A 2002 study revealed that 95% of all Americans who had ever had sex had also engaged in premarital sex at some point by the time they were 44, and those statistics weren’t unique for just the last 20 or 30 years. In fact, the numbers seemed virtually unchanged since the 1940s. A more recent 2013-2014 morality survey of 40,000 people across the globe by Pew showed that 30% of American responders say they view premarital sex as morally unacceptable. It also revealed a massive global disparity of attitudes about premarital sex, as 97% of Indonesians polled found premarital sex unacceptable, while only 6% of the French agreed with them.
It would seem that the topic of premarital sex is muddied by conflicting study results, and continues to be a topic of moral debate. Many statistics have not been formally studied. Meanwhile, a study at the University of Iowa reported that the younger a woman was when she first engaged in premarital sex would greatly increase her chance for later divorce, especially when the early sexual experience was not consensual or fully consensual. Some of the subjects were less than 14 years old, and so it would stand to reason that most early sexual experiences of young girls are not what most reasonable adults would consider consensual. It seems to make sense that many of these girls, once mature women, would have some emotional and developmental issues with intimacy and relationships.
So what about adult, consensual premarital sex in the context of a relationship? When religion and an abstract and individual definition of morality are removed from the equation, there are clearly both advantages and disadvantages of premarital sex.
Sex is an important part of an intimate relationship. Sexual compatibility is often a central issue for a couple, even when a relationship is based on mutual respect, friendship, and love. It isn’t shallow, nor is it sexist; to also accept that the ability for two people to give and take mutual pleasure can make or break a relationship or that extremely incompatible sex drives and preferences can cause eventual break-up. Therefore, engaging in consensual sex before marriage can be helpful not only to increase intimacy of the couple but to also learn about one another and make adjustments when necessary. A couple can learn about one’s ability and desire to have willingness to meet the needs of the other. When compatible or willingness to compromise to achieve great sex for both partners exists, love can grow from infatuation and desire and lead to a solid marriage and family. Knowing your compatibility with a person before marriage can help you to make better choices when entering into a marriage. It is easier to move forward with confidence and understanding when you known your partner inside and out.
There really aren’t any reliable statistics that show that people who wait have better or longer marriages, because the percentage of those who wait is so small. Also, many who avoid premarital sex completely do so for religious reasons, and therefore are also more likely to stay in an unhappy marriage due to religious views on divorce.
Unfortunately, there is more than one downside to premarital sex, even between consenting adults. When two people engage in sex, even within a committed adult relationship, there is no promise or guarantee of a long-term relationship. If the sexual encounters begin too early in the relationship, the sexual desire can burn out along with the infatuation. Generally, this leaves one or both people heartbroken and hurt. Even in a longer relationship, either personal or sexual compatibility call fall short of expectations: reasonable or not. This leaves both partners to split up, and then go through a single period before again having to question having sex with the next love interest. Once this merry-go-round of failed relationships happens multiple times, it can leave an individual, male or female, with issues surrounding trust.
While people would like to believe that they aren’t going to be judged by future partners based on sexual history or how many previous partners they have had, the reality is that it happens quite often. Furthermore, if you believe intimacy should be kept between the two people involved, and that your relations are no one’s business except your own and the person with which you were intimate, you may find yourself stuck between lying to your next partner about your past or betraying your conscience and previous partners if questioned on sexual history.
Of course, one has to take into account the risk of STDs, unplanned pregnancy, and the risk to the heart that is often forgotten in the throes of passion. In the end, the choice to have premarital sex is a very personal one. Know your risks, and always communicate with your partner about expectations and the future. Far more success in relationships, sexual or not, comes with realistic expectations, friendship, mutual respect, and communication.