Celibacy Whilst Unmarried Leads to Better Sex

It’s official! Amazed I miss this one last week.

Scientists at the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University, in Utah interviewed 2,035 married people about when they first had sex with their partner.

Analysis of the results showed that couples who waited until marriage before having sex enjoyed a much healthier relationship with their partner than those who started having sex in the early part of their relationship. In particular, relationship stability was rated 22 per cent higher, relationship satisfaction was 20 per cent higher, quality of sex was 15 per cent better and even communication between partners was 12 per cent better.

For couples who became sexually involved later in their relationship, but before marriage, the benefits were about half as strong.

The research supports the decisions made by celebrities such as actress Lisa Kudrow, who had not had sex before she married her advertising executive husband Michel Stern, and pop stars The Jonas Brothers. While it is common for couples to explore their sexual compatibility before making a long-term commitment, the researchers argued that too much emphasis is put on the physical side of a relationship, and too little on trust, loyalty and commitment.

Professor Dean Busby, who lead the study, said: ‘Most research on the topic is focused on individuals’ experiences of sex and not the timing within a relationship. There’s more to a relationship than sex, but we did find that those who waited longer were happier with the sexual aspect of their relationship. I think it’s because they’ve learned to talk and have the skills to work with issues that come up.’

Mark Regnerus, author of Premarital Sex in America, echoed Professor Busby’s opinion. He said: ‘Couples who hit the honeymoon too early – that is, prioritise 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.’

Given that religious beliefs often play a role for couples who choose to wait, the researchers took any influence of religion into account. ‘Regardless of how religious a couple are, waiting helps the relationship form better a communication process and this improves long-term stability and relationship satisfaction,’ added Professor Busby.

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  • http://twitter.com/craigadams49 Craig L. Adams

    Thanks for posting this. I had missed reading about this as well.

  • Vwinterburg

    So how do you stack that up against the latest research that middle and upper middleclass couples who co-habitate but marry later after getting more education tend to stay married versus those who marry young and that the less educated seem to be giving up on marrying at all. Or my favorite statistic that 95% of all couples have had sex before marriage, a number that has stayed the same since 1950.

    • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

      The BYU research is on satisfaction in marriage, not marital longevity. It's perfectly possible to have a longer marriage if you're middle class yet still have less sexual satisfaction then equivalent couples who were celibate before marriage.

  • Sibyl

    Actually, multiple studies show cohabitation predicts far greater incidence of divorce.

  • Cerebusboy

    Assuming that by 'sex' the study means 'penetration', then I'm not sure that all the pre-marital activities outwith it are still consistent with 'celibacy'. Christians who date (and so flirt, date, kiss etc – sometimes even in that order! ;-)) but who don't go 'all the way' are surely 'abstinant'.
    Although these kind of studies are a bit silly. How are a couple who have never experienced sex with anyone expected to objectively or empirically testify to the merits of their sex life? A 17 year old who loses his virginity and can last all of two songs with his girlfriend might also testify that their sex life (compared to the barren alternative) is 'brilliant', whereas a 30 year old who's had a number of girlfriends might have a more realistic (so less This Is The Best Thing in the World EVER!) rating for his sex life.
    Conversely, most guys would say that sex, like beer or football, is one of those things that , when it's bad, it's still good. So I'm not sure how much actual meaning 'sex was 15 per cent better' statements have. Frequency aside, I'm not sure how anyone could usefully chart, stock-market style, useful fluctuations in the quality of their sex life ( 'my sex life's improved 22% this week!' 'Really? Mine's had a -5 downswing, but I'm confident of a 12.35% upswing for Valentine's Day'). And isn't it a truisim that, the longer you wait for something, the more you subconsciously want it to be worthwhile? Star Wars Episode 1:The Phantom Menace would have got much better reviews if it'd came out ten years earlier than it did…

    Not sure that these sorts of studies are necessarily useful for evangelising either. Saying (as analogy) that 'Christianity will make you 11% happier!' essentially capitulates to the secular deification of subjective emotion and ego, surely a tactical misstep in the long term….

