June 10, 2009
Virginity Incidence In Adults

UCSF urologist Michael Eisenberg finds that among virgins aged 25 to 45 church attendance and college education increased the odds of virginity.

His team's survey found that 13.9 per cent of men and 8.9 per cent of women said they have never had sex.

Men and women who attended church at least once a week were respectively 5 and 3.9 times more likely to be virgins than those who attended church less often. Virgins of both sexes were slightly less likely to have swigged a beer in the last year, compared to non-virgins. And women with college degrees were 5.4 times more likely to be virgins than women who never got their Bachelor's.

Note the higher incidence of virginity among church-attending men than among church-attending women. I had a girlfriend who attended church (unlike myself) who complained to me that too many of the guys at church were basically pussies. Not masculine enough for her. Islam seems more designed to appeal to men. Perhaps mosques pull in more masculine Muslims?

I see this as a sign that church attendance and intelligence are both being selected against. What other signs of evolutionary natural selection in humans do you see happening?

Update: Currently high IQ is getting selected against in the US. Though as that link suggests, the selective pressure might be declining somewhat. Similarly, in Australia intelligence looks like it is getting selected against while Catholicism is getting selected for (which is not surprising). Also, Catholic and Protestant women are more fertile in the United States. But can anyone point to a good data source on male fertility and church attendance or religious belief?

Update II: Audacious Epigone chomping on some numbers from the General Social Survey (GSS) and the GSS reveals that higher fertility of religious couples makes up for any virginity of single Christians. The faithful are out-breeding the unbelievers.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 June 10 11:48 PM  Evolution Human Nature

Phil said at June 11, 2009 12:20 AM:

Selection isn't about virginity or lack of it, it's about who has children. You can't conclude from the above that intelligence is being selected against.

A study showing intelligence vs number of kids might well provide that data.

bfwebster said at June 11, 2009 12:30 AM:

Ditto. Latter-day Saints (Mormons) have a high rate of virginity, yet also have large families _and_ a high level of education (for the latter, cf. http://adventures-in-mormonism.com/2007/05/06/mormons-education-and-intellect/). ..bruce..

K said at June 11, 2009 12:55 AM:

If I read the abstract correctly this is a statistical look at data from 2002 National Survey Of Family Growth. The data was not gathered by the doctors who wrote the paper.

People lie a lot about sex. These numbers may be about right. Or not. I haven't thought of why it might matter.

But virginity does not seem to be a gateway drug to beer.

Bob Sykes said at June 11, 2009 4:20 AM:

Natural selection appears to be eliminating (rapidly) both secular humanists and the philosophy of secular humanism. The implication is that religion of some sort will become dominant once again. Since secular humanism is intrinsic to socialism, socialism will also disappear. This does not mean that libertarian capitalism will prevail. There are many corporatist political philosophies besides socialism, Catholic feudalism and Chinese state capitalism being the prime examples.

JP Straley said at June 11, 2009 5:47 AM:

Keeping one's virginity is all about delayed gratification. That trait is extremely helpful in life. It increases your success in many areas, including fecundity.

The fact that a very large proportion of young people are going to college is a form of evolution, since that's where they meet their life partners (or later select from the pool formed by college-experienced people). There are very few reasonably clever people in the trades these days, the clever ones are urged to go to college. So I would expect to see a bimodal distribution on IQ forming.

I don't expect to see this phenom developing too very far, though. Within the next one or two generations biological techniques will be developed to enhance cognitive ability, and very smart people will be quite common. Begs the question: what will be the selector for jobs and mate-choices then?

JP Straley

Lono said at June 11, 2009 8:17 AM:


These are all very insightful comments here today - methinks perhaps your personal predjudices have interefered with your objective analysis of this latest study.

Particularly when one considers previous studies you have posted here - I find it illogical to believe that Religion is being selected against - as usual religous adherents have larger families on average than their similarly educated peers - regardless of their raw intelligence.

And i was wondering if "pussy" was now your technical term for a less aggressive male?


Roberto said at June 11, 2009 8:47 AM:

Natural Selection has no context when it comes to an individual belief. We all have free will, and neither secularism or religion is programmed in by "natural selection." I also agree with Lono that what I assume is your personal bias against religion is probably affecting your analysis.

Mthson said at June 11, 2009 3:07 PM:

Roberto, it's known that we're not all blank slates at birth, biologically identical. People have varying temperaments and so do all mammals. It would be astonishing if people who had substantially different brain architectures all had the same cognobehavioral inclinations.

David Govett said at June 11, 2009 3:09 PM:

UCSF? I wouldn't trust any data collected in San Francisco, where statistics are politically driven.

JeremyR said at June 11, 2009 5:45 PM:

Unless things have changed, if you went to a heavily science or engineering orientated school, you pretty much had virginity thrust upon you, since most the attendees were men. I'm sure things have changes since I went to it (20 years ago), but it wasn't fun.

TorchesToRome said at June 11, 2009 5:57 PM:

Did Charles Johnson hack your site and make this post? This has little green footballs written all over it!

