With the upward trend of cohabitation as a trial marriage, couples who wait to have sex until marriage are quickly becoming a minority in western countries. The general consensus is that exploration of sexual compatibility before the lifelong commitment would lead to a better marriage and by not doing one’s marriage will be adversely impacted. If such belief were true, does it mean saving sex for marriage would lead to a worse marriage? A study in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Family Psychology indicates that waiting after marriage not only does not harm a relationship, it actually provides many benefits.
The study conducted by Brigham Young University’s School of Family Life professor, Dean Busby, involves 2,035 married individuals who participated in a popular online marital assessment called “RELATE.” From the assessment’s database, researchers selected a sample designed to match the demographics of the married American population. The extensive questionnaire includes the question “When did you become sexual in this relationship?”1
A statistical analysis showed the following benefits enjoyed by couples who waited until marriage compared to those who started having sex in the early part of their relationship:1
- Relationship stability was rated 22 percent higher
- Relationship satisfaction was rated 20 percent higher
- Sexual quality of the relationship was rated 15 percent better
- Communication was rated 12 percent better
The longer participants waited to be sexual, the more stable and satisfying their relationships were once they were married. Gender had a relatively small inﬂuence on the dependent variables. For the other dependent variables, the participants who waited to be sexual until after marriage had signiﬁcantly higher levels of communication and sexual quality compared to the other two sexual timing groups.2
So even for couples who didn’t wait until marriage, the benefits of delaying sexual involvement in their relationship still can be felt, although they were about half as strong. “Most research on the topic is focused on individuals’ experiences and not the timing within a relationship,” said lead study author Dean Busby.
“There’s more to a relationship than sex, but we did find that those who waited longer were happier with the sexual aspect of their relationship,” Busby added. “I think it’s because they’ve learned to talk and have the skills to work with issues that come up.”
Sociologist Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas at Austin, who was not involved with this research, read the study and shared his take on the findings.
“Couples who hit the honeymoon too early – that is, prioritize sex promptly at the outset of a relationship – often find their relationships underdeveloped when it comes to the qualities that make relationships stable and spouses reliable and trustworthy,” said Regnerus, author of Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying*, a book forthcoming from Oxford University Press.
Because religious belief often plays a role for couples who choose to wait, Busby and his co-authors controlled for the influence of religious involvement in their analysis.
Busby concludes, “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 fora variety of other variables such as the number of sexual partners, education, religiosity, and relationship length.”2
The result of this study should give one more reason to delay sex until marriage, since it benefits people who do so, regardless of religiosity.
1Brigham Young University. “Couples who delay having sex get benefits later, study suggests.” EurekAlert. (accessed April 12, 2014).
2Dean M. Busby, Jason S. Carroll, and Brian J. Willoughby. “Compatibility or Restraint? The Effects of Sexual Timing on Marriage Relationships,” Journal of Family Psychology 24, no. 6 (2010): 766–774. doi:10.1037/a0021690
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