Happiness and marriage often go hand in hand, but what you do before you tie the knot may affect your relationship more than you think. As current research strongly suggests, if men and women choose to reduce their number of sexual partners only to whom they are in a committed relationship with during adulthood, they will be rewarded with a plethora of benefits, including greater happiness, a lower risk of out-of-wedlock births and abortions, and lower rates of STD’s (Rector et al. 1-2). In turn, their choice to limit their partners to whom they will marry will also lead to a better life for their children by reducing child poverty and lessening those societal maladies that disproportionately come to children raised in single-parent homes, such as increased crime and academic failure (Rector et al. 4). Finally, families who practice monogamy and become married may enjoy more liberty as well, in the form of less welfare dependency, a higher income, and greater control over their child’s education.
According to John Gottman, an expert on marriage therapy and author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, happily married couples enjoy greater physical and mental wellness, as well as longer lives. Couples “who stay married live four years longer than people who don’t,” he explains, and “tend to be more health conscious than others” (Gottman and Silver 5). On the other hand, non-married couples get sick at rates as high as 35% more than their happily married counterparts (Gottman and Silver 4). When testing the immune systems of couples, Gottman and Silver found that the number of white blood cells when exposing the body to “foreign invaders” were greatly increased in happily married couples compared with unhappy ones (Gottman and Silver 5-6). Knowing all of this, and with the statistical likelihood of getting a divorce within 40 years being about 67% (4), you probably want to know how to increase the odds that you will find success in a happy and long-lasting marriage.
One of the most interesting facts about marriage is that the number of sexual partners a person chooses before getting hitched is a significant indicator of the quality and success of the marriage. As Nicholas Wolfinger points out in an article for the Institute for Family Studies, data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) between 2002 and 2013 shows that women who married with a sexual history of 0-1 partners were among the least likely to divorce, with greater numbers tending to lead to a higher chance of separation. As noted in a separate article for the Institute titled “Does Sexual History Affect Marital Happiness,” although the rates of individuals with only one sexual partner prior to marriage have gone down significantly since those born in the 1920’s, “women who’ve only slept with their spouses are, at 65%, most likely to report very happy marriages,” showing a clear benefit to waiting until you’re in a committed relationship before having sex. Men tend to score higher on marital satisfaction overall, but they also see a general decline with the more pre-marital partners they have. Interestingly, research has shown that sex with one’s future spouse does not increase their likelihood of divorce, “but sex with other people did” (Wolfinger).
In a 2003 study from the Heritage Foundation, which was based on 10,000 surveyed women aged 15-44, researchers Robert E. Rector et al. found a striking correlation between the age of first sexual contact, number of average lifetime sexual partners, and a number of important statistics including rates of abortions, levels of happiness, and the chance of single motherhood. Among other things, they found was that the earlier one engages in sexual activity, the less is their “ability to form stable marriages as adults” (2). Whereas women over 30 who first had sex after the age of 19 had a likelihood of being in a stable marriage for at least five years at above 60% (10), those women who began having intercourse as teenagers or younger fall below 50% (10), with the most troubling group of 12 and younger being at a low of 18.47% (10). Similarly, women with fewer non-marital partners also had a higher chance of being in a stable marriage. When marrying their only lifetime sexual partner, women over 30 are over 80% likely to be in a stable marriage lasting over five years. When that number increases to two or more, there becomes a greater than 50% likelihood of not being in a stable marriage. As that number increases even more, the rate decreases to below 20% (18).
As you may suspect, those women who have fewer non-marital partners also report to be “very happy” at higher rates. For women who marry their only lifetime sexual partner, their rate of being “very happy” is nearly 56% (Rector et al. 20). The more partners they have, the lower their chance of great happiness is, with the lowest statistic being about 32% for 21+ partners (Rector et al. 20). For women reporting that they are “not very happy” or “very unhappy,” their rates increase with more sexual partners. For example, when a woman has 16-20 lifetime partners, she is almost three times more likely to report being unhappy than women with only one (Rector et al. 21). But happiness is not the only thing affected by having non-marital partners. As the data shows, rates of STD’s also rise with women who have more partners. For women with zero non-marital partners, their chance of contracting a sexually-transmitted disease is a measly 3.63% (Rector et al. 15). When the number of non-marital partners increases to 21+ however, the rate of STD’s becomes over 40%. Even for women who have 6-10 partners, their chance of having an STD is nearly one in five (Rector et al. 15).
