As Sassler and her colleagues concluded, “Adequate time is required for romantic relationships to develop in a healthy way
The second study, by Sharon Sassler and her colleagues at Cornell University, also found that rapid sexual involvement has adverse long-term implications for relationship quality. Using data from the Marital and Relationship Survey, which provides information on nearly 600 low- to moderate-income couples living with minor children, their study examined the tempo of sexual intimacy and subsequent relationship quality in a sample of married and cohabiting men and women.
They discovered that the negative association between sexual timing and relationship quality is largely driven by a link between early sex and cohabitation
Specifically, sexual involvement early in a romantic ilove coupon relationship is associated with an increased likelihood of moving more quickly into living together, which in turn is associated with lower relationship quality. This finding supports Norval Glenn’s hypothesis that sexual involvement may lead to unhealthy emotional entanglements that make ending a bad relationship difficult. In contrast, relationships that move too quickly, without adequate discussion of the goals and long-term desires of each partner, may be insufficiently committed and therefore result in relationship distress, especially if one partner is more committed than the other” (p. 710).
So, why might sexual restraint benefit couples during dating and later in marriage? Evidence points to two primary explanations for why couples benefit from waiting to become sexually involved: intentional partner selection and sexual symbolism.
A primary reason why sexual restraint benefits couples is that it facilitates intentional partner selection. Simply put, you have a better chance of making good decisions in dating when you have not become sexually involved with your dating partner. Leading marriage expert Scott Stanley, a frequent contributor to this blog, has proposed a concept of dating that he calls “relationship inertia.” The central idea of inertia is that some couples end up married partly because they become “prematurely entangled” in a sexual relationship prior to making the decision to be committed to one another-and had they not become so entangled early on, they would not have married each other. Inertia means that it is hard for some couples to veer from the path they are on, even when doing so would be wise; the fact that they share friends, an apartment, and maybe a pet make breaking up with each other even more difficult than it would otherwise be, and so the relationship progresses from cohabitation to marriage even if the partners are not very well matched.
For many young adults, the single life has become synonymous with hook-ups and sexual experimentation. The problem with these patterns is that proper partner selection is often difficult for sexually involved couples who experience strong physical rewards with each other, as these rewards can cause them to ignore or minimize deeper incompatibilities in the relationship. The human brain and body do not just experience pleasure during sex; they also experience strong sensations of attachment and bonding. Simply put, we are hardwired to connect. Rapid sexual initiation often creates poor partner selection because intense feelings of pleasure and attachment can be confused for true intimacy and lasting love. Early sex creates a sort of counterfeit intimacy that makes two people think they are closer to each other than they really are. This can cause people to “fall in love” with, and possibly even marry, someone who is not a good choice for them in the long run.
Sexual restraint also benefits couples because it requires partners to prioritize communication and commitment as the foundation of their attraction to each other. This gives couples a different type of foundation from couples who build their relationship on physical attraction and sexual gratification. This difference becomes particularly critical as couples naturally move past an initial period of intense attraction and excitement into a relationship more characterized by companionship and partnership. As Dr. erica, explains, “couples who hit the honeymoon too early-that is, prioritize sex promptly at the outset of the relationship-often find their relationship underdeveloped when it comes to qualities that make relationships stable and spouses reliable and trustworthy.” Couples who have sex early in their relationship are at risk of developing lopsided commitment levels (i.e., the woman is more committed than the man), less healthy communication patterns, and less ability to manage differences and conflict.