    • http://davidould.net David Ould

      Although these kind of studies are a bit silly. How are a couple who have never experienced sex with anyone expected to objectively or empirically testify to the merits of their sex life?

      But that, surely, is the point. Perhaps premarital sex (or, more likely, the mindset that assumes it is ok) raises false expectations of what sex should be like. Those that choose not to engage prior to marriage may do so because of different assumptions and expectations – not simply that it will not be as unjoyable but that there are different areas of satisfaction – emotional etc.

      • Cerebusboy

        I think someone can have an 'enjoyable' but promiscuous sex life; the Christian should point out the immorality and (ultimately) destructive nature of such a sexuality, not pretend that people who claim to be happy with it are somehow lying. You have a point about assumptions, but it works with the other way too – guys who finds Christ and stops sleeping around may well be (initially) very 'unhappy' with celibacy or monogamy, but that it no way negates the view of sexuality put forward in (e.g.) The Cathechism of The Catholic Church. Although if your point is correct, David, then it surely shows the importance of challenging the assumptions people bring to sexuality – which, to me, is quite different to saying that waiting until they marry will lead to a 15% sex life!
        ,

    • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

      Although these kind of studies are a bit silly. How are a couple who have never experienced sex with anyone expected to objectively or empirically testify to the merits of their sex life?

      They asked a series of questions including whether the couple had pre-marital sex and how they rated their present sex life. The couples who abstained from sex before marriage repeatedly reported higher levels of current satisfaction with their sex life.

      A 17 year old who loses his virginity and can last all of two songs with his girlfriend might also testify that their sex life (compared to the barren alternative) is 'brilliant', whereas a 30 year old who's had a number of girlfriends might have a more realistic (so less This Is The Best Thing in the World EVER!) rating for his sex life.

      But the problem with the 30yolds (and I know because I speak to many of them) is that because they've had sex with so many people, they've lost the ability to "know" someone. Every time they have sex with their current partner they bring all their previous sexual relationships with them to the bed. Losing your virginity to your spouse means that you never compare your present sex to any other sex – your rating of satisfaction is to do with you and your spouse and not you and other people you've slept with. Your satisfaction is not adulterated by other relationships and means that you only concern yourself sexually with one person – as we were designed to.

      • Cerebusboy

        "They asked a series of questions including whether the couple had pre-marital sex and how they rated their present sex life. The couples who abstained from sex before marriage repeatedly reported higher levels of current satisfaction with their sex life."

        Indeed, but – from a statistical basis – wouldn't it be better to have people comparing sex outside of marriage and sex within who've tried both? Doesn't it take the shine off the study to say that it amounts to 'people who wait until they're married to have sex *say* they're happier, because they don't have anything to compare it to" . One worldly view might be that sex is better with someone you love, and this is indeed supported by the study (as people who get married are by definition more likely to be in love than those at earlier stages in the relationship). If the couple who didn't have sex before marriage were asked to rate their sex life in the pre-wedlock days, they would presumably give either a 'NA' or a 'Zero'. Moving into a state that is the opposite of this will automatically lead to a high rating. Even if the sex doesn't (for the woman) always lead to orgasm, I'd argue that – compared to the pre-marriage alternative – she'd still be likely to rate it higher. You might be right that the sex-before-marriage couple, on the other hand, have fundamentally flawed perceptions of sexuality. But they might also be more liable to give a lower but *more honest and statistically useful* 'happiness' rating for (e.g.) infrequent orgasms, insufficient time receiving oral etc etc etc etc in a way not true of the couple who have no experience of a 'good' sex life for comparison.

