The Impact of Religiosity on Adolescent Sexual Behavior

Religions often have strong views and teachings regarding sex, but rarely openly discuss it. Our podcast, “Sex and Scripture,” explores the sexual mores of three prominent religions: Islam, Judaism, and Catholicism through research and personal experience. Rostosky’s article, “The Impact of Religiosity on Adolescent Sexual Behavior: A Review of the Evidence,” helps the audience better understand our episode’s theme of religious teaching on sex. The article provides a general overview of religious sexual education in predominantly Christian religions with some studies examining Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism and their effect on adolescents’ sexual behavior, especially the common abstinence-only teaching (Rostosky et al. 2004). The review relates to our podcast’s focus on religion and its teaching on sex, as well as class discussions involving sexual inactivity, specifically the reading “Sexual Inactivity During Young Adulthood,” and the Death, Sex, and Money episodes: “The Power of Yetsi Ortiz,” and “Why You’re Not Having Sex” (Twenge et al, 2016) (Sale, 2015).

                 Rostosky’s article examines ten longitudinal studies from 1980 to 2001. According to this review, adolescents are becoming less religious over time, though females remain more likely to attend worship services (Rostosky et al. 2004). The review contains many samples ranging from 289 to 5,070 American adolescents, specifically examining religious affiliation, religious attendance, religiosity (composite measure), religiosity and contraceptive use, and their effects on sexual debut. Overall, the review discovered that more conservative religious affiliation delayed adolescent sexual debut. Results for female adolescents showed high religious participation and religiosity scores, which delayed sexual debut, whereas insignificant results were found for male adolescents in both conditions. Finally, the impact of religiosity on contraceptive use was inconclusive due to an insignificant number of relevant studies and data disparity among them (Rostosky et al. 2004).

                The data in Rostosky’s article, as well as class discussions, help the audience understand the theme of our podcast–religious teachings’ impact on sexual behavior. Tewenge’s article, “Sexual Inactivity During Young Adulthood,” mentions abstinence-only education coming into wide use after the 1980s, particularly between 1996 and 2009, which is the time of the ten studies in Rotosky’s article. As mentioned by both Rotosky and the podcast, abstinence-only education is common, especially among religious-based sexual education. Twenge’s article states, “some studies found a short delay” in sexual activity with abstinence-only education, which Rotosky article reiterates (Twenge et al, 2016). Twenge’s asserts that early sexual debut can lead to “higher sexual risk behavior in adolescence,” which is the basis for many religions’ stance on saving sex for marriage, as discussed in the podcast regarding Catholicism, Orthodox Judaism, and Islam. The class discussion regarding “The power of Yetsi Ortiz,” a female radio personality dating a religious man, reveals similar themes of sex and religion. She describes his desire to save himself for marriage and agrees that taking it slow is what she needs at this time (Sale, 2015). Even with the trend of adolescents moving away from strong religious affiliations, Yetsi’s story provides an example of religious teaching impacting sexual behavior as discussed in Twenge’s article and our podcast. In a similar story, “Why You’re Not Having Sex,” Vanessa shares her and her boyfriend’s choice to wait until marriage due to their Christian beliefs. She believes that “sex is to glorify God in marriage,” which aligns with the Catholic teachings described in our podcast (Sale, 2015). The infographic below summarizes the findings of “The Impact of Religiosity on Adolescent Sexual Behavior: A Review of the Evidence” and shows an important question for further research: What differences are being implemented between male and female sexual education that cause adolescent females to wait and males to show inconsistent results? Overall through the connections between our podcast, Twenge’s article, Rostosky’s article, Yetsi’s story, and Vanessa’s story, it is evident  that religious beliefs have a significant impact on sexual behaviors.


Rostosky, Sharon Scales, Brain L. Wilcox, Margaret Laurie Comer Wright, and Brandy A. Randall. 2004. “The Impact of Religiosity on Adolescent Sexual Behavior: A Review of the Evidence.” Journal of Adolescent Research 19:677-697.

Sale, Anna. 2015. “The Power of Yetsi Ortiz.” New York City: WNYC Studios. New York Public Radio Podcast

Sale, Anna. 2015. “Why You’re Not Having Sex” New York City: WNYC Studios. New York Public Radio Podcast

Twenge, Jean M., Ryne A. Sherman, and Brooke E. Wells. 2016. “Sexual Inactivity During Young Adulthood Is More Common Among U.S. Millennials and iGen: Age, Period, and Cohort Effects on Having No Sexual Partners After Age 18.” Springer Science and Business Media 46:433-440.

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