PROVO, Utah --- Couples who reserve sex for marriage enjoy greater stabilityand communication in their relationships, say researchers at Brigham Young University.
A new study from the Mormon college found that those couples who waited until marriage rated their relationship stability 22 percent higher than those who started having sex in the early part of their relationship.
The relationship satisfaction was 20 percent higher for those who waited, the sexual quality of the relationship was 5 percent better, and communication was 12 percent better.
The study, published in the American Psychological Association's Journal of Family Psychology, involved 2,035 married individuals who participated in a popular online marital assessment called "RELATE." From the assessment's database, researchers selected a sample designed to match the demographics of the married American population. The extensive questionnaire included the question "When did you become sexual in this relationship?"
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Couples that became sexually involved later in their relationship - but prior to marriage - reported benefits that were about half as strong as those who waited for marriage.
"Most research on the topic is focused on individuals' experiences and not the timing within a relationship," said lead study author Dean Busby, a professor at Brigham Young University's School of Family Life.
The study was co-authored by BYU professors Jason Carroll and Brian Willoughby.
"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," Busby added. "I think it's because they've learned to talk and have the skills to work with issues that come up."
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Sociologist Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas at Austin, who was not involved in the study, responded to its findings, saying that "couples who hit the honeymoon too early - that is, prioritize 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." Regnerus is the author of Premarital Sex in America, a book forthcoming from Oxford University Press.
Because religious belief often plays a role for couples who choose to wait, Busby and his co-authors controlled for the influence of religious involvement in their analysis.
"Regardless of religiosity, waiting helps the relationship form better communication processes, and these help improve long-term stability and relationship satisfaction," Busby said.