DRJ said at June 11, 2009 6:00 PM:

There are good reasons to delay sex apart from religious reasons. Not only does it eliminate the possibility of pregnancy but it also can help prevent HPV and cervical cancers in women.

chb3 said at June 11, 2009 6:07 PM:

I don't think it is a groundshaking observation that church going singles are four or five times more likely to say they are virgins.

Lord Ben said at June 11, 2009 6:07 PM:

Just because someone is a virgin at church doesnít mean that church attendance is being selected against. They could have simply just turned down sex. Iíve turned down plenty of sex with plenty of women. I was a virgin and church attendee until the day I got married and so was my wife but that doesnít mean we didnít have our chances.

To assume that church going virgins are socially awkward and that people arenít attracted to them is quite naive.

Stephen said at June 11, 2009 6:13 PM:

I took the bit about religion and intelligence being selected against as sarcasm; was I wrong? The cause/effect seems to be fairly obvious there. Also, if that statement was proof of a bias against religion, wouldn't it also prove a bias against intellect?

Lord Ben said at June 11, 2009 6:31 PM:

I guess I took it as one more knock against Christians instead of sarcasm. Especially with the update looking for supporting evidence.

Cowboy said at June 11, 2009 6:41 PM:

You are equating having sex with fertility, and forming natural selection conclusions based on prevalence of sexual activity? That doesn't compute, I think. Look at births per woman instead of virginity loss, number of partners, frequency of sex, etc. When you do so you will find that traditional forms are far more "fertile", are better "selected" than modern forms. Consider the excellent documentary, Demographic Winter (Google for the film's website). The film is a good introduction to the thesis that traditional forms are far more conducive to the success of a culture than one might imagine. Indeed, perhaps they are crucially important.

The main arguments of the film: Across the Northern Hemisphere birth rates have fallen to around 1.3 births per woman. Even 1.1 per woman in places. Needless to say this is well below any population's replacement rate (which is 2.1 births per woman). No culture in human history has retained dominance for long when that rate has fallen below 1.8 births per woman. No culture has survived at all whose population has fallen to 1.3. Western Europe and native (meaning non-immigrant) America are at 1.3. Therefore, Western civilization as we know it may very well be already doomed at this point.

The film lists five reasons that demographers and sociologists cite as to why these trends have arisen. In your parlance, that'd be why a large and important chunk of humanity has "selected" itself out.

The film concludes with a position backed by a majority of studies that claim these two cultural forms provide the strongest and most robust counter to the current trends: strong traditional marriages and patriarchal forms. Almost every one in the film is uncomfortable with this conclusion (they are mostly all from the typical acedemic background stressing a secular humanist viewpoint laden with a good dose of liberalism). But that's where the data takes them.

Google Phillip Longman's widely discussed article "The Return of the Patriarchy" on the web for more detailed commentary on these lines.

Randall Parker said at June 11, 2009 6:44 PM:


My guess is that in women selective pressures are acting in favor of religiosity. But in men I suspect that the opposite might be the case.

JP Straley,

Delayed gratification improved survival odds in many environments before industrialization. But delayed gratification today reduces fertility. People who spend more in school have fewer kids. They delay gratification in order to increase earnings potential. The result is fewer kids.

Waiting to get married to reproduce is a form of delayed gratification. Married people have kids later than single women on average. Guess what? Fertility has declined among married women and increased among single women.

comatus said at June 11, 2009 8:43 PM:

It would take a virus one whit smarter than AIDS just about four years to put paid to your mockery. We are witnesses, in displays like this, to the death of science.

JorgXMcKie said at June 11, 2009 8:51 PM:

Oddly enough, evolution is not based on the number of offspring produced, but the number that survive to produce offspring of their own (r-stategy versus k-strategy, for instance). Thus, if anything is being selected against in humanity, it must be deliberate childlessness. We won't, then, I guess, be seeing a great many more Gloria Steinem types.

Actually, of course, given current life expectancy it's not at all obvious that large families are truly any more 'selected for' (which doesn't happen -- it's merely less selection pressure against) and small families are 'selected against'. Selection pressure is always "against" not "for" but it is also variable and environment dependent, among other things.

Finally, please, please, please don't confuse intelligence with college graduation. Seriously. I know more than a few PhDs that wouldn't last five minutes in any kind of harsh environment.

HellKaiserRyo said at June 11, 2009 11:12 PM:

How about this... I got banned for talking about Paul Ehrlich on a Catholic forum. I think that has something to do with Catholicism and its beliefs on fertility.

Richard Lynn stated that religiousness is inversely related to intelligence.

Ed Nutter said at June 11, 2009 11:14 PM:

Beware of a snapshot in time driving a conclusion.

My college educated wife was a virgin when she married. We have 4 kids. We both attend and serve at our Christian church.

The oldest was and married a virgin. They have four kids. He's a process engineer with a masters in that, and she's an ordained minister with a masters degree.

The next oldest was a virgin when she married. They each have Masters degrees, in Christian Apologetics. They have two kids and want more.

