Over the past 30 to 40 years, dramatic changes have taken place in our society in adolescents' and young adults' entry into sexuality, marriage, and parenting. The links between sexual activity and marriage began to erode with increased options for contraception, changes in societal norms, and opening up of economic opportunities for women (Alan Guttmacher Institute [AGI], 1994; Furstenberg, 1995, in press; Smith, 1994). Subsequent eroding of the link between the establishment of a stable marriage as a necessary condition of parenting has occurred due to myriad social policies and societal norms on divorce and the support of children (Cherlin, 1988; Furstenberg, 1995). Adolescent and young adult transitions to sexuality, marriage, and childbearing occur in parallel with, although not necessarily as a result of, the development of romantic relationships.
In our culture, a prevailing belief is that sexual intimacy is inappropriate if it does not occur in the context of love, and often a legally or religiously sanctioned arrangement (i.e., marriage). However, the strength of this belief varies across historical periods; the dimension of the relationship; and the gender, age, and context of the individuals involved. The timing and co-occurrence or patterning of sex, love, and stable, long-term relationships occur in societal and historical contexts (Elder, 1974, 1985; Hagestad, 1986; Hardy, Astone, Brooks-Gunn, Shapiro, & Miller, 1998; Hareven, 1977).