Delaying sex leads to better relationships?

I mentioned this in my January newsletter, and got questions about it, so here’s more.

“Delaying sex makes for a more satisfying and stable relationship later on,” new research finds.

“Couples who had sex the earliest—such as after the first date or within the first month of dating–had the worst relationship outcomes.”

This research was done at Brigham Young University’s School of Family Life by Dean Busby.  Admittedly, Brigham Young is a Mormon institution so it could have a bias not shared by the rest of the population which is not conservative and religious.  Nonetheless, the findings are interesting and created some curiosity for me.

Here they are, explained more in detail than they were in the newsletter.  They studied 2,035 heterosexual individuals and looked specifically at the timing of sexual relations (meaning intercourse).  Participants reported when they first had sexual relations with their spouse, as well as questions about their communication.  The stability of the relationships was measured by 3 questions:  how often they thought the relationship was in trouble; how often they thought of ending it; and how often they had broken up and gotten back together.

There were three categories of sex timing:  early sex (before or within one month of first dating); late sex (between one month and 2 years of dating); and post-marital sex.

Comparing the first and the third groups (no data about the in-between group was supplied by the summary I read):

Those who waited till marriage rated:

their relationship stability 22% higher

relationship satisfaction 20% higher

sexual quality 15% better

communication 12% better

Busby had some interesting things to say:

“Curiously, almost 40% of couples are essentially sexual within the first or second time they go out, but we suspect if you asked these same coules at this early stage of their relationship, ‘Do you trust this person to watch your pet for a weekend many could not answer in the affirmative,; meaning they are more comfortable letting people into their bodies than they are with them watching their cat.”

He also commented that couples who wait to be sexual have time to figure out how trustworthy their partner is, how well they communicate, and whether they share the same values in life “before the powerful sexual bonding short-circuits their decision-making abilities.”

Assuming the results of the study are reported accurately, how can they be explained given what seems to me to be true about relationships?

First of all, fast sex is not necessarily good sex.  I do believe it is beneficial for couples to know if they’re sexually compatible before making what is assumed to be a lifetime commitment.  Just because the couples that had sex the quickest ended up being less stable does not mean that couples who wait until they’re married are better off.  It’s curious that the statistics on these “middle ground” couples are not included.

Other research I have read found that couples who are initially blissful are MORE likely to divorce, because those feelings of romantic ecstasy are impossible to maintain).  Couples with briefer courtships before marriage are also more likely to divorce.  Studies show that the fires of zestful love burn out within 6-8 months according to one study or 18-30 months according to others.

The state of passionate love activates the parts of the brain associated with a high concentration of receptors for dopamine, the chemical messenger related to drug addiction, craving, and euphoria….the person in love is an addict of sorts.

Brain scan studies show that the feeling of love is “essentially a major mental health crisis…Love really does make us crazy.”  It also affects the parts of the brain associated with critical thought.

I suggest that those who engage in early sex activate all of this intense attraction with the hormonal, chemical, and neurological changes it brings; all of these serve to make it less likely they will actually have the ability to see who the person they’re falling in love with really is.  Conversely, those who are able to be level headed enough to put sex off until marriage may not activate this hormonal storm that destroys all awareness–but doing that is at risk of not knowing if you’re sexually compatible with the person you’re going to marry.  Who is willing to take that risk, aside from those deeply involved in conservative religions?

The biggest difference in the groups was in relationship stability.  Since those waiting until marriage to have sex are more likely to be deeply religious, or to follow closely the dictates of their religion, wouldn’t they also put more empahsis on marital stability at all costs–including the cost of their own happiness?  I wonder if the results would be different if the sample were of a group which was not mostly from a conservative religious orientation, one which emphasizes saving marriage and family over the individual’s satisfaction and happiness.

What do you think?  I’d love to hear!

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