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The s changed premarital sex. Prior to the sexual revolution, unmarried heterosexual sex partners tended to marry each other sometimes motivated by a shotgun pregnancy ; in more recent decades, first sex usually does not lead to marriage. Figure 1 shows how the odds of having only one lifetime sex partner have declined over the twentieth century for married Americans. The biggest declines occurred for people born between the s and the s, the latter of whom came of age during the sexual revolution of the s. How have our marriages been affected?
In an IFS blog post from two years ago, I wrote about the relationship between premarital sex partners and the probability of divorce. Survey respondents who tied the knot as virgins had the lowest divorce rates, but beyond that, the relationship between sexual biography and marital stability was less clear.
The current post extends this research by examining the relationship between premarital sex partners and marital happiness. A clarifying example is the family demography of the Great Depression. Pervasive financial hardship made marriages less happy, yet the divorce rate fell Can a promiscuous woman change divorce and single living seemed unaffordable.
A high-conflict but intact family of origin increases the odds of having a disputatious marriage but not the likelihood of Can a promiscuous woman change. research indeed suggests a complex story between premarital sex partners and marital quality. Psychologists Galena K. Rhoades and Scott M. Stanley found that the study respondents who had sex with other people prior to marriage reported lower-quality unions compared to couples who slept just with each other. Multiple sex partners prior to marriage reduced marital quality for women, but not men. A study from the s reported similar findings.
Rhoades and Stanley offer two explanations for this finding, one empirically demonstrable and one speculative. Their data show that premarital sex sometimes le to premarital fertility, and women but not men who have children from other relationships have lower-quality relationships. On the speculative side is their notion that having multiple partners increases awareness of spousal alternatives. By implication, our marriages suffer when we make more comparisons. I look at almost 30 years of the General Social Survey, an annual or biennial survey dating back to Starting inrespondents were asked detailed questions about their sexual biographies.
Also, most Americans have less exciting sexual histories than the media would lead us to believe. The median American woman born in the s has had three sex partners in her lifetime. The second, third, and fourth columns of Table 1 introduce a variety of covariates intended to for the relationship between sexual history and marital happiness.
The third column adds two measures of socioeconomic status, education and inflation-adjusted family income. The fourth column contains two measures of religiosity, denomination and frequent church attendance. None of these variables has an appreciable effect on the relationship between sexual background and marital happiness.
As for women, men who report only one sexual partner in their lifetime are more likely to report very happy marriages. The happiness penalty for additional partners is modest, only a few percentage points. Adjusting for differences in marital history, socioeconomic status, and religion make little difference.
This figure makes clear that the difference between having one and more than one, lifetime sex partner is most consequential in predicting marital quality. That is the trend for women too, with two exceptions: female respondents with four partners or partners have ificantly lower odds of very happy marriages compared to those with two partners. Who are these Americans reporting just one lifetime sex partner? They are likely different from their fellows in ways that predict both premarital sexual behavior and marital happiness. Perhaps genetics can explain the relationship between sexual biographies and marital happiness.
Scientists have identified a gene associated with promiscuity and infidelity. Any of these explanations are possible, but none can be identified with these data. One thing missing from the foregoing is any direct consideration of whether marriage age affects the association between multiple sexual partners and marital happiness. Other things being equal, older respondents have had more time to accumulate extensive sexual histories.
And while they generally enjoy more stable marriages than do people who marry young, their marriages are somewhat less happy. To determine whether marriage age is affecting theI reran my analysis just for the GSS years that include data on both age at marriage and sexual history For purposes of comparison, I also ran the analysis without marriage age to determine the extent to which it could explain the relationship between sexual history and marital happiness. For both men Can a promiscuous woman change women, the baseline models in Table 3 include all the independent variables listed in Tables 1 and 2.
Overall, Table 3 suggests that adding marriage age to the analysis makes essentially no difference, so it cannot explain the relationship between sexual background and marital quality. The data show that people with 21 or more partners lifetime are almost twice as likely to be unhappily married as are people with fewer partners: 5. Some caveats. First, data on sexual partners are likely prone to errors of boastfulness, shame, and memory consider, for instance, the married respondents claiming zero lifetime sex partners.
Second, data on sex partners and marital happiness are measured at the same point in time. Adultery is both a cause and a consequence of a deteriorating marriage. Third, a measure of marital happiness with two or three is obviously a blunt psychometric instrument. As I suggested earlier in discussing the relationship between marital happiness and divorce, a lot more factors into whether a marriage is good. For instance, one study found that people from divorced families of origin had marriages that were just as happy as unions between people from intact families, yet the former were more likely to think their marriage was in trouble.
Finally, there are obvious reasons to expect sample selection bias to affect the. So, the people most at risk of being in unhappy marriages by virtue of their complicated sexual histories may no longer be represented in the sample of people reporting on the happiness of their marriages. This bias would minimize the effects of premarital promiscuity on marital quality. In sum, the surprisingly large of Americans reporting one lifetime sex partner have the happiest marriages. Consider how the difference in marital happiness based on lifetime sex partners stacks up against differences based on several of the usual social and demographic suspects.
This is larger than the five-percentage-point difference associated with a four-year college degree, larger than the six-point difference that comes with attending religious services several times a month or more, and larger than the boost that comes with having an income above the national median. Nicholas H. Bradford Wilcox Oxford University Press, Follow him on Twitter at NickWolfinger. My analysis ignores sexual orientation. Partners can be of either sex; same-sex marriages are included in the tally of marital satisfaction.
There are too few gay and lesbian marriages to permit separate analysis. Seven percent of married women and 9 percent of married men claimed zero lifetime sexual partners. Presumably, these respondents misinterpreted the survey question as inquiring about former sex partners.
These respondents are treated as having had one sex partner. These are based on regression standardization of logistic regression. The data are weighted to make the sample nationally representative. Standard errors are adjusted for the weight scheme and de effects.
The ensuing were nonsensical. These analyses are based on men and women, and are similar to those reported in Table 1, and contain all of the covariates in the full models. Inflation-adjusted income is originally reported in dollars. I converted to Can a promiscuous woman change using the Consumer Price Index and rounded.
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