        And, if you say that 95% (which might be an exaggeration, but I'm sure it's a majority) of couples *do* engage in sex before marriage, then doesn't that have key implications for the study? We can assume that the majority of people who abstain from sex before marriage (given the culture) do so for moral/religious rather than experiential reasons. Let's say I know six unmarried couples, five of whom are evangelical Christians and one of whom are secular humanist types. If the unmarried couples did have sex before marriage then the fall-out (realisation of sin, feelings of shame, urge for repentance, possibility of having to discuss the situation with a Pastor) would be very unhappy, irrespective of the number of orgasms involved. They might even give a negative number for the 'happiness' rating of their sex life! The secular couple , on the other hand, might have a response like '8/10! She's up for anal, and I've said I don't mind her taking her Ann Summers toy to bed' etc etc. This sample wouldn't enable me to accurately say that sex before marriage is an unhappy experience for *most* couples, and certainly not for purely experiential reasons.

      • Richard Erdington

        Don't you realise that all data collected about sexual experience is subjective? Why write as if there were a scientific set of control data? What empricial data do can you publish to discredit the BYU's study?

        • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

          I think the onus is on you to provide researched evidence that shows a contrary picture to the one the BYU study presents.

  • Cerebusboy

    To clarify the Star Wars point: fanboys can slag off movies with no ill effects. But if someone enters into a lifelong commitment , before God, to another person, then they are (irrespective of the reality) hardly going to be predisposed to say that 'actually, the sex isn't all that, and to be honest I don't know why we didn't just start earlier') . People who believe (as I concede that Orthodox Christians do) that all sex outside marriage is fundamentally flawed are hardly liable to denigrate the One True Acceptable forum for sexual expression in the face of a researcher with a clipboard.

    • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

      But I'm actually grateful that I waited till marriage to have sex with my wife. We built up a very healthy emotional and spiritual relationship before putting the capstone on the building.

      I don't know of a single couple who waited till they were married to have sex and have a dissatisfactory sex life, who don't have other relational issues going on. As any sex therapist can tell you, good sex can be taught and practised, but you need to love your spouse first to make it good. That love has nothing to do with sex.

      • Richard Erdington

        Do you have scientific data to support your subjective claims? If so I'd like to see it. It is one thing to hold an opinion, but quite another to claim it to be factual across the whole sweep of human experience. Please share what you have.

        • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

          Once again, pastoral experience. By all means share stories of couple you know who waited till marriage to have sex, now have a bad sex life and have no other relational issues going on that are the root of that bad sex life.

  • Tom

    I would like to hear Dan Savage's comment on this research. He has plenty of married people ringing his podcast (Savage Love) who are dissatisfied with their sex life, often because one party wants more regular sex than the other is prepared to give, or because one wants a more adventurous and explorative sex life than the other will allow. It's a bit late to find all this out after you are married. As far as the study is concerned, since it was was conducted at Brigham Young and in Utah, were all the couples Mormons? If so do the Mormons rule out any foreplay and forms of sex such as oral sex (yes, it is sex despite Clinton's "I did not have sex with that woman!") and practise only vaginal coitus adspectans (face to face) with no other stimulation, as Catholics are supposed to? With such limitations on the permitted acts I imagine it is easier to reach parity of satisfaction.

    See http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/SavageLove?oid

    • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

      Having read a few of the "advices" Dan Savage gives, I'm not in the slightest bit interested in what he has to say about this. I quote

      "Dump the nice girl, be single, fuck around, and keep your eyes peeled for a girl who wants what you want, change and all."

      Goodbye Dan Savage. You ain't in this game.

      • Cerebusboy

        Dan Savage is a provocative writer, (and he has on innumerable occasions pointed out that he's NOT a sexologist), but he can talk a lot of (albeit worldly and emotional) sense. And he did create the now dictionary and Google verified definition of Santorum, so one can understand why republicans and conservatives hate him so. He's also genuinely hilarious (I'd highly recommend the book that compiles the best of his column, for – and this should really go without saying – a good laugh, NOT as a sensible ideological basis for one's sexuality)

        And you want want to give some context for the quote. You might argue that all non-Christian thinking on sexuality is fundamentally flawed, but why would a non-Christian advice another non-Christian to stay in a sexless relationship if sex is what the *person writing* identifies as a key value? I'm pretty sure that following Dan's advice (have sex, don't be a closet case etc) leads to lots of increased 'happiness'.

