New study: couples that delay sexual activity experience higher quality relationships

Relationship stability, quality, communication, satisfaction
Relationship stability, quality, communication, satisfaction

From Family Studies, news about TWO new studies.

Excerpt: (links removed)

[T]wo recently published studies call into question the validity of testing sexual chemistry early in dating.

My colleagues and I published the first study a few years ago in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Family Psychology. This study involved a national sample of 2,035 married individuals who participated in the popular online couple assessment survey called “RELATE.” We found that the longer a dating couple waits to have sex, the better their relationship is after marriage. In fact, couples who wait until marriage to have sex report higher relationship satisfaction (20% higher), better communication patterns (12% better), less consideration of divorce (22% lower), and better sexual quality (15% better) than those who started having sex early in their dating (see Figure 2). For couples in between—those that became sexually involved later in their dating, but prior to marriage—the benefits were about half as strong.

[…]These patterns were statistically significant even when controlling for a variety of other variables such as respondents’ number of prior sexual partners, education levels, religiosity, and relationship length.

The second study, by Sharon Sassler and her colleagues at Cornell University, also found that rapid sexual involvement has adverse long-term implications for relationship quality. Using data from the Marital and Relationship Survey, which provides information on nearly 600 low- to moderate-income couples living with minor children, their study examined the tempo of sexual intimacy and subsequent relationship quality in a sample of married and cohabiting men and women. Their analyses also suggest that delaying sexual involvement is associated with higher relationship quality across several dimensions.

They discovered that the negative association between sexual timing and relationship quality is largely driven by a link between early sex and cohabitation. Specifically, sexual involvement early in a romantic relationship is associated with an increased likelihood of moving more quickly into living together, which in turn is associated with lower relationship quality. This finding supports Norval Glenn’s hypothesis that sexual involvement may lead to unhealthy emotional entanglements that make ending a bad relationship difficult. As Sassler and her colleagues concluded, “Adequate time is required for romantic relationships to develop in a healthy way. In contrast, relationships that move too quickly, without adequate discussion of the goals and long-term desires of each partner, may be insufficiently committed and therefore result in relationship distress, especially if one partner is more committed than the other” (p. 710).

The rest of the post talks about two reasons why this works: improved partner selection and prioritizing communication and commitment. Improved partner selection occurs because you haven’t committed too much too soon (sexually) and you have time to let things play out to see if you really fit with the other person. And if you take sex off the table, then you have to use other means in order to build emotional intimacy – communication, service, support, etc.

That’s two studies, and there’s a third. Dina sent me this article from the UK Daily Mail about a new study showing the importance of chastity for relationship quality and stability.


New couples who jump into bed together on the first date do not last as long in relationships as those who wait a new study has revealed.

Using a sample of almost 11,000 unmarried people, Brigham Young University discovered a direct correlation between the length and strength of a partnership and the amount of time they took to have first have sex.

The study showed that those who waited to initiate sexual intimacy were found to have longer and more positive outcomes in their relationships while those who couldn’t help themselves reported that their dalliances struggled to last more than two years.

‘Results suggested that waiting to initiate sexual intimacy in unmarried relationships was generally associated with positive outcomes,’ said the report authored published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.

‘This effect was strongly moderated by relationship length, with individuals who reported early sexual initiation reporting increasingly lower outcomes in relationships of longer than two years.’

The study examined four sexual-timing patterns: Having sex prior to dating, initiating sex on the first date or shortly after, having sex after a few weeks of dating, and sexual abstinence.

Each one of these fields yielded different results in relationship satisfaction, stability and communication in dating situations.

Here’s another recent study that shows that if a woman has more than her husband as a premarital sex partner, her risk of divorce increases.

His findings:

Using nationally representative data from the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth, I estimate the association between intimate premarital relationships (premarital sex and premarital cohabitation) and subsequent marital dissolution. I extend previous research by considering relationship histories pertaining to both premarital sex and premarital cohabitation. I find that premarital sex or premarital cohabitation that is limited to a woman’s husband is not associated with an elevated risk of marital disruption.However, women who have more than one intimate premarital relationship have an increased risk of marital dissolution.

Here’s another study that makes it even more clear.


Data from the 1988 US National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) were utilized to assess the impact of premarital sexual activity on subsequent marital stability. Among white NSFG subjects first married in 1965-85, virgin brides were significantly less to have become separated or divorced (25%) than women who had not been virgins at marriage (35%).

[…]The lower risk of divorce on the part of white women with no premarital sexual experience persisted even after numerous intervening and background variables were controlled.

This study supports what the Bible says about chastity and premarital sex:

1 Cor. 7:8-9:

8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to stay single as I am.

9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

The idea of “burning” here has to do with sexual desire. Here Paul tells all unmarried people that if they cannot control their sexual desires, they need to get married. Why? Because Paul assumes that one cannot fulfill this sexual desire outside of the marital bed. While Paul would love for them to remain single (1 Cor. 7:7), he believes that sex outside of marriage is a destructive sin and cannot be used as a gratifying release of our sexual passions.

If you’re going to talk to a young person about sex, it’s a good idea to use these studies to explain what you lose by having sex too early in the relationship. Although they may respond with anecdotes to refute studies, studies are important because they represent LOTS of data points, not just one or two cherry-picked cases. My view on all this is the Bible’s view – no sex before marriage. But when talking to people about this issue, I find it useful to have evidence ready in order to be convincing in every way possible.

2 thoughts on “New study: couples that delay sexual activity experience higher quality relationships”

  1. Wintery Knight,

    I’m confused by the passage from 1 Corinthians. I understand that Paul is saying that if you cannot control your sexual desires, you should get married. However, it also seems like he is saying that, ideally, people should avoid marriage altogether and stay single and chaste. Was Paul anti-marriage?

    1. Paul was not anti-marriage, he just thought that singleness was better for those who were tough enough to resist sexual temptation (i.e. – they would have to remain chaste). Why? Because when you marry, your interests are divided between God and family. I don’t think I’ve ever met a pastor who accepted the literal meaning of this passage, mind you.

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