Nearly all adults in America have sex before marriage. According to the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth, “by age 44, 95% of respondents had had premarital sex.”1 Although sex can increase your feelings of love for your partner, research shows that premarital sex also increases the risk of divorce. Couples are more likely to neglect other aspects of relationship development, and to misjudge their compatibility for marriage.
Sex has the power to create an emotional bond between a man and a woman, resulting in increased feelings of love and intimacy. Jim Pfaus, a professor at Concordia University, published a study that showed “love and desire activate specific but related areas in the brain.”2 According to Pfaus, “Love is… a habit that is formed from sexual desire as desire is rewarded.”3 In other words, if you have sex with someone you are physically attracted to, the more likely your feelings of love for that person will grow.
Although sex is a “love drug” that can create an emotional bond with your partner, research shows that premarital sex does not lead to better marital outcomes. A 2010 study, which surveyed over 2,000 married individuals, found 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…”4 Couples who waited to have sex until their wedding night had the best marital outcomes with relationship stability rated 22% higher, sexual satisfaction 15% higher, and communication 12% better.5 The higher scores for couples who delayed having sex suggest that they put more time and effort into developing their personal relationship.
A 2016 study by the Institute for Family Studies found that women who marry as virgins have a much lower divorce rate than women who have had multiple sexual partners. Female virgins who married in the 2000s had a 6% divorce rate after five years, while women who had two sexual partners before marriage had a 30% divorce rate.6 Women with 10 or more sexual partners had the highest divorce rate at 33%.7 The percentage dipped slightly for women with three to nine partners,8 but the overall result is clear: Having one or more sexual partners before marriage increases the risk of divorce.
One reason is, couples who have premarital sex may place greater focus on the physical and sexual aspects of their relationship, and put less effort into other aspects of relationship development like communication. As a result, their future marriage will be less stable. In contrast, couples who abstain from premarital sex are likely to place greater focus on their personal relationship, making them better prepared for marriage. Further, by building a relationship on a foundation other than sex, both partners can better judge their compatibility.
Many people today believe that premarital sex is essential so both partners in a relationship can determine if they have sexual chemistry: the “mysterious, physical, emotional and sexual state that when present in a relationship creates something unique and explosive.”9 They reason that if marriage is a car you might want to purchase, then you need to take a test-drive first. However, if sexual chemistry is a prerequisite for a successful marriage, couples who have premarital sex should have lower divorce rates than couples who abstain. The results of the two aforementioned studies indicate that the opposite is true.
The second reason premarital sex increases the risk of divorce is the experience of sexual chemistry can cause a couple to misjudge their compatibility. Due to the increased feelings of love and intimacy that follow sex, a couple can become “prematurely entangled”10 and later get married. In other words, if you have a great sexual relationship with your partner, it can create the illusion that you are soul mates. Tragically, years later, when the flames of sexual passion have died down, many people realize they married the wrong person.
Sex is a vital aspect of marriage, strengthening the emotional bond between a husband and wife, but great sex is not what makes a marriage last. True love endures when a man and a woman are loving companions: two people who enjoy each other’s conversation and have shared interests and values. Engaging in premarital sex doesn’t mean you can’t have a successful marriage. (The Institute for Family Studies found that 75% of women who had six to nine sexual partners did not divorce after five years.11) However, by delaying sex until marriage, and building a relationship on the foundation of companionship, you have a greater chance of choosing the right partner, and being together until death do you part.
- Lawrence B. Finer, “Trends in Premarital Sex in the United States, 19542003,” Public Health Reports 122, no. 1: 73. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17236611
- “I want to know where love is,” Concordia University, June 19, 2012, http://www.concordia.ca/cunews/main/releases/2012/06/19/i-want-to-know-where-love-is.html
- Dean M. Busby et al., “Compatibility or Restraint? The Effects of Sexual Timing on Marriage Relationships,” Journal of Family Psychology24, no. 6 (2010): 772. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21171775
- Brigham Young University, “Couples who delay having sex get benefits later, study suggests,” Science Daily, December 29, 2010, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/12/101222112102.htm
- Nicholas H. Wolfinger, “Counterintuitive Trends in the Link Between Premarital Sex and Marital Stability,” Institute for Family Studies, June 6, 2016, https://ifstudies.org/blog/counterintuitive-trends-in-the-link-between-premarital-sex-and-marital-stability/
- Busby, “Compatibility or Restraint?”, 767.
- Busby, “Compatibility or Restraint?”, 772.
- Wolfinger, “Counterintuitive Trends,” https://ifstudies.org/blog/counterintuitive-trends-in-the-link-between-premarital-sex-and-marital-stability/