 19] at a large southeastern university revealed significant differences between men and women in their sexual beliefs” (McNeely). The sociological study also revealed that “men were more likely to think that oral sex is not sex; that cybersex is not cheating, that men can't tell if a woman is faking orgasm and that sex frequency drops in marriage” (McNeely). Meanwhile, women tended to believe that oral sex is sex, that cybersex is cheating, that faking orgasm does occur and that sex frequency stays high in marriage (read an Ultius research paper on how the internet has impacted dating). Little wonder there is frustration and disappointment between men and men as they include sexuality into their relationship. Implications and limitations of the data are suggested.” (McNeely). These differences suggest that young men and women have different conceptions of “sex” as both a definition as well as commonalities in experiences and that the study should monitor gender in regards to classifying information and details. 

Furthermore, men and women's perceptions of sexual relationships speak volumes about dating behaviors themselves. This becomes clear in the academic article, Dating Behaviors of College Students, as, “regarding intercourse, the tendency for men to want more sex quicker than in the dating relationship than women was again evident” (Knox and Wilson 256). Moreover, the study later reports that, “almost half the men felt intercourse was appropriate by the fifth date in contrast to about 25 percent of the women” (Knox and Wilson, 256). These gender differences show that one's social background and gender have an immense impact on that person's belief in sexual interactions.

Sexual Differences Between Men and Women

The differences between men and women and the two genders' conception of sexual encounters is vastly different, resulting in a sexual double standard. A study in which “descriptions for self and characteristics desired in respondents, thirty-three percent of women profiles provided information about their own children or about interest in having or enjoying children” (Bolig, 589). Moreover, the findings illustrate that a mere 8% of men stated they liked children, enjoyed their own children, or didn't want children (Bolig, 589). This study suggests that the perceptions about sex between men and women are vastly different, and that one's gender has an impact on general views on sexual behavior and its positive and negative externalities. While Bolig's study does not specifically target young adult sexual activity, he goes on to state that because of vastly different connotations of sexual intercourse between males and females, it can be suggested that women prefer having sex at a later age than their male counterparts, even while desiring a family at a younger age. The results of these findings will be analyzed more explicitly in the next several paragraphs, and will be incorporated with other sociological studies. 

The forefront of this sociological study according to the hypothesis, however, is to determine how an individual's education is impacted by one's sexual intimacy, a question which will be analyzed using several studies in the discipline. According to sociologist Theodore R. Fuller, there are drastic differences between the numbers of married sexual partners and “cohabiters”. Fuller illustrates that over 50% more married couples had an advanced degree in comparison with 29% of single men and women involved in sexual encounters, known in this study as “commuters,” and 19% of individuals in sexual relationships, detailed as “commuters” (Fuller, 232). The fact that married individuals, or those without marital sexual relationships, have a greater education than their unmarried sexually intimate counterparts suggests that one's that sexual activity and commitment to marriage may increase an individual's education. Moreover, these results illustrate that “those who cohabit may have a different set of expectations for a wide range of activities, circumstances, and social relations, compared to those who enter marital unions” (Fuller 225). The fact that individuals who “cohabit” or are involved in premarital sexual intercourse may have less of an educational background alludes to the hypothesis that one's sexual promiscuity can affect an individual's education. Thus, such findings can also be used to demonstrate how impacting one's decision to marry before engaging in long-term sexual relationships also has an impact on an individual's education, and preconceived social norms pertaining to sexual encounters. 

Sexuality, Wealth and Education Attainment

Research findings show the connection between education and wealth, and socioeconomic status also has an impact on sexual behavior. According to sociologist Adam Gorlick, “federal statistics show that 49 percent of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended” (1). Furthermore, Gorlick identifies that lower-educated women in their twenties account for more than half of all abortions, and that a group of researches at Stanford posed the question as to why more women in those groups are not consistently using birth control, especially when they don't want to get pregnant (Gorlick 1). One such explanation may stem from the lack of birth control being provided to lower-class Americans, as many institutions such as Planned Parenthood often struggle to reach out to such individuals. However, the staggering amount of lower-class abortions in comparison to other education brackets suggests that there is a correlation between one's socioeconomic status and sexual behavior, and that the more undereducated an individual is, the more abortions they will have. Thus, the fact that lower-educated women are at a significantly higher risk for having unwanted pregnancies (and sexual transmitted diseases) illustrates that inferior education may lead to more sexually promiscuous behavior. Gorlick's study also demonstrates that individuals with inferior education may not have the required tools necessary to counteract heightened sexual behavior, and that one's social status has an impact on such behavior. 

Furthermore, in a sociological study done by Andrea Rankin and Craig B. Little, the two individuals concluded that, “increased maternal education has been found to be associated with later age of adolescent first intercourse and socioeconomic status has been shown to be a factor in adolescent females' timing of first intercourse” (Rankin and Little 709). While this study is gender-bias, suggesting that increased education for females will provide for less sexual activity, it serves to illustrate an important sociological issue this paper hopes to define: that inferior education may lead to increased sexual activity. While other studies suggest that having sexual intercourse at an early age may not allude to inferior education, it can be concluded that one's education and sexual activity are associated, and that socioeconomic status has a great impact on an individual's sexual behavior. Such socioeconomic status may stem from parenting, living conditions, wealth, and media influence but it is obvious that education, both in schooling and in parenting is a vital factor in an individual's sexual activity, especially in females.

