It has long been shown in the scientific literature that engaging in premarital sex is strongly related to increases in marital divorce. This was first demonstrated in 1938 and followed up many times over.

In 1991, two leading scholars reported, “After a variety of observable characteristics are controlled, nonvirgins still face a much higher risk of divorce than virgins.”

An influential 2003 study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family explains, “Women who have more than one intimate premarital relationship have an increased risk of marital dissolution.” Specifically, “Women who had their first sexual encounter prior to first marriage are about 34% more likely to experience marital dissolution at each point in their marriages.” Brand new research, which we examine below, shows this risk applies equally to men and women.

A 2011 study looking closely at how adolescent sexuality impacts later divorce risk holds, “A handful of population-based studies have linked premarital sexual behavior to increased risk of divorce.” But the findings in this specific study were less dramatic, indicating, “First-intercourse experiences that were not completely wanted or occurred before the age of 16, in particular, appear to have lasting impacts on the stability of women’s marriages.” This impact was negative.

In 2016, the Institute for Family Studies published research telling us this connection has not lessened as sexual values become more lax of late. They explain, “For women marrying since the start of the new millennium:

  • Women with 10 or more partners were the most likely to divorce, but this only became true in recent years;
  • Women with 3-9 partners were less likely to divorce than women with 2 partners; and,
  • Women with 0-1 partners were the least likely to divorce.”

They chart the data in the following way, indicating the relations between premarital sexual history and divorce seems to actually be getting more dramatic in recent years.

But new research just published in the Journal of Family Issues states, “We find the relationship between premarital sex and divorce is highly significant and robust even when accounting for early-life factors.”

Specifically, these scholars explain, “Compared to people with no premarital partners other than eventual spouses, those with nine or more partners exhibit the highest divorce risk, followed by those with one to eight partners.” Regarding this effect on men and women, “Finally, we show there’s no gender difference: premarital sex raises the divorce rate for both men and women.”

They chart their findings this way,

Pre-marital sexual experience is clearly not good when it comes to marital satisfaction and longevity.

But scholars have not fully understood why this relationship exists. This new study explores that question, examining the leading factors scientists have posited as an explanation for this connection, things like weaker religious attachment, nontraditional views of sexuality and marriage, and lower quality family relationships. After carefully examining each, these researchers explain, “We find no support for these explanations, and show that the effect of premarital sex remains highly significant after accounting for a wide range of individual and social differences between respondents.”

The authors of this new study reiterate, “Having no premarital partners serves as a protective factor against divorce risk.” This is clear and robust evidence from the sciences that God is both wise and loving in how He wants us to live out His good gift of sexuality.


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