Delaying sex til marriage improves your relationship?

The January 22nd edition of The Economist ran a 1 page review of a research article regarding the impact of sex before or after marriage on the subsequent marital relationship. I decided to track down the actual article and so thought I would make some comments here. For those of you who can’t wait for a tidbit The Economist writer provides this final summary:

Their report, just published in the Journal of Family Psychology, suggests that people who delay having sex do indeed have better relationships, on four different measures…That result applies to both men and women.

Unfortunately, Dr. Busby’s method cannot distinguish the cause of this. It could be, as many moralists preach, that the delay itself is improving. It could, though, be that the sort of people who are happy to delay having sex are also better at relationships. [p.93]

Not a bad summary but let’s go a bit deeper.

The Study

This is a study, by Dean Busby, Jason Carroll, and Brian Willoughby, was funded by a grant at Brigham Young University. The researchers surveyed 2035 married couples (recruited through various ways to take an online survey) as to the timing of their first sexual experiences (before or after their wedding). They hypothesized that sexual timing would have an impact on sexual compatibility, communication, relationship satisfaction, and relationship stability. 

Who took the survey? Demographics reported show that 77% were Caucasian couples from ages 19-71 (mean=36.1 years). Most were fairly educated. Religious affiliation was reported to be 39% Protestant, 21% Catholic, 6% Mormon, 17% “other”, and 17% unaffiliated.OF the sample (2035), 336 couples reported that they waited until they got married to have sex. The rest reported having sex prior to getting married. The largest group admitted to having sex within a few weeks after dating and 126 couples reported having sex prior to even dating (I guess I’m not sure what constitutes dating anymore…)


Here’s a succinct summary from the authors

With the sample in this study it is clear that the longer a couple waited to become sexually involved the better their sexual quality, relationship communication, relationship satisfaction, and perceived relationship stability was in marriage, even when controlling for a variety of other variables such as the number of sexual partners, education, religiosity, and relationship length. (p. 772)

Testing sexual chemistry prior to marriage did not enhance any of the above aspects of marriage over that of waiting. However, the authors also admit that the timing of sex (waiting) has positive but only moderate gains for the relationship. From this data you can’t say that you will kill your relationship if you have premarital sex. That said, the idea that premarital sex is advisable to form a good relationship holds NO water. But then, I’m not sure people really have premarital sex because they want to test the relationship. They have it because they want it and don’t want to wait.

The authors did make some hypotheses. Is it possible that those who engage in premarital sex underdevelop the relationship. By focusing  on pleasure and sex, do they fail to get to know each other well. Consider this quote.

The primary focus here is that when people slide through major relationship transitions the decreased level of deliberation
may lower the odds of pro-relational behaviors. Furthermore, sexual involvement without clear commitment can represent an ambiguous state of commitment for many partners. The ambiguity of early sexual initiation may undermine the ability of some couples to develop a clear and mutual understanding about the nature of their relationships. In contrast, commitment-based sexuality is more likely to create a sense of security and clarity between partners and within their social networks about exclusivity and a future. The results from this study support these propositions. (p. 773)


I’m not sure many will refrain from having sex because it will build a better relationship. People usually refrain out of deeper principles than that. It may not be different between those who save and those who spend all they get. Everyone knows saving is best. But some do and others do not. Those who do not usually find something they want or need now that is more powerful than socking money away for a later date.


Busby, D. M., Carroll, J. S., & Willoughby, B. J. (2010). Compatibility or restraint? The effects of sexual timing on marriage relationships. Journal of Family Psychology, 24(6), 766-774.


Filed under marriage, Sex

6 responses to “Delaying sex til marriage improves your relationship?

  1. Erin

    “Why buy the cow when the milk is free?”
    I think a lot of people no longer commit like they usto and don’t refrain because sex its too available and acceptable nowadays… (at least with my generation it is)
    With fornication as the Norm people don’t even consider waiting if they do it is rare .. I can think of no one I know personally who waited .

  2. Erin

    Cont… I don’t know why people can’t wait. I think It’s the better option as well ,Waiting builds trust. I figure if someone can’t wait with you why should they wait with someone else and then the whole mistrust thing happens ..

  3. Dad

    Phil, have you seen the book by Mike & Harriet McMannus entitled “Living Together — Myths, Risks, & Answers published in 2008?

  4. Dad

    I thought it was a good read and that it could be helpful to pastors and marriage counselors.

  5. Scott Knapp

    During the brief time I spent in business school a few decades go, during an eventually aborted attempt to earn an MBA, I became acquainted with the term “opportunity cost,” or the loss of an opportunity or option due to the choice of a different opportunity or option, or the delay in making any choice whatsoever. Given the cultural decay, with the fingers of rot creeping into most marriages these days, it’s hard for anyone to imagine any benefit to delaying gratification of sexual urges now…why blow the opportunity for mind-blowing (as it’s always hoped the next encounter will be) sex, hoping for some esoteric benefit later on (which may or may not ever be realized). Josh McDowell produced enough evidence to fill Plenty’s horn, with his popular book “Why Wait?”

    No matter how compelling the rational reasons are for abstaining until marriage (and abstaining between marriages, these days), in the absence of any logical persuasion it still remains right because God said it’s right! If, for no other reason whatsoever, worship of God aright requires my sexual purity while outside marital boundaries, then it is the right thing to do….period. It seems logical to assume, then, that one of the chief reasons humans are wont to abstain from sexual gratification outside of marriage is the fallen “flesh” that refuses to worship God or submit to anything He requires as worship. Is it any wonder why Satan and demons chose to include gross sexual perversity in the rituals of idol worship?

  6. lifeinlonglegs

    “If, for no other reason whatsoever, worship of God aright requires my sexual purity while outside marital boundaries, then it is the right thing to do….period.” …Exactly.

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