More than 40% of teen-agers who attend conservative churches have had sexual intercourse by the age of 18 while one-third decline to brand sex outside marriage as morally unacceptable, according to a study released this week in Washington.
The "Teen Sex Survey in the Evangelical Church" found that 43% of the 1,438 "churched youth" who responded last summer to a confidential, church-conducted questionnaire had sexual intercourse by age 18 while 35% of the 17-year-olds and 26% of the 16-year-olds said they had had intercourse.
By comparison, a Louis Harris and Associates poll in December, 1986, found that 57% of the nation's 17-year-olds are sexually experienced while 46% of the 16-year-olds and 29% of the 15-year-olds said they had had sexual intercourse.
Asked if sexual intercourse by unmarried couples was ever morally acceptable, 65% said no, the study reported. But 8% of the respondents said intercourse was always morally acceptable between unmarried but willing people, while 17% said it was sometimes acceptable and 11% were not sure. The survey had a 3% margin of error, said Fran Griffin, a spokeswoman for the evangelical study commissioned by the Josh McDowell Ministry of Dallas.
The eight denominations that conducted the survey were Church of the Nazarene, Evangelical Covenant Church, Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.), Free Methodist Church, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Grace Brethern Church, Wesleyan Church and Salvation Army.