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 significantly 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. Are these dating patterns compatible with the desire to have a loving and lasting marriage later?In fact, couples who wait until marriage to have sex report higher relationship satisfaction (20% higher), better communication patterns (12% better), less consideration of divorce (22% lower), and better sexual quality (15% better) than those who started having sex early in their dating (see Figure 2).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.
Leading marriage expert Scott Stanley, a frequent contributor to this blog, has proposed a concept of dating that he calls “relationship inertia.” The central idea of inertia is that some couples end up married partly because they become “prematurely entangled” in a sexual relationship prior to making the decision to be committed to one another—and had they not become so entangled early on, they would not have married each other.To compare these three groups, the authors conducted a Multivariate Analysis of Covariance controlling for religiosity, relationship length, education, and the number of sexual partners.The results from the MANCOVA indicated that Sexual Timing Group and Gender had a significant effect on the dependent variables while holding the control variables constant.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 (2010). The effects of sexual timing on marriage relationships. Note: Figure depicts mean scores reported by spouses in three sexual timing groups on relationship satisfaction, perceived relationship stability, sexual quality, and communication.This finding supports Norval Glenn’s hypothesis that sexual involvement may lead to unhealthy emotional entanglements that make ending a bad relationship difficult.As Sassler and her colleagues concluded, “Adequate time is required for romantic relationships to develop in a healthy way.Sexual restraint allows couples to focus on and evaluate the emotional aspects of their relationship.By gaining a deeper understanding of emotional intimacy, dating couples can more fully appreciate the principle of sexual symbolism.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.