        And Dan can be robustly factual. Not to be vulgar, but I'd say that his bringing in of guest-experts (and authors of 'Anal Pleasure and Healthy' type books) to check his advice on anal sex compares favorably with the Mickey Mouse Paul Cameron et all 'statistics' invoked by sexual 'conservatives' to 'prove' the evils of sodomy.

      • Richard Erdington

        I must challenge your statement, "most of the time it's him who wants it more" as nothuing more that a worldy opinion that discounts all the work of academic sexologists during the twentieth century. What is the scientific basis for your repeating what is now known to be untrue?

        • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

          Quite simply, pastoral experience. If you want to present other evidence by all means be my guest.

  • Tom

    Cerebusboy, you make an interesting point about penetration. Often those who save themselves for marriage do indulge in other forms of petting and physical courtship because they deem only vaginal intercourse is sex. Dan Savage has reported that some of these people even perform anal sex so the woman can say she is a virgin for her marriage night. I seems bizarre, I know because the rest of us would deem non-vaginal sex as still sex, but there is no knowing how many ways people delude themselves.

    • Cerebusboy

      Hey Tom,
      Yes, I remember Savage even coined the term 'Saddlebacking' (named after the evangelical mega church) to describe the phenomena. I remember when people made fun of Bill Clinton for saying that oral sex isn't sex as it's not in the Bible, but I'm sure old Bill can (and did!) make an argument from bloody-sheet-of-virgins passages. When people, in more culturally Christian times, referred to 'consummating' a marriage, surely they meant a specific act, not (for example) oral shenanigans or a light fingering..

  • Tom

    "I think having sex only once or twice a week is an easy sacrifice to make (and actually in the long run leads to a better sex life)."Peter.

    Ummmh…….I have mentioned my aunt before, I know, but she thought men were beasts if they wanted sex more than once in their marriage (just to have that one child). These were the days before widespread contraception. (When did the Church of England reverse its view that contraception was evil?) She was a Baptist, probably not all that observant but they certainly convinced her of their dysfunctional views on sex. Quote St Paul to your heart's content but the protestant Christian churches seriously moderated the early Christian generally negative view on sex once they allowed divorce, birth control leading to sex for pleasure not necessarily open to the transmission of life. Once you admit this, as Rowan Williams pointed out in The Body's Grace, your case against same sex is difficult to sustain. All the stuff about Christ and his Church is so much wordplay built on the lucky accident that ecclesia is a feminine noun in Greek and Latin, theologising waffle on the part of Paul.

  • Peter Mullins

    Ah, I thought I'd find you'd have a thread about this research. But where is your objective critique of it?

    It comes from a Mormon promotional source, which may not bias it but which has to be noted.

    It deals with just 2000 or so people; it would be good to know how many of them had not had sex before marriage to be sure we are dealing with a significant sample; it would be good to know how many of them come from a Mormon background and thus are speaking from within an accepted culture about sex before marriage.

    The obvious critique to consider seems to me to be: 'those who chose not to have sex before marriage in the present English culture are a statistically unusual sub-group many members of which are likely to share a statistically unusual social / moral approach to issues such as commitment, mutuality and Christian / Moron marriage – the fact that they then express greater satisfaction with different aspects of their marriages than those in other sub-groups is not therefore in itself a surprising discovery and certainly doesn't in itself privilege any one aspect of their behaviour (of which celibacy before marriage would be an example) as an isolated specific causal factor in their satisfaction'.

    • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

      Peter,

      Ah, I thought I'd find you'd have a thread about this research. But where is your objective critique of it?

      It comes from a Mormon promotional source, which may not bias it but which has to be noted.

      It deals with just 2000 or so people; it would be good to know how many of them had not had sex before marriage to be sure we are dealing with a significant sample; it would be good to know how many of them come from a Mormon background and thus are speaking from within an accepted culture about sex before marriage.

