From Our 2010 Archives

Benefits in Delaying Sex Until Marriage

Happier Marriages, More Satisfying Sex Among the Perks, Study Finds

By Bill Hendrick
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 28, 2010 -- It may be common for couples to have sex before marriage, but a new study shows that couples who wait until marriage are happier with the quality of sex than couples who have intercourse before their vows.

What's more, couples who delay sex until their wedding night have more stable and happier marriages than couples who have premarital sex, according to the study, which appears in the Journal of Family Psychology.

The study involved 2,035 married participants in an online assessment of marriage called "RELATE." According to the study, people who waited until marriage:

  • rated sexual quality 15% higher than people who had premarital sex
  • rated relationship stability as 22% higher
  • rated satisfaction with their relationships 20% higher

The benefits were about half as strong for couples who became sexually active later in their relationships but before marriage.

Developing Relationship Skills

"Most research on the topic is focused on individuals' experiences and not the timing within a relationship," study author Dean Busby, PhD, a professor in Brigham Young University's School of Family Life, says in a news release. "There's more to a relationship than sex, but we did find that those who waited longer were happier with the sexual aspects of their relationship."

It may be that couples report greater satisfaction and sexual quality if they've waited because the extra time gives them longer to learn about each other and develop the skills necessary for good relationships, Busby says.

About 92% of the respondents had attended college, 32% completed some college, 24% obtained a bachelor's degree, and the average age was 36. The majority of the couples had sex within two months of starting to date, while 16% delayed intercourse until marriage.

Prioritizing Sex at Start of Relationship May Not Be Optimal

Mark Regnerus, PhD, of the University of Texas, who wasn't involved with the study, says it suggests to him that couples who "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."

He is the author of a forthcoming book titled "Premarital Sex in America," being published by Oxford University Press.

Busby and colleagues controlled for the influence of religious involvement in their analysis because it often plays a role on when couples choose to initiate sex. "Regardless of religiosity, waiting helps the relationship form better communication processes, and these help improve long-term stability and relationship satisfaction," Busby says.

The study says 21% of respondents were Catholic, 39% Protestant, 6% Latter-Day Saints (Mormon), 17% members of "another religion," and 17% who indicated no religious affiliation. The authors write that sexual intimacy in the early stages of dating is sometimes viewed as an important part of testing compatibility, and determining whether a relationship would work later on.

But the researchers say their findings are clear, that "the longer a couple waited to become sexually involved, the better that sexual quality, relationship communication, relationship satisfaction and perceived relationship stability was in marriage ..."

SOURCES: News release, American Psychological Association.Busby, D. Journal of Family Psychology, 2010.

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