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Is it better to assess sexual compatibility early in dating or to delay having sex? These are important questions to ask since most single adults report that they desire to one day have a successful, lifelong marriage—and while dating, many couples move rapidly into sexual relationships. Source: Adapted from Sassler, S. Journal of Marriage and Family, 74, Note: Data are from the Marital and Relationship Survey.
See Figure 1 in Sassler et al.
Are these dating patterns compatible with the desire to have a loving and lasting marriage later? This type of compatibility is frequently mentioned as an essential characteristic for people to seek out in romantic relationships, particularly ones that could lead to marriage. Couples who do not test their sexual chemistry prior to the commitments of exclusivity, engagement, and marriage are often seen as putting themselves at risk of getting into a relationship that will not satisfy them in the future—thus increasing their probability of later marital dissatisfaction and divorce.
However, two recently published studies call into question the validity of testing sexual chemistry early in dating. For couples in between—those that became sexually involved later in their dating, but prior to marriage—the benefits were about half as strong. Source: Adapted from Busby, Carroll, and Willoughby Compatibility or restraint?
The effects of sexual timing on marriage relationships. Journal of Family Psychology, 24, — Note: Figure depicts mean scores reported by spouses in three sexual timing groups on relationship satisfaction, perceived relationship stability, sexual quality, and communication. To compare these three groups, the authors conducted a Multivariate Analysis of Covariance controlling for religiosity, relationship length, education, and the of sexual partners.
The means displayed here demonstrate that the Sexual Timing Group that participants belonged to had the strongest association with Perceived Relationship Stability and Satisfaction as all three groups were ificantly different from each other.
In other words, the longer participants waited to be sexual, the more stable and satisfying their relationships were once they were married. Gender had a relatively small influence on the dependent variables. For the other dependent variables, the participants who waited to be sexual until after marriage had ificantly higher levels of communication and sexual quality compared to the other two sexual timing groups.
See Table 3 in Busby et al. The second studyby Sharon Sassler and her colleagues at Cornell University, also found that rapid sexual involvement has adverse long-term implications for relationship quality. Using data from the Marital and Relationship Survey, which provides information on nearly low- to moderate-income couples living with minor children, their study examined the tempo of sexual intimacy and subsequent relationship quality in a sample of married and cohabiting men and women.
Their analyses also suggest that delaying sexual involvement is associated with higher relationship quality across several dimensions. 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. So, why might sexual restraint benefit couples during dating and later in marriage? Evidence points to two primary explanations for why couples benefit from waiting to become sexually involved: intentional partner selection and sexual symbolism. A primary reason why sexual restraint benefits couples is that it facilitates intentional partner selection.
Simply put, you have a better chance of making good decisions in dating when you have not become sexually involved with your dating partner. Inertia means I need a have a sex date it is hard for some couples to veer from the path they are on, even when doing so would be wise; the fact that they share friends, an apartment, and maybe a pet make breaking up with each other even more difficult than it would otherwise be, and so the relationship progresses from cohabitation to marriage even if the partners are not very well matched.
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. Sexual restraint also benefits couples because it requires partners to prioritize communication and commitment as the foundation of their attraction to each other.
This gives couples a different type of foundation from couples who build their relationship on physical attraction and sexual gratification. This difference becomes particularly critical as couples naturally move past an initial period of intense attraction and excitement into a relationship more characterized by companionship and partnership. As Dr. Sexual restraint allows couples to focus on and evaluate the emotional aspects of their relationship.
The value of sexual restraint for committed couples moving toward marriage is best understood when couples appreciate that emotional intimacy is the true foundation of sexual intimacy in a healthy marriage. 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. By gaining a deeper understanding of emotional intimacy, dating couples can more fully appreciate the principle of sexual symbolism.
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.
So, while true love does indeed wait, it may actually work the other way around: waiting helps create true love. Jason S. Carroll, Ph. Recently, Dr. Carroll received the Berscheid-Hatfield Award for Distinguished Mid-Career Achievement, a biennial award given for distinguished scientific achievement by the International Association for Relationship Research.
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Highlights Print Post. Category: Dating. Sexual Chemistry vs. The longer a dating couple waits to have sex, the better their relationship is after marriage. Intentional Partner Selection A primary reason why sexual restraint benefits couples is that it facilitates intentional partner selection. Sexual Symbolism and Lasting Love Sexual restraint also benefits couples because it requires partners to prioritize communication and commitment as the foundation of their attraction to each other.
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