Causes of premarital sex among undergraduate students in institutions of higher learning


Sexual activities among undergraduate students have been reported to be increasing worldwide. Several studies in Sub-Saharan Africa have documented high and increasing premarital sexual activities among undergraduates (Okonkwo & Eze, 2011).

Fikadu and Fikadu (2010) opined that throughout the human history and in almost every society and culture across the globe, there exists the mutual sexual attraction between sexes, which takes its peak during adolescence. It has its own potential risks in the form of social, demographic, economic and health implications. Currently, in many societies, undergraduates, unmarried, single youths are sexually more active than what is commonly realized. Undergraduates also maintain sexual relationships, even though cultural values do not permit this.

There are several factors which encourage the pre-marital sexuality among undergraduates; peer pressure, campus hypes, influence of modern mass-media, information technology, better life-style, changing modes and erosion of traditional customs and social norms etc.

The study conducted by Ajidahun (2011) has also shown that there is a high level of sexual activities among Nigerian undergraduates. Many of these activities include: having more than one sex partners, patronage of prostitutes (among the males), and masturbation when they lack access to opposite sex, lesbianism and homosexuality.

Okonkwo and Eze (2010) observed that today’s situation shows a sharp contrast to the traditional Nigerian societal context in which girls avoided pre-marital sexual experiences for fear of social punishments usually meted out to girls who lost their virginity before marriage. Apart from the blame apportioned to parents for their negligence as earlier mentioned, some people are of the opinion that adolescents are naturally open to the normal sex drive while this drive is incensed by the impact of permissive Western culture transmitted through the sexual stimuli conveyed by the mass media. Denga (2013) pointed out that sexually explicit movies expose young people to adult issues at an “impressionable age.” Others opine that the use of pornographic materials as well as knowledge and use of contraceptives, especially the condom that has been excessively advertised, has contributed immensely to the involvement of undergraduates in sexual practices (Onuzulike, 2012).

Conceptual framework

According to Finer (2013), premarital sex is sexual activity practiced by people who are unmarried. Historically, premarital sex was considered a moral issue which was taboo in many cultures and considered a sin by a number of religions.

Allen (2009) described premarital sex as sexual relations between two people prior to marrying each other. The term is also referred to as fornication especially by different religious groups, which had negative connotations.

Ahrold and Meston (2010) highlighted that premarital sex refers to any sexual relations a person has prior to marriage and removing the emphasis on the relationship of the people involved. This definition included any sex between individuals whether they intend to get married on a further date or the sexual relation is between people who are uninterested in getting married to each other.

Baumeister and Mendoza (2011) cited alternative terms for premarital sex, including non-marital sex (which overlaps with adultery), youthful sex, adolescent sex, and young-adult sex.  Treffers (2013) noted that among undergraduate students, engaging in premarital sex is tied to a lot of factors which include family background, environmental factors, peer pressure, level of sex education and a lot other factors which may vary from one society to another.

Prevalence of premarital sex among undergraduate students

In so many part of Nigeria, many people do not hold value in sexual abstinence before marriage. Historically, at least a significant portion of people have engaged in premarital sex, although the number willing to admit to having done so was not always high. In a study conducted in University of Lagos, Nigeria, 61 percent of boys and 42 percent of girls admitted to having premarital sex; the gender disparity may have been caused by cultural double standards regarding the admission of sexual activity or by boys frequenting prostitutes (Nnachi, 2013).

Omoegun (2014) stated that between 55 and 70 percent of Nigerian undergraduate students had vaginal intercourse before the age of 21. This has been attributed to numerous causes, including the increasing median age at marriage and the widespread availability of efficient contraceptives. According to a 2011 UNICEF survey, in 10 out of 12 developed nations with available data, more than two-thirds of young people have had sexual intercourse while still in their teens.

In Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States, the proportion is over 80%. In Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, approximately 25% of 15-year-olds and 50% of 17-year-olds have sex (UNICEF, 2011). In a 2015 Kaiser Family Foundation study of US undergraduate students, 29% reported feeling pressure to have sex, 33% of sexually active reported “being in a relationship where they felt things were moving too fast sexually”, and 24% had “done something sexual they didn’t really want to do”. Several polls have indicated peer pressure as a factor in encouraging undergraduate students to have sex (The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 2015).