Women with more non-marital partners also have a greater likelihood of giving birth out-of-wedlock. While women with five lifetime non-marital partners have a nearly 50% chance of out-of-wedlock birth, women who are virgins at the time of their first marriage only have a 1.7% chance of this risk, the number being greater than zero only because those women “who had children out of wedlock [with zero non-marital partners] typically became pregnant while married but divorced before the child was born” (Rector et al. 16). Also troubling is the rate of abortions for women with greater numbers of non-marital partners. According to Rector et al.’s study on the effects of multiple partners among women, nearly one in five women who have three non-marital sexual partners will have an abortion at some point during their lifetime. When that number climbs to four, it becomes almost one in four. When a woman has 21+ partners, she is over 50% likely to have an abortion (Rector et al. 19). Finally, women with more non-marital partners are also far more likely to become single mothers as having just one increases the chance of single-motherhood by four times. For women with five non-marital sexual partners, their chance raises to over 50% (Rector et al. 17). As you probably have guessed, women who begin having sexual intercourse at an early age follow the same general trends as those who have a greater number of lifetime sexual partners for these areas as well.
Thus far, you may think that marriage is mainly important for women, but men are also significantly happier when in a stable relationship. According to “The Harry’s Masculinity Report” by John Barry and Martin Daubney, being in a committed relationship is one of the most important factors for a man’s happiness. Although having a meaningful job is ranked as the most important, “[the] findings show that men’s mental positivity is strongly related to job satisfaction, [and] relationship status (having a long-term relationship rather than being single)” (12). Barry and Daubney continue to note that “Relationship stability is an important anchor for many men. For example, substance abuse is twice as common in men than women, and two key signs that addicts are on the road to good recovery is when they start to have meaningful work and are in a steady relationship” (17). Similarly, not having a single steady partner increases a woman’s risk of substance abuse as well.
One 2012 study from New Zealand delves into the question of whether having multiple sexual partners has an impact on mental illness. Although this study did not find a correlation between multiple sex partners and depression or anxiety (note that they did not ask whether the subjects of the study were “very happy” or “very unhappy,” instead focusing on clinical illnesses), for women they found “statistically significant associations between numbers of sexual partners and substance dependence disorder at all age periods [21, 26, and 32 years] and the odds ratio increased with increasing number of partners” (Ramrakha et al. 3). Men had similar proclivities when at age 21 or 32, “but not at age 26 years” (Ramrakha et al. 3). Additionally, “Women reporting more than 2.5 partners had much greater odds of being diagnosed with a substance dependence disorder than those with only one or no partners” (Ramrakha et al. 3). All-in-all, when women increase their number of sexual partners, their risk of developing a substance dependence disorder (addiction) also goes up (Ramrakha et al. 6). Theories behind this vary, but we do know that having multiple sex partners disproportionately coincides with higher rates of substance abuse, particularly in women.
You may be asking yourself what monogamy has to do with happiness at all. Well, one study from the National Acadamy of Sciences of the United States of America may have an answer. In their efforts to discover the effects that “eudaimonic” activities (helping others) vs “hedonic” activities (gratifying oneself) had on the human body, they discovered that the expression of multiple pro-inflammatory genes actually changed depending on the individual’s decisions (Fredrickson et al. 1). As people engaged in activities which help others, such as feeding the poor or taking care of a family, the expression of these genes decreased, and their immune system raised (Fredrickson et al. 3). In turn, when individuals engaged in hedonic activities, the expression of these genes would increase, and their immune system suffered as a result. As we can see that helping others does benefit our health, the study authors argue that “positive affect” (helping others) may not be the most important factor for long-term health, but that “striving predominately toward meaning may have more favorable effects on health than striving predominately toward positive affect” (Fredrickson et al. 4). In other words, a meaningful life and positive affect often work reciprocally. Such life missions as taking care of a family and marriage may be some of the most beneficial to the health of any person in the long run.
