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MARRIAGE DONE RIGHT A COLUMN BY JAMES SHERIDAN

Marriage column: Sex before marriage can hurt relationship

Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 7:55 am

Popular ideas are not always good ideas.

Rubbing mercury on men's hats to add sheen, blowing in asbestos for insulation and smoking cigarettes were all popular at one time.

Unfortunately, handling mercury causes insanity, and both asbestos exposure and smoking cigarettes cause lung cancer.

Sex before marriage, even among those who are not engaged, is clearly popular: Recent surveys have found that nearly 88 percent of young adults (ages 18 to 29) are sexually active before marriage. But is it a good idea?

A growing body of research finds that premarital sex undermines the chances for a successful marriage. This is significant, since roughly the same percentage of men and women list a healthy marriage as a life goal.

Studies at Cornell University of 600 married couples, at Brigham Young University of 2,035 married couples and researchers at Macquarie University in Australia have all come to the same basic conclusions:

•Sex before marriage can adversely impact the romance and sex lives of couples after they marry.

•The earlier couples began having sex in their relationship, the more it's likely to limit their future growth as a couple. This is especially true if sexual relations begin in the first several months of the relationship. The longer couples, wait the better. Waiting until the wedding night appears to result in the strongest marriages.

•The more sexual partners a person has before marriage, the lower the chances for enjoying romantic feelings after marriage.

The group included in the BYU study was about average regarding premarital sex: 84 percent had sex before marriage; a majority had sex within two months of when they started dating; 16 percent delayed intercourse until marriage.

Dean Busby, who led the study, reported couples who waited to have sex until marriage described the quality of their marital sex life higher (15 percent), the stability of their marriage stronger (22 percent higher) and their overall relationship satisfaction higher (20 percent) than those who did not wait.

The Cornell study explains why: “A strong sexual desire may thwart the development of other key ingredients of a healthy relationship, such as commitment, mutual understanding or shared values.” Moreover, “good sex is sometimes confused with love; some couples overlook problematic aspects of their relationship that ultimately matter more in the long run.”

Other studies involving the sex hormones oxytocin, dopamine and vasopressin give a further explanation. These hormones are released in heavy amounts during sexual relations. Not only do these hormones make us feel good, they also create a feeling of emotional connection with our sexual partner.

If it's always the same partner, the bonding effect is powerful. If the sex partner changes, however, the hormone-induced bonding weakens, as if it's diluted.

But won't young adults have sex no matter what they're told? Perhaps. But young adults aren't stupid, and we shouldn't treat them as if they are. They deserve to be told that, if they want a healthy marriage in their future, what they do now sexually will impact their chances.

Sexual relations before marriage impact the marriage. The belief that we can “sow our wild oats” and not end up with a crop of problems is not realistic. Couples do better to focus their time on learning about each other — their beliefs, their likes and dislikes, their families, their hopes and dreams for the future, how to trust and rely on each other — and develop a committed relationship.

Delaying sexual relations makes this more likely, helps strengthen their marriage and improves their marital sex lives.

2014, All Rights Reserved. James Sheridan’s website is www.marriagedoneright.com. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.