Contributory factors to premarital sex among undergraduate students

According to Adewale (2010), contributory factors to premarital sex among undergraduate students include:

  • Pressure: Pressure from parents, friends, peer group, lecturer, boss, future partners. Some men mount pressure physically on female undergraduate students while some female undergraduate students mount pressure on men by dressing to seduce men.
  • Curiosity: Many undergraduate students have engaged themselves in premarital sex as a result of curiosity. This comes in form of searching for reality; they are not satisfied with what they are being told concerning sex, they want to experience it themselves.
  • Electronic media: Television, film, radio and video has contributed to the high rate of premarital sex among undergraduate students. What these undergraduate students watch on screen to a very large extent determine their behaviour and character.
  • Books and magazines: So many authors write sexual stories, books and magazines, they bring out many pictures that stimulate the youth to think about sex always. Having read all these books, undergraduate students become restless until they have put into practice what they learned in the books and magazines.
  • Environmental influence: The society contributes to premarital sex since environment influence undergraduate students especially female students to expose their body indecently.
  • Greed: Greed for money, wealth and position is another cause of premarital sex. Some female undergraduate students want money at all costs hence they are ready to use their bodies to get it by sleeping around with men.

Ling (2009) also identified other contributory factors to premarital sex among undergraduate students to include indiscipline, wrong association, ignorance, wrong information, bad parenting, idleness, loneliness and broken homes.

Influence of the family on premarital sex among undergraduate students

Research suggests that family can strongly influence their undergraduate students’ sexual behaviour. Parents’ marital status, their disapproval of and discussion with undergraduate students about the standards of behaviour and the social and moral consequence of sexual activity as well as parental monitoring all appear to impact undergraduate students’ decisions to engage in sexual activity.

  • Parents’ communication: Undergraduate students whose parents discussed the social and moral consequences of being sexually active are less likely to engage in sexual intercourse. The more mothers communicated with their undergraduate students about the social and moral consequences of sexual activity, the less likely the undergraduate student will engage in sexual intercourse (Guilamo-Ramos, 2016).
  • Parental monitoring: Undergraduate students whose parents monitor them more closely are less likely to be sexually active when they are in their teens. Undergraduate students whose parents report stricter monitoring of their children’s behaviours during pre-adolescence are 30 percent less likely to be sexually active when compared to adolescents whose parents reported less strict monitoring of their children’s behaviours during preadolescence (Longmore, Manning & Giordano, 2011).
  • Unwed birth: Undergraduate students are less likely to be sexually active if their parents were married at the time of their birth. Undergraduate females students age 18 to 24 whose parents were married at the time of their birth were 42 percent less likely to report having engaged in sexual activity when compared to similar undergraduate students whose parents were cohabiting at the time of their birth and 26 percent less likely to report having engaged in sexual activity (Hogan, Sun & Cornwell, 2010).
  • Single-parent socializing: Undergraduate male students whose mothers date more often and more quickly after a divorce are more likely to be sexually active. Among a sample of recently divorced mothers and their undergraduate children, mothers’ dating behaviours (number of dating partners, frequency of dates, length of time began dating after divorce) were directly related to their son’s sexual activity. Sons whose divorced mothers dated often, had multiple dating partners, and dated soon after divorce were more likely to report having been involved in heavy petting or sexual intercourse (Witbeck, Simons & Kao, 2014).
  • Parents’ attitudes: Undergraduate students who feel their parents strongly disapprove of their being sexually active are less likely to engage in premarital sex than their peers who did not perceive their parents’ strong disapproval (Carol & Ford, 2015).
  • Family stability: On average, undergraduate students whose parents are divorced tend to have more sexual partners than peers who did not experience parental divorce. Undergraduate students whose mothers had a premarital pregnancy, divorced, were married at a young age, and expressed more accepting attitudes about their children sexual activity tended to report having had sex with more partners than their peers (Thorton & Camburn, 2007).
  • Parental guidance: Undergraduate students whose parents talk with them about standards of sexual behaviour are more likely to be abstinent. Undergraduate students whose parents talked to them about what is right and wrong in sexual behaviour were significantly more likely to be abstinent than peers whose parents did not (Cheryl & Aspy, 2007).

Problems associated with premarital sex among undergraduate students

Nnachi (2013) identified problems associated with premarital sex among undergraduate students to include:

  • Unplanned pregnancy: Premarital sex often leads to unplanned pregnancies.  Undergraduate students however have more odds stacked against them than older women do. Statistics suggest young adults are two times more likely to die in childbirth or pregnancy than older women are.
  • Poor academic achievement: Premarital sex and its associated problems rob undergraduate students of adequate time to focus on academic pursuits which results to poor academic performance.
  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs): The spread of diseases through sexual contact is not a pretty picture.  STDs reveal themselves through burning, itching, oozing, and pus filled sores on your genitals.
  • Emotional problems: Premarital sex lead to emotional problems arising from feeling of gossip, fear of the unknown and feeling of insecurity.