A very interesting study by David G. Blanchflower and Andrew J. Oswald, called “Money, Sex, and Happiness: An Empirical Study,” outlines “the links between income, sexual activity and wellbeing” (1) from data based on a random aggregation of roughly 16,000 surveyed Americans from 1988 to 2002. Overall, most Americans have far more modest sex lives than is portrayed in the media. Not only does “the median American adult [have] sex approximately 2 or 3 times a month,” much smaller than one may think, but only approximately 10% of adults under 40 have sex more than three times per week (6), while as a whole, adults report celibacy at a rate of about 22% (7). However, people who do not have sex report happiness at lower rates than those who do, and married individuals report having sex far more often than unmarried individuals. As a whole, about nine in ten “married Americans report a single sexual partner in the previous year” (7), suggesting that most married couples practice monogamy as well.
Interestingly, the difference between no sex and small amounts of sex was no more statistically significant in terms of happiness than the relation between income and sexual behavior was (Blanchflower and Oswald 9). As it turns out, money does not buy sex; marriage does. Moreover, both men and women report greater happiness and more sex at the same rates, meaning that neither gender receives a larger benefit from sex than the other. Also, people with less than 12 years of education report having more sex at rates “greater than or equal to four times a week” and less sex at rates below that, possibly implying that more sex tends to buy happiness only among those with a high school or college degree (Blanchflower and Oswald 10). However, the number of sexual partners which was found to maximize happiness is one. This makes sense as married couples tend to have more sex, while “those who have ever had sex outside their marriage also report notably low happiness scores,” indicating that a break in monogamous marriage can have a profound negative effect on mental wellbeing. Also significant is the fact that individuals “who say they have ever paid for sex” report unhappiness at much higher rates compared with others. Homosexual behavior, however, “has no statistically significant effect in the happiness equation” (Blanchflower and Oswald 10), and homosexuals do not have more sex overall (Blanchflower and Oswald 11). From this we can gather that it’s not who you have sex with that counts in happiness so much as it is the circumstances, whether you are practicing monogamy, and how well you have limited your sexual history.
As monogamy and marriage are certainly important indicators of happiness for the individual, they also have a profound effect on children. As described in a 2002 report by Robert E. Rector et al. Titled “The Effect of Marriage on Child Poverty,” children raised by married parents have a significantly lower chance of living in poverty than those raised by a single parent. In fact, a child raised in a single-parent family is at four times greater risk of child poverty than a child living with married parents (3). Although government programs meant to limit child poverty have been in place since the 1960’s, children were only slightly less likely to live in poverty in 1996 than they were in 1960, by less than one percentage point, while the number of single-parent families during that time increased by over two-fold (3). However, as the study authors “married” these single parents to theoretically determine how their combined income would impact child poverty, they found that “restoring marriage [rates] to 1960 levels would remove more than 3 million children from poverty nationwide” (4). Likewise, children “born or raised in single-parent families” are also at greater risk “of social maladies, including poverty, welfare dependency, academic failure…and crime” (4). As they point out in the report, having married parents is almost like a kind of social safety net for children, protecting many of them from many potential problems in their lives.
We know now that statistically, marriage does not only positively affect the individuals involved, but their children as well. However, what do we know about how these values affect societies at large? While most modern civilizations have recognized the legal and cultural importance of marriage and monogamy, others have veered toward the opposite. In the early days of the Soviet Union, the socialist government made it as easy to get a divorce as it was to write a letter requesting it. This resulted in a breaking down of societal norms, skyrocketing abortion rates, greater state control, and overall social chaos. As described by an anonymous woman writing for the July 1929 issue of the Atlantic magazine, men began having many wives and children with their many spouses, leaving about three hundred thousand children with no support, frequently becoming common criminals, drug addicts, and sexual deviants. The children who weren’t born were often aborted, as “it was not an unusual occurrence for a boy of twenty to have had three or four wives, or for a girl of the same age to have had three or four abortions” in peasant communities. The League of Communist Youth also included many members who argued that “refusal to enter into temporary sex relations [is] mere bourgeois prejudice,” while a Soviet public prosecutor named Krilenko similarly argued that “free love is the ultimate aim of a Socialist state.” In the effort to abolish marriage as an institution, “polygamy and polyandry may exist.” In the end, this type of behavior resulted in a large destabilization of society for many reasons. The author reasons that as murder, assault, and suicide of former wives are all frequent and that “abolishing the family has not by any means eliminated old-fashioned passions of love and jealousy.” By using the Soviet Union as an example, when a society rejects the idea of being in a committed relationship and embraces promiscuity, that society is likely to descend into chaos and lose the stability of the family unit.