The third oldest was a virgin when he married a virgin. They have two kids, and Bachelors and Masters degrees. His is Journalism. Her Masters is in teaching.

The "baby" is a virgin. No telling how many grandchildren she'll give us because she ain't married yet. And she's still in college. She started late because she took time off after high school to go on short term mission trips, five of them.

An unusual family without a doubt, and a datum does not a trend make, but I don't think we're unique. We don't seem to support the narrative that "church attendance and intelligence are both being selected against."

tom swift said at June 12, 2009 5:21 AM:

The variables you show are (admitted or claimed) sexual activity, alcohol (beer) consumption, college degrees, church attendance, and sex (gender). From this you mysteriously deduce something about intelligence. There seem to be a few logical and methodological steps missing in there. As it stands, yours is a statement of prejudice and bigotry, and not a statement of fact, or even a statement of apparent statistical trends.

Personally, I tend to think that churchgoers are hammerheads. But my evidence for that, though perfectly real, is purely anecdotal and actually rather slim. I have no serious grounds for calling my prejudice (which, lacking solid data, is all that it is) a general fact. The world would be a much more sedate place if more people managed to keep their prejudices and their facts distinct.

TJIC said at June 12, 2009 5:21 AM:

Speaking as a college educated, weekly church attending, mid 30s virgin, I object to the "pussy" epithet.

I've served in the military, hunted, responded to someone starting a fight by using my firsts more in my adult life than all my friends put together (three times in 20 years), pulled a pistol on a would-be-carjacker, owned a motorcycle, built an addition on my house with my own hands, left the secure corporate world to start two small companies, waded into a frozen over pond up to my chest in the dead of winter to rescue a dog, and a few other things that I hope mark me as not being entirely at the woman-like end of the continuum.

I, like most guys my age, have had multiple girlfriends and multiple opportunities for sex.

However, I believe - for several religious AND several non-religious but pragmatic reasons - that sex is best saved for inside marriage.

So I've chosen to live by this belief.

Andy said at June 12, 2009 6:48 AM:

I generally like your blog, but what's with the needless bashing of church-attending, college-educated guys? We're not THAT bad.

And judging from the classmates I graduated with from my [Christian] college, fertility is not suffering. In my anecdotal experience, at least half of them have kids - and only 5 years since graduation. (Myself included.)

It's somewhat surreal to think that the same guys who floated a burning couch out onto the lake are now responsible for a child.

Randall Parker said at June 12, 2009 7:28 AM:


I'm relating to you how a very feminine devout religious woman felt about the guys at the churches she attended. She's not the only girl I heard this from. I went to a fairly religious college as a freshman and a couple of the women I got to know there voiced the same complaint to me.


Bashing? I do not see it that way. I'm reporting what is happening. I think it is causing selective pressure.

Fertility: I'm still looking for data on male religious fertility adjusted for level of education. Maybe religious guys really end up having more kids. I find it easier to find data on female fertility.

Lono said at June 12, 2009 9:02 AM:


Well - from a purely environmental view - I would tend to think sincere, Church going, men would be less likely to participate in drinking and other risky or health-adverse behaviors that would potentially lower sperm count or quality.

And since such phenotypes predictably have long term, monogomous, relationships - and marry religious wives who believe it is their religious duty to go forth and multiply - I can hardly see how they would not naturally have higher fertility even if we make (what I think is the absurd) assumption that they have lower testosterone levels on average.

Also - we should not forget - time and time again it has shown that men in monogomous relationships average more matings than their unattached but more promiscuous peers...

I know that's certainly a factor in why I married my wife - and we were also both virgins previous to our commited monogmous relationship.

(and yes we have children - albeit later in life)

On an off note - I wonder if cultural replacement trends may radically alter when it becomes cheap and safe to clone or otherwise have children grown in artificial wombs - will such technological breakthroughs allow for an aggressive resurgence of "western" cultures?

Lord Ben said at June 12, 2009 4:27 PM:

Maybe your sample size of "women attracted to me" is faulty with that perception. Or they're saying it to make you happy, etc. There is a lot of reasons girls would say "Oh, those guys are all wimps compared to you." and only a few of them are because church going guys are wimps.

Perhaps she was a bit of a hypocrite with her religious views so guys were turned off by her, perhaps her idea of "not a pussy" is drinking too much and smoking weed and all those "uptight christians" were too much of a wimp for her, etc.

It certainly isn't anything more then anecdotal.

Audacious Epigone said at June 16, 2009 10:02 AM:

Unmarried people aged 25-45 comprise less than 10% of the regular churchgoing population. While the majority of non-attenders are unmarried, 3 in 4 weekly attenders are married. So the sliver of unmarried virgins are more than made up for by their married co-congregates, who have more children than non-attenders do (married and unmarried). Further, even though the unmarried inside a church are more likely to be innocent than those outside its walls are, most unmarried people who go to church regularly are not virgins. And the unmarried churchgoers who do have sex have more children than the unmarried non-attenders to such an extent that they make up for the virgins in their congregations. It doesn't look like church attendance is being selected against.

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