Waiting for the wedding night smarter than "taking a test drive"

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It seems like every day another study emerges that reaffirms the wisdom of traditional moral restraints.

An article on the blog of the Institute for Family Studies, Slow But Sure: Does the Timing of Sex During Dating Matter?, reviews two scholarly studies of the timing of a couple's first sexual involvement and their long-term happiness.

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....

The second study confirmed the finding and delved into the reasons.

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 author of the article, Jason S. Carroll, says that evidence points to two reasons why couples benefit from waiting: "Intentional partner selection" -- your judgment about the suitability of someone as a spouse isn't clouded by physical entanglement -- and "sexual symbolism" -- emotional intimacy is given time to develop first, and sexual intimacy becomes a symbol of emotional intimacy.

For many young adults, the single life has become synonymous with hook-ups and sexual experimentation. The problem with these patterns is that proper partner selection is often difficult for sexually involved couples who experience strong physical rewards with each other, as these rewards can cause them to ignore or minimize deeper incompatibilities in the relationship. The human brain and body do not just experience pleasure during sex; they also experience strong sensations of attachment and bonding. Simply put, we are hardwired to connect. Rapid sexual initiation often creates poor partner selection because intense feelings of pleasure and attachment can be confused for true intimacy and lasting love. Early sex creates a sort of counterfeit intimacy that makes two people think they are closer to each other than they really are. This can cause people to "fall in love" with, and possibly even marry, someone who is not a good choice for them in the long run....

Emotional intimacy exists in a relationship when two people experience a sense of security, support, trust, comfort, and safety with one another. In dating, focusing on emotional intimacy is a process of coming to know each other from the inside-out, not just the outside in. Sexual restraint allows couples to focus on and evaluate the emotional aspects of their relationship....

...Ultimately, loving and lasting marriages are ones where the sexual intimacy is a meaningful physical symbol of the emotional intimacy shared between the spouses. Without this, sex is just physical and lacks the meaning needed to be truly satisfying over the long term. In dating, couples who hope to marry should focus on developing a foundation of friendship and communication that will serve as the ongoing foundation for sexual intimacy in their marriage. By practicing sexual restraint, couples allow themselves to focus on a true foundation of intimacy: acceptance, understanding, partnership, and love.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 9, 2015 12:33 PM.

Bridenstine proposes banning federal contracts for corporate donors to Planned Parenthood was the previous entry in this blog.

GT Bynum lobbying, possible conflicts of interest in the news is the next entry in this blog.

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