Relationship Marriage And Sex

How are relationship marriage and sex related? A recent paper presented by Robert T. Michael of the University of Chicago points out that there are four domains that link relationship marriage and sex. The first linkage is the quality of the partnership. Sex affirms trust, which promotes love, affection, and stability in the relationship. Secondly, sex involves making an investment in spouse-specific sexual skills, which in turn promotes longer-duration partnerships.

Thirdly, fertility is an important link between relationship marriage and sex. That is, it makes sense to organize sexual behavior around the context in which the child rearing can be effectively accomplished (i.e. within a marital relationship). Finally, sexual behavior within the bounds of a monogamous partnered relationship minimizes the risk of transmission of infectious diseases.(1)

Steven M Cohn, PhD, LMFT
The Portland Couples Counseling Center
1940 NE Broadway
Portland, Oregon  97232
503-282-8496

Of course, with regard to relationship marriage and sex, very few people wait until they are married before enjoying sex. One study shows that by age 20, 77% of respondents had had sex, 75% had had premarital sex, and only 12% had married. By age 44, 95% had had premarital sex. Even if the respondents had been chaste until age 20, 81% subsequently had premarital sex prior to age 44.(2)

Given these huge numbers, and considering relationship marriage and sex, many school systems and other advocates try to promote abstinence until marriage; while others place the highest priority on making sure young people have safe sex. At the University of Northern Colorado, a doctoral candidate did a study assessing the short-term effectiveness of abstinence until marriage curriculum and a comprehensive sex education curriculum on 9th grade students’ knowledge of safe sexual behavior, their sexual practices, and their knowledge on sexually transmitted disease prevention. While both groups had a higher degree of knowledge after the programs than before, only members of the group that received comprehensive sex education changed their sexual practices to improve their safety.(3)

In a study comparing sexual health among young people in various countries, researchers found that those countries with pragmatic and positive government sexual policies (France, Australia, and the Netherlands) have better sexual health-related statistics. In contrast, the United States, with its primarily abstinence-based policy, had worse sexual-health statistics. The study’s authors conclude that abstinence-based policies do not necessarily result in improved sexual health outcomes. In addition, they state that more liberal policies don’t necessarily promote sexual activity, but rather serve to better equip young people with skills that enable them to remain healthy if having pre-marital sex.(4)

An example of sexual policy in the United States is the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, which Congress passed in 1996. Under this act, welfare block grants were created which allow the states to choose to spend welfare funds on marriage-related programs and include separate funding for abstinence-unless-married programs that teach marriage first and then sex. This legislation was in response to findings that since 1960, when the Pill went to market, the average age of first marriage has risen significantly, divorce has become more commonplace, and cohabitation has increased dramatically.(5)


Endnotes

(1) Michael, Robert T. An Economic Perspective on Sex, Marriage and the Family in Contemporary United States. Harris School, University of Chicago. July, 2003.

(2) Finer, Lawrence B. Trends in Premarital Sex in the United States, 1954 – 2003. The Guttmacher Institute, New York, NY.

(3) Strachan, Monica. A Comparative Study on the Short-Term Effects of an Abstinence Until Marriage and a Comprehensive Sex Education Curriculum on Sexual Behaviors and Knowledge of Adolescents from a Denver County Public High School. University of Northern Colorado, 2005. Published MAI 44/01. p.334, Feb. 2006.

(4) Weaver, Heather; Smith, Gary;, and Kippax, Susan. School-based Sex Education Policies and Indicators of Sexual Health Among Young People: A Comparison of the Netherlands, France, Australia, and the United States. Sex Education 5(2): 171-188. May, 2005.

(5) Levin-Epstein, Jodie. To Have and To Hold: Congressional Vows on Marriage and Sex. Center for Law and Social Policy. March, 2005.

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