Women who have fewer sexual partners before marriage are more likely to divorce, reports a study released by the Institute for Family Studies.

Nicholas H. Wofinger, author if Understanding the Divorce Cycle, released a research brief detailing the complex relationship between premarital relations and the likelihood of divorce.

He notes the change between the trends from the 70’s and the early part of the twenty-first century, “Forty-three percent of women had just one premarital sex partner in the 1970s. By the aughts, this was down to 21 percent. Neither of these two trends changed much after the first decade of the twenty-first century.”

An interesting find is the misunderstanding most have about this infamous time period dubbed the sexual revolution: it doesn’t appear the women had more than one sexual partner before marriage; and Wofinger notes that almost two-thirds of these partners were, statistically speaking, the man she married:

“Following in the wake of the sexual revolution, the 1970s have been characterized as a decade of carnal exploration. But this doesn’t seem to have been the case for the vast majority of women who ultimately tied the knot in that decade: almost two-thirds of them had at most one sex partner prior to getting married. Even in the 1980s, slightly over half of women had a maximum of one sex partner before walking down the aisle. Things looked very different at the start of the new millennium.”

More heartbreaking is the massive decline in young woman who maintain their virginity until marriage.  IN the 1970’s, 21% of woman had zero partners, 1980’s declined slightly to 17%, the 1990’s and early 2000’s saw a drop to 12%.  But the massive was noted in the 2010’s when only 5% of brides are virgins.  That shocking statistic is driven home by flipping the math: 95% of woman getting married are more than likely not virgins.

All of this translates into higher percentages of divorce.  While previous research has shown that fewer sexual partners reduces the chances of a couple parting ways, Wofinger observes, “Even so, premarital sex with one partner substantially increases the odds of divorce.”

In explaining the data further, Wofinger reveals religion as one of the most common reasons on abstains from fornication.

“Women who marry as virgins are far more likely than other women to attend church at least once a week. It’s also noteworthy that virgin marriages increasingly became the domain of religious women between the 1980s and 2000s—and during the same years, the divorce rate for virgin brides continued to drop. These findings make sense in light of the fact that people who attend church frequently have lower divorce rates than do non-participants.”

Church attendance is more likely (70%) for those who have zero sexual partners, while the number drop to below 30% for non-church attenders with more fornicating companions.

The information is staggering and confounding at times.  As Wofinger summarizes, “It won’t be surprising to most readers that people with more premarital sex partners have higher divorce rates, broadly speaking. That said, this research brief paints a fairly complicated picture of the association between sex and marital stability that ultimately raises more questions than it answers.”

Read the full report from the Institutes for Family Studies

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