Finally, I sought to explain the relationship between premarital sexuality and marital stability via multivariate analysis
Generally speaking, major social and demographic differences between survey respondents explain only a small portion of the relationship between numbers of sex partners and marital stability. At best, these differences account for about one quarter of the observed association between sex partners and divorce. At worst, they make essentially no difference. Due to the design of the NSFG, a limited number of socio-demographic variables were amenable to analysis, including race, family structure of origin, urban vs. rural residence, age at marriage, and church attendance.
It won’t be surprising to most readers that people with more premarital sex partners have higher divorce rates, broadly speaking
Caucasian and African American women had similar premarital sexual behavior, but Latinas and members of the “Other” population group had notably fewer sex partners and lower divorce rates than either whites or blacks. Similarly, people who grew up without both parents had more partners and divorced more. Detailed psychometric data would be necessary mingle2 to further explain the relationship between numbers of sex partners and marital stability.
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.
Nicholas H. Wolfinger is Professor of Family and Consumer Studies and Adjunct Professor of Sociology at the University of Utah. His most recent book is Soul Mates: Religion, Sex, Children, and ericans and Latinos, coauthored with W. Bradford Wilcox (Oxford University Press, 2016).
1. The figure depicts life table five-year ple sizes are too small to look at sex partners and divorce for s. Also, the data don’t permit the analysis of same-sex marriage.
2. Some caveats. First, although church attendance is a good measure of religious involvement, it doesn’t fully capture religiosity. Second and more important is the fact that church attendance is measured at the time of the NSFG interview, so it might be a consequence as well as a cause of marital behavior. Divorce affects religious participation: female NSFG respondents are almost 25 percent less likely to attend church frequently compared to married women. Accordingly, findings concerning religion should be viewed as suggestive rather than definitive.
Appendix: Cox Regression Estimates of the Effects of Premarital Sex Partners and Other Factors on Women’s Marital Stability in First Marriages (Tables 1 – 4)
Note: Results are hazard ratios indicating increased odds of divorce compared to reference category of 0 partners (total abstinence before ple, Table 1 shows that women who married in the 1990s and had one premarital sex partner had 75% higher odds of divorce compared to women who married as virgins in the 1990s.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the highest five-year divorce rates were reserved for women who had two partners. The effect was particularly strong in the 1980s, when these women had divorce rates of 28 percent, substantially higher than those of their peers who had ten or more sex partners prior to marriage (18 percent). Even in the aughts, women who had two partners had, at 30 percent, the second highest divorce rates in the table.
Aside from religion, race and family of origin accounted for the largest portion of the sexual partners/divorce relationship
Two caveats are in order. First, the 33 percent divorce figure for women with ten or partners who s is not statistically significantly higher than the 30 percent five-year divorce rate for women who had two partners. Second, it is unknown as to why having ten or more partners has become more strongly linked to divorce only recently. This is a surprising development given the increasing frequency of having multiple partners, as well as people’s greater overall acceptance of premarital sexuality. Perhaps this acceptance is more complex than has been acknowledged. Having a handful of sex partners-anywhere between three and nine-may be perfectly acceptable, but more than that is problematic for marriage in a way it didn’t used to be. In any event, a full understanding is beyond the scope of this report.