Forbidden Fruit: Sex & Religion in Modern Adolescence
by Mark D. Regnerus
Oxford Univ. Press, 304 pages, $25
Forbidden Fruit dares to go where no social-science volume has gone before”from the church to the parking lot, and all the way into the backseat of a car. Mark D. Regnerus, a professor of sociology at the University of Texas, draws upon several studies, including the National Survey of Youth and Religion (of which he is a co-investigator) and the mammoth National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, to show the variety of moral influences affecting teenagers’ sexual behaviors and attitudes. One may forgive the whiff of self-congratulation in Regnerus’ observation that past researchers have overlooked the link between teen sex and religion, as he fills the gap with data on a wide variety of sexual practices and avoidances, listed by participants’ denomination and observance level. The results can be unintentionally humorous; as a friend notes, information on which religion’s teenage girls are most likely to give oral sex could be dangerous in the hands of teenage boys. (The answer is mainline Protestant: 42 percent of fifteen- to seventeen-year-old girls surveyed had done it.) Regnerus softens his statistics with excerpts from interviews conducted for the Youth and Religion survey, and he adds his own insights. He exhibits respect toward the denominations he surveys; in covering the evangelical-driven abstinence-pledge movement, for instance, he goes out of his way to avoid the condescension that mars many media reports. Forbidden Fruit ‘s best points are those Regnerus tosses off before moving on to the next data set. One section concludes with the assertion that unprotected sex has thus become”for some”a moral issue like smoking or driving a car without a seatbeat . . . . For adolescents not steeped in a religious tradition, [it] is becoming a new taboo, replacing premarital sex in its ability to provoke shock and concern. The belief that morality equals condoms is at the core of efforts by Planned Parenthood and others to subvert religion’s influence on teens. That so many have absorbed the message suggests, ironically, that youths do associate sexual protection with upholding a moral code”just a very odd and wrong one.