Premarital Sex and Cohabitation

Yet, the most information attainable about young adult sex life may stem from parental behavior and marital status. In a Princeton University study, it was found that “an astonishing 40 percent of all children born into the United States in 2007 were born into unwed parents and thus began life in fragile families, more than twice the rate in 1980 (18 percent) and an eightfold increase from the rate in 1960” (Waldfogel, Craigie, and Brooks-Gunn, 88). These differences not only illustrate the changes in social norms over the last fifty years, but may, in collaboration with other studies, serve to demonstrate the effect parental guidance has over sexual behavior. The study also goes on to suggest that a larger majority of such individuals, those from broken families, have a greater rate of sexual activity (Waldfogel, Craigie, and Brooks-Gunn, 91). Thus, by using such information along with several other studies analyzed in this paper, it can be deciphered that many impoverished and socially struggling individuals may have more difficulty abstaining from sexual activity. 

Moreover, the study at Princeton University suggests that many parenting issues can also have an affect on a young adult's sexual intimacy. The fact that many American young adults who are born into broken homes have difficulty in abstaining from sexual activity with their peers suggests that family life and socioeconomic status has a great impact on a young person's sexual behavior. In another study previously analyzed by sociologists Rankin and Little, the pair also achieved similar results. Both individuals concluded that one's socioeconomic status was a key factor in initial age of sexual intimacy, and that a broken home or family life would equate to a loss in such status. 

Dual Parent Homes

Furthermore, it is obvious that using this information with other studies will help to show other background information pertaining to the sexual interaction amongst young people. The findings from sociologists Andrea Little and Craig B. Rankin illustrate that, “children who live both biological parents are less likely to be sexually active than those from one-parent homes” (709). Such data is influential in determining a teen or young adult's sexual activity, as the study later emphasizes that “parental divorce during early adolescence was associated with earlier onset and greater frequency of sexual activity for females, but not for males” (Rankin and Little 709). The study, which offers a contemporary outlook on parental impacts on sexual behaviors, also shows the differences between the two genders. More importantly, however, this information serves as a starting point to suggest that the less influence parents have on their children as previously seen in this general study. In using this information with that of the Princeton University study, it can be suggested that parental influence has a far greater and correlative impact on a young person's sex life, while being born into unwed parents offers only perplexing results.

Study at James Madison University

Over the last several weeks, I conducted a personal study of college students' sexual behavior at JMU, coding and collecting data that both matches and disproves aspects of my original hypothesis. In the study, I used a written test with six random individuals, asking questions pertaining to one's gender, GPA, socioeconomic status, wealth, income, and sexual intimacy. I did not however, approach these students with a particular intention, but rather stood outside the school's social lounge and waited for the first six people to take the quiz, which I told them nothing about until they had agreed to take it. The findings from this study help illustrate some of the many trends already addressed by sociologists in this paper.

Firstly, of the six random students who took the quiz, four were Caucasian males and two were Caucasian females, all from similar Euro-American backgrounds. Gender made a large impact in the study. The two women stated they were involved in some form of sexual encounter only once every semester, and while two of the four men had similar averages, the other two stated they had such encounters at an average of once every two to three weeks. While this is a small study, it emphasizes the importance gender has on an individual's sexual behavior, and that social norms can affected an individual's experiences. When asked to write about their personal income, two individuals stated they had none, while the four others had incomes of $1,250, $6,800, $10,000, and $12,000 dollars. There were no conclusive findings that supported that those with a higher personal income had less sexual intimacy, but rather the opposite; the two individuals with $10,000 and $12,000 dollar incomes had the highest rate of sexual intimacy in the study. Also religion had little effect on an individual's sex life in the study, as several religious students had a sex drive that was equal to or slightly higher than non-religious individuals.

However what matched my hypothesis and proved to be one of the most interesting forms of data in my personal study was the effect one's GPA had on that individual's sexual intimacy. Of the six randomly selected students in the study, they had GPA's of 2.7, 2.9, 3.1, 3.45, and 3.5. Yet the two male students who carried 2.7 and 3.1 GPA's were also the individuals who had the greatest sex life; once every two to three weeks. While this is small study and cannot prove any correlation between one's GPA and one's sexual drive, it suggests that if an individual has a poor GPA, or education, that person may involve themselves in more sexual behavior than their peers. Moreover, this suggests that while some individuals may have a good GPA and a high rate of sexual intimacy, students with a lower GPA will probably be more likely to have a greater sex life.

