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Playing the field too much before marriage can be bad for your relationship

Dr. Ahllishia Shipley

Dr. Ahllishia Shipley

Playing the field too much before marriage can be bad for your relationship

By Ahlishia Shipley, PhD, CFLE

Have you ever heard the advice “just get it out of your system” before you get married with it being sex? Or perhaps, someone may have warned you “make sure you try on the shoes, before you buy them,” so to speak. The majority of Americans do approve of premarital sex, so what’s the harm in testing the waters? Although this advice may seem like a good idea, having an extensive sexual past could taint your marital future. In a recent study with over 2,500 married individuals, researchers tested whether the number of sexual partners was associated with marital quality.

Two opposing perspectives of couple sexuality guided the basis of the study. The first one being the idea of sexual compatibility, in which sex is viewed as an essential component to forming a relationship. From this angle, partners are able to assess their ‘sexual chemistry,’ which, for many, is a significant aspect of relationship quality.

From the other perspective of sexual restraint, sexual involvement before solid commitment is seen as harmful to relationship formation, especially early on in a relationship. The sexual restraint model also suggests that more sexual experimentation can hinder relationship stability and satisfaction because a more experienced partner may have unrealistic expectations of sexual intimacy that are not sustainable in a marriage (i.e, the thrill of newness). At the couple level, the less experienced partner may question the symbolism of sex in the marriage due to their partner’s past promiscuity.

So, which perspective held the most weight?

The researchers found having more sexual partners before marriage was negatively associated with sexual quality, communication, and relationship quality even when various demographic variables were taken into account. The effect was highest for the emerging adults in the sample (ages 18-30). These findings indicate support for the sexual restraint perspective because they demonstrate sexual experiences with multiple partners do not contribute to marriage in a positive way.

The researchers seem to think those who have been sexually active with many partners may focus too much on the physical side of a relationship resulting in less attention devoted to other areas, such as building communication and trust. With respect to sexual quality, a high number of sexual partners could increase a more experienced partner’s need for variety which may or may not be met in the marriage. Unmet needs could cause sexual dissatisfaction, insecurity, and communication issues in the relationship.

Although, the researchers would like to expand the research questions for this topic in the future, the current findings support the idea that 1) a great deal of sexual experiences with several partners may be positive in the short-term, but could possibly harm your marriage in the long-term, especially among young adults AND 2) sequencing commitment prior to sex places a couple in a better position to establish a friendship as the foundation for a relationship.

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