The sexual arena has become deeply contested and perverted in modern culture because Satan himself knows that by striking at this—by stirring up sexual confusion, apostasy, and disobedience—he is undermining a vital element of human life and thus bringing devastation on the human race and God’s people.
We have grown accustomed to a great deal of concern over the recent trajectory of males, particularly boys and young men. These concerns are well-founded. Addiction to porn and video games, the lack of fathers modeling positive masculinity in the face of high divorce and out-of-wedlock birth rates, and lower levels of academic achievement for men are all well documented. So are men’s higher levels of suicide, substance abuse, crime, and delinquency.
However, there are frightening trends among females that deserve our attention as well. Nowhere is this clearer—at least for conservative Christian believers concerned with transmitting a sound, biblical sexual ethic to the next generation—than in matters related to beliefs about sexuality and sexual practice. Here especially we often assume that females are at least doing better than males, even while recognizing decline among both. Yet overall, this is not true, and in a handful of important ways women are doing worse. Regardless, there are serious problems among religious females. Those charged with providing moral direction for young believers, including not only parents and Christian school teachers but also pastors and youth workers, need to pay more attention to what is happening among young Christian women.
Allow me to set forth a sampling of facts from my own, recently published work on sexual activity and beliefs, focusing on professed Evangelicals: the largest conservative wing of Protestantism.1 I do this not to scandalize or humiliate, but to inform.
First, let’s take a look at behaviors. As I set forth in my just-released Against the Revolution: Sex and the Single Evangelical (Lexham Press, 2022), in the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), a huge survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one-third of evangelical girls ages 15 to 17 admitted to having had sexual intercourse. This compares to 22 percent of evangelical males of that age. By ages 23 to 32, 83 percent of both unmarried evangelical males and females had engaged in sex.2 Among all evangelical women, regardless of marital status, who had ever had sexual intercourse, 9 percent had begun by age 13, 18 percent by age 14, and 33 percent by age 15.3 To be sure, on this last point, males didn’t do much better (or surprisingly, worse). However, considering the greater risks this activity poses to women, especially at these ages, this should be a matter of great concern not only spiritually, but practically.4
Same-sex sexual relations among evangelical women are quite concerning, and dramatically more common among them than among evangelical males. As I documented recently in the pages of this publication, 17 percent of evangelical women ages 15 to 44 in the most recent NSFG admitted to having had sexual relations with another female, up from 13 percent only about six years earlier. For those 23 to 32, at least one in five had. Male percentages had changed little and stood at about 5 percent. Meanwhile, while evangelical males 15 to 44 were more a bit more likely to identify as homosexual or gay (1.7 versus 1.1 percent), evangelical females were much more likely to identify as bisexual (1.4 versus 4.6 percent). Combining these, we see that at least 5.7 percent of these evangelical females claimed something other than a heterosexual orientation, compared to 3.1 percent of the males.5
With regard to sexual beliefs regarding heterosexual sex outside of marriage, the moral drift among young evangelicals is alarming, but do not show clear gender differences. The vast majority of professed evangelical older teens and younger adults no longer believe that consensual heterosexual sex outside of marriage is always morally wrong.6
The NSFG provides a detailed look at the degree to which evangelical teens and young adults believe that same-sex sexual relations are morally wrong.7 55 percent of females either thought that “sexual relations between two adults of the same sex” were “alright,” or took a middle or agnostic position on the issue. This compares to 46 percent of males holding similar positions on this issue. Moreover, while both genders have become much more liberal on gay sex since the NSFG first started tracking this in their 2006 through 2010 cycle8 (among evangelicals, 22 percent of males and 28 percent of females approved of same-sex relations in that period), females have consistently been more likely to be so. The gap between the sexes on this for the five NSFG surveys conducted between 2006-10 and 2017-19 had been as high as 14, and never lower than 6, percentage points.
But this is nothing compared to what we see among the youngest groups of evangelicals on this issue. In the latest NSFG, 70 percent of females ages 15 to 17, and 63 percent of those 18 to 22, refused to say that gay sex was immoral. This compares to 45 and 50 percent among males, respectively. In every age group I examined between 15 and 49 years of age except those 23 to 27 and 43 to 49, females were more likely to hold the liberal view. And it was only among the last group of evangelical women that a majority of females held a conservative position (62 percent rejecting the idea that gay sex is alright, versus 57 percent for males).
A decisive majority of young evangelical females reject the biblical teaching that same-sex relations are sinful. Yet I see few evangelical leaders speaking about this, and little being done directly to fix it.
Overall, as both my aforementioned book and article underscore, sexual orthodoxy in belief and practice is much higher among those evangelicals who show higher levels of commitment to their faith. For example, those who attend church more regularly, and rate their faith of greater importance in guiding their daily lives, do markedly better.
However, this makes the gender breakdowns we are seeing—both where the views of the sexes are about the same and especially where the females are more liberal—more puzzling. After all, women are generally more religiously active and committed than men. For example, in the last NSFG, among evangelicals 15 to 49 overall, females were significantly more likely than males to attend church at least weekly. Although it is not as different or statistically significant, this pattern continued to be true among younger believers 15 to 22. And for both those 15 to 49 overall, and for those 15 to 22, evangelical females are much more likely than males to consider their faith to be very important to their daily lives, and much less likely to consider it unimportant.
We can confidently say that on any sexual area where evangelical females are more liberal or sexually active than males, gender differences are not due to women being less religiously committed. Quite the contrary.
Moreover, even when we look only at those who claim to be more religiously committed, evangelical females are not doing that well. For example, in the most recent NSFG, among those who claim to attend church once a week or more, an incredible 14 percent of those 15 to 17 have already had sex with another female, then 11 percent at ages 18 to 22, 8 percent for those 23 to 27, then up to 12 percent at ages 28 to 32 and an astounding 16 percent for those 33 to 37. As for sexual intercourse among the unmarried, among evangelical females who attend church at least weekly, 37 percent have done so by ages 15 to 17, and well over half of those 18 to 22 and 23 to 27, respectively. Among those who are still unmarried by ages 28 to 32, and 33 to 37, the percentages are 88 and 97, respectively. How well are evangelical pastors grasping, much less responding to, these kinds of statistics among their regular church-going young people and singles?