Marital Stability Factor
A recent study affirms that women who are virgins when they wed have the highest likelihood of staying married for life, while also suggesting that females who have had just two sexual partners are among those most at risk for divorce.
One surprising result of research conducted by Nicholas H. Wolfinger, professor of Family and Consumer Studies at the University of Utah, shows that women with only two sexual partners are more likely to divorce than those who have had between three and nine.
In fact, the study published by the Institute for Family Studies, indicates that the 33 percent divorce rate for women with 10 or more partners who married in the 2000s isn’t much different than the 30 percent five-year divorce figure for women with only two partners, one of whom likely was her husband.
Women with 10-plus partners are the most likely to divorce, but this has only been true in recent years, according to Wolfinger, whose books include Understanding the Divorce Cycle: The Children of Divorce in Their Own Marriages. In the 1980s and 1990s, the highest five-year divorce rates occurred among women with two partners.
Wolfinger says the high divorce rate among women with two partners is the most confounding result of the study. He suspects it’s often a case of a wife questioning whether she really should have married the husband she did rather than an earlier boyfriend.
“Having two partners creates damaging comparisons: stay with your husband, or the one that got away?” says Wolfinger, who is single.
However, Linda Miller-deBerard, a Christian marriage counselor in Colleyville, Texas, believes multiple additional reasons are involved besides having exactly two sexual partners before repeating wedding vows.
“So many other factors lead to divorce,” says Miller-deBerard, who has counseled Assemblies of God pastors and couples for a quarter century. She cites a lack of communication, failure to resolve conflict, a deficiency in meeting emotional needs, inability to handle money together, not supporting each other in difficult times, and losing a faith commitment as the most common trouble signs.
“All are far more telling indicators of marital survival than history of previous relationships,” says Miller-deBerard, who has been married for 30 years.
Wolfinger notes that the popularity of “hooking up” is evidence that some young people have become comfortable with the idea of frequent intercourse outside of serious relationships. And while traditional marriage may be battered, he says it still is a promise of dedication.
“Cohabiting relationships are notoriously unstable,” Wolfinger says. “Many are unions of convenience, lacking the commitment that marriage signals.”
Wolfinger and Miller-deBerard agree that women with the most sex partners are not only more liable to split up, but also to be less happy in marriage.
“There is a long-term impact on society, however there is more of an impact for the women themselves,” Miller-deBerard says. “It’s the impact on their self-worth and perhaps on their willingness to maintain a monogamous relationship.”
Wolfinger’s exploration shows that Americans clearly engage in more sexual relationships than a generation or two ago. The number of future wives who had 10 or more sex partners has increased from 2 percent in the 1970s to 18 percent today. Conversely, the number with only one premarital partner (most often their husband-to-be) dropped to 22 percent from 43 percent.
Nevertheless, the study seems to confirm that in this era of legal and cultural acceptance of various sexual lifestyles and living arrangements, monogamous heterosexual marriage is the most stable. Wolfinger’s research indicates that only 5 percent of brides were virgins at the start of this decade (compared to 21 percent 40 years ago), yet they have the lowest divorce rates by far, ranging from 11 percent in the 1980s to 6 percent in the 2000s.
Unsurprisingly, women who marry as virgins are more likely to attend church at least weekly, Wolfinger found. Generally speaking, women with a history of multiple sex partners are less likely to be regular churchgoers.
“Virginity at marriage is a highly held belief for Christians,” Miller-deBerard says. “Christians tend to try harder to stay married and have a lower divorce rate.”
Another new report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, shows that women who attend church regularly live longer.