      "2000 or so people" is a fantastically large sample. Though the research comes from BYU it is highly reputable and was published in a well respected peer-review journal linked to the American Psycological Association.

      It would be interesting to look at the religious/non-religious sub-samples in the dataset to see if there were any differences, but you cannot simply assume such differences unless you have the data to prove it.

      • Peter Mullins

        2000 is a large enough sample. I was just wondering was how large the 'I didn't have sex before marriage' proportion of the sample was to be sure that it is significant.

        And I don't assume the difference between the subsets. I simply set out what seems to me a convincing explanation as a hypothesis which would need to be tested before drawing conclusions.

        There may be a subset of American (possibly even Mormon American) people for whose cultural attitude both 'I do not have sex before marriage' and 'I am highly satisfied with many aspects of my marriage including the sex' are products. If this is so (and I agree this would need to be investigated), one wouldn't draw the conclusion that not having sex before marriage will produce higher satisfaction within marriage for other subsets.

        For the sake of balance, I could put the same point from a different direction. There may be an English cultural sub set which is non-religious, promiscous, and holds mutuality and commitment in small regard. This would produce both 'I had lots of sex before marriage' and 'marriage fails for me' results. It wouldn't follow from this that pre-marital sex for other sub sets harms satisfaction with marriage.

        • Peter Mullins

          P.S. The advert for the Far East dating site and the picture on it which came up next to my post was a bit of a surprise!

    • Richard Erdington

      It seems that Rev Ould has a long standing problem with Mormons. Why that would discount any scientific research a Mormons might undertake in a well respected insitute of higher education, he fails to say. Mormons science is as reliable as the science of any other denomination, provided that it is conducted correctly. BYU is not a penny-ante tin hut school in the back of beyond.

      • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

        I think if you'd bothered to read this comment thread properly, you would have come across me saying:

        "2000 or so people" is a fantastically large sample. Though the research comes from BYU it is highly reputable and was published in a well respected peer-review journal linked to the American Psycological Association.

        An apology, whenever you're ready, will be graciously accepted.

  • Alathia

    This is interesting, though I would need to read more of the research and its methodology before I came down on the side of ‘religion’ being a major factor. It is tempting to read a study like this, if one is religiously inclined, and shout hurray for religion. However there are other factors that could contribute to the findings. Celibacy is probably a good deal more common than popular culture portrays – and for many, not just ‘religious’ people, this can be a life choice. How people manage their sexuality is a key issue here. Those more likely to wait and have decided that sex is not the be all and end all of a relationship, are more like, as Prof Busby suggests, to have a mature approach to their relationships and how the sexual aspect of their relationship is managed.

    It should also be remembered that religion itself is not a means to a perfect sexual relationship and there are many people for whom religion is an important and guiding influence in their life who have difficulties with their sex lives. Moreover, it is also ironic that in somewhere like the US, with its very high church attendance and religious moral values evident in day to day discourse, compared to other Western nations, there are high rates of teenage pregnancy, illegitimate births and divorce (much higher than ‘secular’ Europe) – particularly in Bible-Belt areas. Similarly, in Africa, there is a correlation between the more Christian a country the higher (on the whole) its HIV infection rate. Whereas the more Muslim, the lower. Hence this suggests that there are far more complex interplays between religion and sexuality and sexual behaviour.

    Whatever, I think the emotional and long term relationship benefits of refraining from promiscuous behaviour is of value to all, whether you’re a believer or not.

    To end on a lighter note… An ex-girlfriend of mine, now married and still a close friend, said that one of the most common problems she comes across with her married friends at church is that the men complain they don’t get enough sex and the women don’t have enough money. She thought that the way around this would be for the women to charge for sex… But of course this suggestion is something she decided not to share with her fellow parishioners…

  • http://twitter.com/MarkTSoaPM Mark Dobson

    Celibacy whilst unmarried leads to a tautology: http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/celibacy?q=celibacy :)

    I know that the contemporary sense has basically overridden the etymology though. If you fill in a form in Italy and you’re a single chap however, you’d still put your marital status as “celibe”.

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