New research reveals that marriages are quantifiably happier if the couple had fewer sexual partners prior to their wedding day.
Writing at the Institute for Family Studies Monday, University of Utah sociologist Nicholas Wolfinger explained that the majority of Americans who have only had sexual relations with their spouse are most likely to report that they are "very happy" in their marriages.
By contrast, the lowest odds of happiness in marriage, belong to women who have had six to 10 sexual partners in their lives, 13 percentage points below women who have only had one sexual partner. The data shows that for men, lower marital satisfaction occurs after one partner, but it never drops to the such a level for women.
To aggregate the data he examined nearly three decades of findings from the General Social Survey, starting in 1989; GSS respondents have been asked extensive questions about their sexual histories. The GSS dates back to 1972.
"Contrary to conventional wisdom, when it comes to sex, less experience is better, at least for the marriage," W. Bradford Wilcox, also a sociologist and senior fellow at IFS told The Atlantic Monday.
Wolfinger's research revealed that women with zero or just one previous sex partners prior to marriage were least likely to divorce, whereas women with 10 or more were most likely to divorce.
Those who report only one lifetime sexual partner are often presumed religious but the data does not show that, he noted, though such persons are likely different from their fellows in ways that predict both premarital sexual behavior and marital happiness. The numbers showing greater happiness in marriage and their link to fewer sexual partners held true regardless of education level, income, and age at marriage.
Only 5 percent of women were virgins on their wedding day in the 2010s, Wolfinger observed in an previous essay; only 6 percent of their marriages did not work out within five years. Meanwhile, 20 percent of most marriages dissolve within the first five years.
Broadly speaking, however, 64 percent of Americans describe their marriages as "very happy" regardless of the number of sexual partners, his latest research found. Only 3 percent said they were unhappily married with the remainder reporting "pretty happy" unions.
Yet among those who reported being unhappily married, the highly promiscuous are at a disadvantage.
"The data show that people with 21 or more partners [across one's] lifetime are almost twice as likely to be unhappily married as are people with fewer partners: 5.3% of respondents with 21+ partners aren't happy in their marriages, compared to 2.8% of those with 20 or fewer partners," Wolfinger said.
Women who have had one sexual partner instead of two are approximately 5 percentage points happier in their marriages. That is about the same boost as what comes from having an income over $78,000, a four-year degree, and regular religious service attendance.
The sociologist acknowledged that sample selection biases can affect the results and that a person's sexual history might affect marital happiness "in ways that are similarly more complex than can be captured with a single variable."
"People who are promiscuous before marriage sometimes don't stop once they tie the knot, and adultery leads to unhappy marriages and divorce. So, the people most at risk of being in unhappy marriages by virtue of their complicated sexual histories may no longer be represented in the sample of people reporting on the happiness of their marriages. This bias would minimize the effects of premarital promiscuity on marital quality," he noted.