PROVO — Similar interests? Check.
Complementary personalities? Check.
Sexual compatibility? Hold it.
A new BYU study found that couples that waited to have sex until they were married experienced higher levels of relational, communicational and sexual satisfaction later on, more so than those who dived into premarital physical intimacy.
"There was absolutely no support for this idea of sexual compatibility, that in any way it helps a relationship to be sexual early," said Dean Busby, BYU family life professor and lead author of the study.
The study, to be published in the upcoming issue of the Journal of Family Psychology, relies on data gathered over two years from 2,035 married individuals who took RELATE, an online marital assessment tool.
Along with questions about levels of satisfaction and communication, participants answered the question, "When did you become sexual in this relationship?"
The BYU researchers found that couples that waited until marriage before having sex reported 22 percent higher relational stability, 20 percent higher relational satisfaction, 15 percent better sexual quality and 12 percent better communication.
Those benefits were cut in half for couples who waited a significant amount of time into the relationship, yet still had sex before marriage.
"We're not trying to say that any couple that ends up being sexual prior to marriage is doomed," Busby said. "But we feel pretty comfortable with the results that we have, that it makes a difference. People ought to consider this when they're thinking about taking their intimacy to the next level."
Yet, many in the rising generation consider it a "risk" to commit to a deep, long-term relationship without testing the sexual chemistry between partners, said BYU professor and co-author Jason Carroll.
"There are plenty of personal opinions about this, about what is the amount of time you should wait, how soon is too soon, is it a good idea, so we really wanted to test what we see as these competing ideas that don't have empirical data behind them," he said.
He said their study was able to provide data that show timing and sequence of sexual intimacy can affect a relationship.
If sex is introduced prior to commitment, it can introduce confusion and "premature entanglement," he said. However, sexual restraint provides a couple with greater clarity because the physical act is connected to deeper commitment.
The study also takes religion into account, meaning that regardless of the level of religiosity, the benefits of waiting are still the same, Busby said.
Sociologist Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas at Austin, who was not involved with this research, read the study and shared his take on the findings.
"Couples who hit the honeymoon too early — that is, prioritize sex promptly at the outset of a relationship — often find their relationships underdeveloped when it comes to the qualities that make relationships stable and spouses reliable and trustworthy," Regnerus is quoted in a news release from BYU. Regnerus is author of "Premarital Sex in America," a forthcoming book from Oxford University Press.
If a couple has engaged in sexual relations before marriage, it would be a good idea to stop and evaluate the relationship to ensure it is properly balanced, Busby said.
"One of the things I would evaluate is ... 'How dominant is that area of our relationship?' " Busby said. " 'Have we given the communication and the other areas of our relationship space to develop? Is there something beyond sex between us?' Those questions have to be asked, I think, if you really want to have a stable relationship."
"Sex is important," he continued, "But you've got to be able to talk to one another, got to be able to have a common take on life, so you can go through the struggles that occur, instead of just having fun."