Finally, the breaking down of marriage in the Soviet Union led to a desire for greater state control over children, particularly when it came to their education. As some Soviets argued, “parental ignorance and family egoism stunted children’s development and narrowed their outlook” (Goldman 9). In their eyes, mothers were not able to approach their children with adequate “objectivity,” and that for parents to relinquish control of their child’s education to the state would save them from the “irrationality” of the child’s mother and father (Goldman 9). Of course, this was not the case, nor did the state have enough funds to accomplish this project. However, it emphasizes that when families are broken apart and children are left in poverty, it provides the state an opportunity to emancipate them with more government control. Even in America today, it is very difficult to provide children with an education outside of government schools without married parents or significant resources. The Soviet Union’s approach to marriage illustrates that the greatest amounts of stability and liberty do not come from “free love,” but from respecting the institution of marriage of two people in a committed and lasting relationship.
As we can see, the question of sex before marriage is nuanced and situational. However, we can also gather from current research that if both men and women wait to have sex until they’ve found the person they want to marry, they will be provided with the greatest statistical chance of receiving a number of important benefits, such as happiness and a stable marriage. While no species has ever sought a less happy and successful life for their families or children, it appears as though marriage and family are as natural and important as sex itself. Not only are individuals who wait much less likely to live in poverty, have an abortion, or experience an out-of-wedlock birth, but they are happier, and their children are gifted with a better chance in life.
Barry, John, and Martin Daubney. “The Harry’s Masculinity Report.” Male Psychology Network, Oct. 2017, https://www.malepsychology.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/The-Harrys-Masculinity-Report.pdf.
Blanchflower, David G., and Andrew J. Oswald. “Money, Sex and Happiness: An Empirical Study.” National Bureau of Economic Research, May 2004, https://www.nber.org/papers/w10499.pdf.
Fredrickson, Barbara L., et al. “A Functional Genomic Perspective of Human Well-Being.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 2 July 2013, https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/110/33/13684.full.pdf.
Goldman, Wendy Z. Women, the State and Revolution: Soviet Family Policy & Social Life, 1917-1936. Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, 2004, books.google.co.uk, https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=zD9p0pSBBv4C&pg=PA59#v=onepage&q&f=false.
Gottman, John, and Nan Silver. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Three Rivers, 1999.
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Anxiety, Depression, and Substance Dependence Disorders: A Cohort
Study.” Penn State University, 6 Oct. 2012, http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download
Rector, Robert E., et al. “The Effect of Marriage on Child Poverty.” The Heritage Foundation, 15 Apr. 2002, https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED464968.pdf.
—. “The Harmful Effects of Early Sexual Activity and Multiple Sexual Partners Among Women: A Book of Charts.” The Heritage Foundation, 23 June 2003, https://s3.amazonaws.com/thf_media/2003/pdf/Bookofcharts.pdf.
Wolfinger, Nicholas H. “Counterintuitive Trends in the Link Between Premarital Sex and Marital Stability” Institute for Family Studies, 6 June 2016, https://ifstudies.org/blog/counterintuitive-trends-in-the-link-between-premarital-sex-and-marital-stability.
—. “Does Sexual History Affect Marital Happiness?” Institute for Family Studies, 22 Oct. 2018, https://ifstudies.org/blog/does-sexual-history-affect-marital-happiness.
A Woman Resident in Russia. “The Russian Effort to Abolish Marriage.” The Atlantic, July 1926, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1926/07/the-russian-effort-to-abolish-marriage/306295/.