Fifty-eight percent of Mormon women admit to having sexual intercourse before marriage. And fewer than 70 percent of Mormon marriages are intact after 10 years - the lowest percentage among whites citing religious affiliation.
These were some of the findings presented by two Brigham Young University sociologists at the 13th Annual Sunstone Symposium on Thursday.
Fourteen percent of LDS teens say they have smoked a cigarette in the last month.
Mormons have been slowly accommodating their behavior to the norms of the surrounding culture, yet these changes have scarcely been recognized by the LDS leadership, who still require premarital chastity.
"No doubt, dramatic changes in sexual norms have . . . created a generation gap between leaders and the youth," said Tim Heaton, one of the sociologists who analyzed the sexual behavior and marital trends among Mormon women.
"These trends coupled with some reluctance to discuss sexual issues openly could lead to an increasing discrepancy between official codes of conduct and actual behavior."
Mr. Heaton looked at three national studies that examined women's behavior on the issues of sex, marriage and children. He then compared and analyzed Mormon women's behavior with other religious traditions and denominations.
These studies show that while premarital sexual behavior among Mormon women is increasing, it is still below the national norm.
Moreover, the percentage of LDS cohabitation is almost half the national number - 12 percent - and not increasing. Mr. Heaton speculated that this might be because cohabitation is a public flouting of church standards.
Other findings from Mr. Heaton's statistics include:
- The median age of LDS women at the time of marriage is 20.6 years, younger than all other groups except Baptists and fundamentalist Protestants.
- More Mormon women are married than the national average, 69 percent to 52 percent, respectively.
- The median age of first birth was 22, much younger than most other religious groups
- Seven percent of Mormon women give birth before marriage.
The number of LDS marriages intact after 10 years is significant, said Mr. Heaton. Most people assume the reason is because Mormons marry young or have too high expectations. However, according to Mr. Heaton, those Mormons who marry at an older age - defined as any time after 23 - are much more likely to divorce.
Mr. Heaton speculates that this is because there is a great deal of pressure on "older" Mormon singles to marry and they might not make good choices.
Stephen Bahr, also a BYU sociologist, looked at drug use among Mormon and other religious teens. His data were drawn from the 1984-87 Monitoring the Future Surveys, an annual study of 16,000 graduating high school seniors.
Mr. Bahr concluded that Mormon teens have a lower incidence of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use when compared with other religious teens. But Mormons are similar to all the other religious traditions in their use of amphetamines and cocaine.
Then Mr. Bahr re-evaluated the statistics and discovered that those who are "active" in their religion have much lower drug use.
When asked why he only used women in his study of sexual behavior, Mr. Heaton replied that women are more truthful in reporting sexual data than men.
The symposium, that concludes Saturday night at the University Park Hotel, is expected to draw 1,500 people. Sunstone Symposium was created as a forum to explore social, political and theological issues facing Mormons.