Sexuality, Youth, and Education in Faith Communities

Religious teens are less likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors:

  • 31% of teens who are involved in faith communities have had sexual intercourse, versus 46% of all teens in the U.S. Clapp, Steve, Kristen Leverton Helbert, and Angela Zizak, Faith Matters: Teenagers, Religion, and Sexuality, (Fort Wayne: LifeQuest, 2003), 37. “Facts on American Teens’ Sexual and Reproductive Health,” Guttmacher Institute, September 2006.
  • Religious teens are 50% more likely to wait to have intercourse and are 80% more likely to use a condom when they do.
  • TeensThese youth substitute intercourse with other behaviors:
    • 70% of religious teens have engaged in fondling.
    • 50% have been nude with a member of the other sex.Faith Matters, 48.
    • 29% of males and 26% of females have engaged in oral sex.Faith Matters, 41.
  • 92% of teens believe that morals and values should play a major role in sexual decision-making.“Faithful Nation: What American Adults and Teens Think About Faith, Morals, Religion, and Teen Pregnancy,” The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 2001.
  • Religious teens are less likely to use alcohol and other drugs.Scales, Peter C., “Early Spirituality and Religious Participation Linked to Later Adolescent Well-Being,” The Center for Spiritual Development in Childhood and Adolescence, 2007.


Religious teens who are most likely to delay sexual intercourse:
Faith Matters, 36.

  • Attend religious services one or more times a week.
  • Pray daily.
  • Identify the teachings of their faith community and/or Scriptures as having a strong influence on their sexual decisions.
  • Say the congregation has provided information on how to make sexual decision and on what the Scriptures say about sexuality.
  • Feel a strong connection with other youth in the congregation and congregational leaders who work with youth.
  • Believe that the adults who work with them portray sexuality in a healthy and positive manner.
  • Attend a congregation that encourages abstinence for high school-aged people.


Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and questioning teens in faith communities need support:

  • 12% of boys and 9% of girls in faith-based youth groups identify as either bisexual or homosexual. 2% of these teens said that they did not know their orientation.Faith Matters, 96.
  • Only 36% of these teens reported that their youth worker, advisor, or other adult leader knew their orientation.
  • 46% said that their parents weren’t aware of their orientation.Faith Matters, 97.
  • Non-heterosexual teens were almost twice as likely to have seriously considered suicide as heterosexual teens.Remafedi, Gary, “Sexual Orientation and Youth Suicide,” Journal of the American Medical Association, 1999, 282: 1291.

Faith communities are not giving youth the information they want and need:

  • When asked how well they provided sexual information and preparation for marriage, clergy and advisors graded themselves “fair” and good,” while youth rated their work in all areas “poor.”Faith Matters, 115.
  • 76% of advisors and 74% of clergy said that their congregation portrays sex in a healthy and positive way, while only 44% of youth said it did.Faith Matters, 118.
  • When asked about sexuality education offered in the congregation, 14% of faith communities reported offering a reasonably comprehensive approach to sexuality education. 49% of faith communities reported offering a limited amount of information and/or discussion in existing classes. 37% do almost nothing. Faith Matters, 116.
  • 17% of youth say that their congregations have done nothing to help them understand sexuality. National Study of Youth & Religion, 2009.
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