I’m tired of explaining my decision to wait until marriage just to be greeted with the firm opinions of others. My lack of patience with this subject came about somewhere between my mom telling me I wouldn’t know if I was capable of having a physical connection with my partner if I waited to have sex until marriage and my dad telling me that if someone he dated had wanted to wait, it would have been a bit of a red flag; maybe it also came about between my neighbors telling me, “Good luck finding someone who’s going to do that, you’ve left yourself with, like, 3% of the male population,” and some of my friends telling me I’m missing out by not having sex.
Some of these responses do have merit. It turns out my neighbors were actually pretty accurate: Approximately 5% of Americans in 2002 reported that they chose to wait for marriage. Despite what any statistics may say, however, I would never feel that it was my place to question other people on what they choose to do with their bodies. But comments like the ones I’ve received make it seem as though waiting for marriage is an open invitation for people to comment on your sex life — or lack of one.
To be exceedingly clear, this piece is not about why waiting for marriage is the right or “better” thing to do. To argue that there is one correct way to navigate physical relationships reinforces the flawed ideology that the comments I’ve heard are based on. It is annoying and quite frankly archaic to push the idea that everyone should or should not partake in sexual activities, whether that’s saying everyone should abstain from sex or saying everyone should have sex before marriage. Instead, I want to illustrate that couples who wait until marriage to be physically intimate are not at a disadvantage when it comes to long-term sexual and emotional satisfaction. While this article presents research that refutes common assumptions about waiting for marriage, they are ultimately just statistics. And despite these statistics, relationships and sex are too nuanced to assume that the same conditions will work for everyone.
In a study published in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Family Psychology, 2,035 married individuals participated in an online survey regarding how the timing of their sexual development has affected other aspects of their relationship. Compared to people who had sex before marriage (all at varying times in their relationships), people who waited rated their sexual quality 15% higher, their relationship stability 22% higher and their satisfaction with their relationship 20% higher. While waiting for marriage is often a choice rooted in religious beliefs, these results actually remain statistically significant among different control groups, such as level of religious activity, number of previous sexual partners, education level and so on. So regardless of how religious someone is, how much sex they have had in the past and what degrees they hold, this study indicates that waiting is, on average, beneficial for a relationship.
With the exception of this study, there is not a lot of research on whether waiting for marriage does or does not align with common assumptions about sexual satisfaction and relationship quality. The majority of the articles on waiting for marriage are backed by religious groups or from personal blogs. This makes sense to me: While there are universal biological aspects of sex, everyone has different perspectives on and experiences with this subject. Given the very personal role sex plays in people’s lives, I don’t think any amount of research is enough to say this is what works for everyone.
And yet, people constantly feel that their own personal experience makes it their jurisdiction for them to comment on what other people should be doing with their sex lives. For me, these comments have come in the form of being called a prude or people questioning why someone would be interested in me if I’m not going to have sex with them. However, coming from a small rural town, I am also potently aware that people — particularly women — who are sexually active also receive their own share of these unsolicited comments.
When a girl has sex with someone “too soon,” I’ve heard remarks such as, “Well, you can’t expect him to take you seriously if you have sex with him right away.” When a girl openly talks about her sex life, I’ve heard declarations like, “She’s basically a sex addict.” When girls haven’t properly struck the careful balance between sleeping with enough people to make them seem sexually desirable and not sleeping with so many people that others could get the dangerous idea that women actually desire sexual satisfaction, I’ve heard assertions like, “Oh, she’ll sleep with anyone.” And I’m sure that guys get their own share of remarks, too. It doesn’t seem to matter how little or how much sex someone has — people are always ready to comment.
Although I struggle with the baseless comments that have accompanied my decision to wait for marriage and my goal is to discredit them, I recognize there are a lot of other comments regarding sexuality that need to be discredited as well. The problem isn’t talking about sex — the problem is how we talk about sex. It’s a normal human experience, and it should be treated as such. But conversations about another person’s sex life should be conversations and not lectures, one-sided debates or diatribes of your own projected opinions. While I don’t think saving sex for marriage is the unsatisfying, intimacy-inhibiting decision some people make it out to be, the bottom line is that we should be far past the time of commenting on and criticizing what people choose to do with their bodies.
Olivia Mouradian is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.