New Findings Show Parents’ Religious Attendance and Family Religious Activities Are Key Influences on Teens’ Sexual Activity & Contraception

WASHINGTON, DC—According to a new study reported in this month’s issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, the more frequent a parent’s religious attendance and the more a family participates in religious activities, the more likely an adolescent delayed the timing of his/her first sexual experience.  However, if an adolescent did have sex, stronger religious beliefs and family religious activities were linked to reduced contraceptive use at first sex among males.

Two specific dimensions of religion – parental attendance and family activities – delayed the age of sexual onset on all groups examined except blacks.  More frequent parental religious attendance was an important factor for males and females, and whites and Hispanics. Male, female and white teens whose families engaged in religious activities on a daily basis delayed sexual initiation.  Interestingly, specific religious denomination was not linked to teens’ sexual activity. 


Jennifer Manlove, Ph.D., lead author of the article, “The Role of Parent Religiosity in Teens’ Transitions to Sex and Contraception,” stated, “We found that stronger family religiosity protects against early sexual initiation among adolescents from multiple backgrounds, regardless of denomination.”  She added, “The link between religious activities and delayed sex may reflect family beliefs or it may indicate that more closely-knit families help reduce early sexual initiation – a finding supported by other research on parent involvement.”


The study also found that, among sexually experienced teens, strong parental religious beliefs and more frequent participation in family religious activities were linked with reduced contraceptive use at first sex, especially among males. According to Manlove, “This finding may reflect the unplanned nature of first sexual experiences, especially among more religious teens.  Teens may perceive more barriers to obtaining contraception in more religious communities.”


This article extends previous research by prospectively assessing the association between multiple dimensions of parent and family religiosity and the transition to sexual experience and contraceptive use. The study was conducted using longitudinal data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1997 Cohort (NLSY97), a nationally representative sample of almost 9,000 adolescents born in the United States. The sample for this study included 3,949 sexually inexperienced adolescents aged 12-14 in 1997 who were followed through 2002. Co-authors include Elizabeth Terry-Humen, Erum Ikramullah and Kristin Moore at Child Trends.

To read the abstract or find the full article, click on the following link on the Journal of Adolescent Health’s Web site:

About Child Trends – Child Trends is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center serving those dedicated to creating better lives for children and youth. For more information on Child Trends, click on