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.
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.