Measures to minimize premarital sex among undergraduate students

According to Hogan et al. (2014), measures to minimize premarital sex among undergraduate students include:

  • Setting limits: Undergraduate students should always tell their partners (boy/girl friend) the limit they can go. They should desist from assuming that a girl wants to be caress or kissed whenever they are together. Girls should avoid wear tight clothes that will reveal their curves provocatively.
  • Avoiding dwelling too much of sexual issues: Undergraduate students should deviate from dwelling too much on sexual issues such watching sexually provocative movies, reading books or novels that dwells too much on sex.
  • Avoiding pitfalls when courting: During courtship, undergraduate students should try to avoid lonely times together for a long period of time. If it becomes too uncomfortable to be together, it is advisable to call off a date and rearrange for a further date in a more comfortable place where they will not be lonely.
  • Let “no” be “no”: During courtship, undergraduate students should understand and stick to the policy of letting “no” be “no”. If there are certain behaviours that one of the partner is putting on that suggests the tendency to lead to premarital sex, it is advisable to strongly say no and stand by it.


Adewale, S. (2010). Causes of premarital sex. Retrieved on 22nd February, 2017 from

Ahrold, T. K. & Meston, C. M. (2010). Ethnic differences in sexual attitudes of U.S. college students: gender, acculturation, and religiosity factors. Arch Sex Behav., 39 (1), 190–202.

Ajidahun, O. (2011). Impact of psychosocial factors adolescents‟ behaviour: Journal of Marriage and the family, 56, 229-234.

Allen, C. (2009). Peer pressure and teen sex. Psychology Today, April, 2009.

Baumeister, R. F. & Mendoza, J.P. (2011). Cultural variations in the sexual marketplace: Gender equality correlates with more sexual activity. J Soc Psychol., 151 (3), 350–60.

Carol, A. & Ford, K. (2015). Predicting adolescents’ longitudinal risk for sexually transmitted infection. Archives of Paediatric Adolescent Medicine, 15, 657-664.

Cheryl, B. & Aspy, L. (2007). Parental communication and youth sexual behaviour. Journal of Adolescence, 30(7), 449-456.

Denga, K. (2013). First coitus for adolescents: Understanding why and when. J. Am. Board Fam. Pract., 1092, 96-103.

Fikadu, A. & Fikadu, K. (2010). Creating a better future for Ethiopian youth. A Conference on ARH at The David and Lucile Packard Foundation. Bahir Dar, Ethiopia.

Finer, L. B. (2013). Trends in premarital sex in the United States, 1964–2013. Public Health Report, 77, 91-96.

Guilamo-Ramos, V. (2016). Parental expertise, trustworthiness and accessibility: Parent-Adolescent communication and adolescent risk behaviour. Journal of Marriage and Family, 68(5), 1229-1246.

Hogan, D.P., Sun, R. & Cornwell, G. T. (2010). Sexual and fertility behaviour of American females aged 15-19 years. American Journal of Public Health, 90, 1421-1425.

Ling, P. (2009). Sex and the automobile in the Jazz Age. History Today, 39 (11), 76-9.

Longmore, M. A., Manning, W. D. & Giordano, P.C. (2010). Preadolescent parenting strategies and teens’ dating and sexual initiation: A longitudinal analysis. Journal of Marriage and Family 63 (2), 322-335.

Nnachi, R. O. (2003). “Causes, consequences and control of behaviour problems among Nigerian children” in Nnachi, RO. and Ezeh PSE (eds.). (2003). The behaviour problems of the Nigerian Child. Awka: The Nigerian Society for Educational Psychologists (NISEP).

Okonkwo, R. & Eze, I. (2010). Attitude of Nigerian adolescents to premarital sexual behaviour. Implications for sex education. J. Counsel., 1(1), 21-26.

Omoegun, M. (2014). Early Childhood Care and Education as Antidote for Maladaptive behaviours among selected Lagos State Primary School Children in Nigeria: Implications for Counselling. Lagos Journal of Education Research, 2 (1), 42-55.

Onuzulike, O. (2012). Entry permit in changing attitudes. African Heritage. J., 6, 21-26.

Shields, P. & Rangarjan, N. (2013). A playbook for research methods: integrating conceptual frameworks and project management. . Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press.

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. (2015). What the polling data tell us: A summary of past surveys on teen pregnancy. California: TNCPTP.

Thorton, A. & Camburn, D. (2007). The influence of the family on premarital sexual attitude and behaviour. Demography, 24(3), 323-330.

Treffers, P. E. (2013). Teenage pregnancy, a worldwide problem. Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd (in Dutch and Flemish). 147 (47), 2320–5.

UNICEF (2011).  A league table of teenage births in rich nations. Washington, D.C.: UNICEF

Witbeck, L. B., Simons, R. L. & Kao, M. Y. (2014). The effect of divorced mother’s dating behaviours and sexual attitudes on the sexual attitudes and behaviours of their adolescent children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 56(3), 615-621.

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