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Is it better to assess sexual compatibility early in dating or to delay having sex? The Tempo of Sexual Activity and Later Relationship Quality. Note: Data are from the Marital and Relationship Survey. Let’s take a look at what research tells us about these questions. Sexual Restraint The current dating culture often emphasizes that two people should test their “sexual chemistry” before committing to each other.
Does “true love wait” or should you “test drive” a relationship before saying I do? This type of compatibility is frequently mentioned as an essential characteristic for people to seek out in romantic relationships, particularly ones that could lead to marriage.
Are these dating patterns compatible with the desire to have a loving and lasting marriage later?
In fact, couples who wait until marriage to have sex report higher relationship satisfaction (20% higher), better communication patterns (12% better), less consideration of divorce (22% lower), and better sexual quality (15% better) than those who started having sex early in their dating (see Figure 2).
These are important questions to ask since most single adults report that they desire to one day have a successful, lifelong marriage—and while dating, many couples move rapidly into sexual relationships. Couples who do nottest their sexual chemistry prior to the commitments of exclusivity, engagement, and marriage are often seen as putting themselves at risk of getting into a relationship that will not satisfy them in the future—thus increasing their probability of later marital dissatisfaction and divorce.
In fact, as noted in Figure 1, recent studies have found that between 30 and 40% of dating and married couples report having sex within one month of the start of their relationship, and the numbers are even higher for currently cohabiting couples. However, two recently published studies call into question the validity of testing sexual chemistry early in dating. This study involved a national sample of 2,035 married individuals who participated in the popular online couple assessment survey called “RELATE.” We found that the longer a dating couple waits to have sex, the better their relationship is after marriage.
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For couples in between—those that became sexually involved later in their dating, but prior to marriage—the benefits were about half as strong.