While few couples in the U.S. wait until marriage to have sex anymore, new research suggests that delaying sex may improve the long-term outcomes of marriage.

That doesn’t mean couples need necessarily wait until they walk down the aisle, but if you really like that new person you’re dating, you might want to hold off on jumping between the sheets … at least for a little while.

After studying more than 2,000 heterosexual individuals with an average age of 36, all in their first marriages, researchers with Brigham Young University’s School of Family Life discovered that those who had sex with their spouses within the first month of dating were much less satisfied with their marriages than those who had waited longer or waited until after marriage. The results of the study were published in the Journal of Family Psychology on Tuesday.
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If this latest study, led by Dr. Dean Busby, holds water, its results may not bode well for the future of a lot of American marriages. According to data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, 50 percent of couples initiate premarital sex within a month of the first date.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea to wait until marriage to have sex either, something the study authors acknowledge. Dr. Geraldine Piorkowski, a clinical psychologist in Chicago, author of “Too Close For Comfort: Exploring the Risks of Intimacy,” and a member of the American Psychological Association, told AOL Health that people who wait until after marriage to have sex may find themselves sexually incompatible.

At the same time, Piorkowski doesn’t think people should be having sex on the first date either. “It cheapens the whole experience of getting close if you rush to sex before emotional intimacy,” she says. She advises couples to wait to engage in sexual relations until they’ve established an emotional bond. “Love at first sight is a lot of baloney,” she adds, “and usually based on superficial criteria.”
Busby’s research data indicates that couples who waited until marriage to have sex rated their relationship stability 22 percent higher than those who had sexual relations in the first month of dating, LiveScience reported. They also rated the sexual quality of their relationship 15 percent higher.

It’s not just the cheapening of the experience, however. Busby points out that sex early on in a relationship may confuse the decision-making process in couples and lead them to continue relationships that aren’t really working.

Piorkowski agrees, noting that it’s important for couples to establish shared interests, values, and emotional intimacy before engaging in sexual intimacy. “If you have a lot of sexual feelings for someone, you may confuse it with love,” she points out, “especially when you’re a young person.”

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