The vitality this personal study has on articulating the lives of young adults' sexual behavior is vast and telling of wider sociological trends. In collaboration with the other studies done in this paper, the evidence suggests that one's socioeconomic status (i.e. parenting, wealth, income, gender role and social class) has an impact on that person's sexual behavior. For many young adults, less income and poor parenting equates to involving in sexual intercourse at an earlier age, paralleling this paper's hypothesis. The data suggests that men have a greater drive to have sex at a younger age than women do, most likely because of preconceived gender roles that serve to harm women based on their socioeconomic statuses. Thus, women, more often than men, have less desire to have sexual intercourse at a younger age, while seeking to get married and have children at an earlier age than their male counterparts. This suggests that gender roles play a large part in understanding young adult sex life, as more often than not, many individuals feel they need to act in a way that defines such roles. 

The Role of Race in Sexual Behavior

The impact on race on young adult sexual behavior was not as detailed in this examination as well as it could have been, but there was very little sociological evidence to suggest that an individual's ethnicity defines or supports the age of one's initial sexual activity. However, religious backgrounds also has an immense impact on such involvement, and in states predominately defined by a single group of religious peoples, such as Utah, many more individuals are more sexually abstinent at a later age and vastly more sexually abstinent before marriage (Hartman and Hartman 897). While the subject of religion was not discussed in the hypothesis, after finalizing research and sociological studies, it seemed prudent to include a discussion about the power one's religious beliefs can have in emphasizing that person's sexual behavior. The paper also looked at the impact one's health has on determining such an individual's sexual intimacy, yet because many young Americans with poor health come from lower-income families with worsened socioeconomic statuses, health had little connection to one's sexual activity, differing from the hypothesis of this sociological study. Click here to read more about society and views on interracial relationship.

Yet the most crucial aspect of this study was the impact one's education had on sexual intimacy. This paper's analysis of several sociological studies demonstrates that an individual with a higher education will more likely abstain from sexual intercourse at a later age than peers who do not possess such education. Agreeing with the hypothesis, it seems that higher education is a socioeconomic advantage for many American young adults, and that such an advantage offers more social stability. This statement parallels that made by sociologists in this study, who illustrate that a young adult's personal appearance has an affect on his or her sexual encounters. Because premarital sex is predominately viewed in a negative light in contemporary American culture, one with a greater socioeconomic background may strive to be sexually abstinent in order to maintain their image or appearance. Moreover, the studies also suggest that a person with a higher education will get married at a later year, a reason for prolonged sexual abstinence.


Knox, David and Kenneth Wilson. "Dating Behaviors of University Students." National Council on Family Relations. 30.2 (1981): 255-58. Web. 14 Feb 2011. <https://www.jstor.org/stable/584138>.

Waldfogel, Jane, Terry-Ann Craigie, and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn. "Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing." Future of Children. 20.2 (2010): 87-112. Web. 14 Feb 2011. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/20773696>.

Wimmer, Andreas, and Kevin Lewis. "Beyond and Below Racial Homophily: ERG Models of a Friendship Network Documented on Facebook." American Journal of Sociology. 116.2 (2010): 583-642. Web. 15 Feb 2011. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/653658>.

Fuller, Theodore. "Relationship Status, Health, and Health Behavior: An Examination of Cohabiters and Commuters." Sociological Perspectives. 53.2 (2010): 221-46. Web. 14 Feb 2011. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/sop.2010.53.2.221>.

McCarthy, Bill, and Teresa Casey. "Love, Sex, and Crime: Adolescent Romantic Relationships and Offending." American Sociological Review. 73.6 (2008): 944-69. Web. 13 Feb 2011. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/25472569>.

Knox, David, Marty Zusman and Andrea McNeely. “University Student Beliefs About Sex: Men vs. Women.” The CBS Interactive Business Network. March 2008. Web. 14 Feb 2011. <http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0FCR/is_1_42/ai_n25124436/>.

Rankin, Andrea and Craig B. Little. “Why Do They Start It? Explaining Reported Early-Teen Sexual Activity.” Sociological Forum. 16.4 (2001): 703-29. Web. 10 Feb 2011. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/684830>.

Gorlick, Adam. “Sex, Pregnancy and Birth Control: Sociologists Seek More Info on Contraception Use.” Physorg. June 16, 2010. Web. <http://www.physorg.com/news195918972.html>.

Bolig, Rosemary, Peter J. Stein and Patrick C. Mckenry. “The Self-Advertisement Approach to Dating: Male-Female Differences.” Family Relations. 33.4 (1984): 587-592. Web. 14 Feb 2011. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/583839>.

Anya Strzemien. “Why College Students are Having Less Sex.” The Huffington Post. February 18, 2008. Web. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/02/18/why-college-students-are-_n_87268.html>

Hartman, Moshe and Hartman, Harriet. “Sex-Role Attitudes of Mormons and Non-Mormons in Utah.” Journal of Marriage and Family. 45.4 (Nov. 1983): 897-902. Web. 18 Mar 2011. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/351802>.



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Ultius, Inc. "Research Paper on Sexual Behaviors of Young Adults in the United States." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. April 16, 2013. https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/research-paper-on-sexual-behaviors-of-young-adults-in-the-united-states.html.

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Ultius, Inc. "Research Paper on Sexual Behaviors of Young Adults in the United States." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. April 16, 2013. https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/research-paper-on-sexual-behaviors-of-young-adults-in-the-united-states.html.

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