I'd like to think that society has changed enough that a woman who explores her sexuality is just as likely to have a good marriage as someone who is a virgin at the time of her marriage. Unfortunately, recent research neither supports nor denies this theory, and ends up asking more questions than it answers.
This confusing study called "Counterintuitive Trends in the Link between Premarital Sex and Marital Stability" from the University of Utah, and published on the Institute for Family Studies Blog, questioned whether premarital sex affects a married couple's likelihood of divorce.
What was the answer? Premarital sex can influence divorce sometimes, but it depends on other factors.
The study's author, Nicholas H. Wolfinger, a professor in the University of Utah's Department of Family and Consumer studies and an adjunct professor in the Department of Sociology, discovered some interesting trends: Divorce rates have fallen for the shrinking percent of American women who marry as virgin, and stayed (mostly) the same for those with one or two premarital sex partners. Divorce rates went up the most for women with 10 plus sexual partners before marriage.
But hold on, the surprising thing, Wolfinger said, is that women with exactly two premarital sex partners have consistently higher divorce rates than women with three to nine partners.
Wolfinger looked at the five-year divorce rate for over 10,000 women, and took into consideration how many sex partners the women reported having before they got married. He then divided them into the three most recent waves of the National Survey of Family Growth based on the decade in which the marriage took place, collected in 2002, 2006 to 2010 and 2011 to 2013.
Not surprisingly, young women who got married in recent years had more sexual experiences than women from previous decades.
"How has sexual behavior changed in recent years? Most answers to this question involve hooking up, the idea that young people are having sexual encounters outside of committed relationships," said Wolfinger. "It's almost beside the point that millennials tend to have fewer sex partners than people born in the 1950s and 1960s."
From the data Wolfinger gathered, he discovered that women who married as virgins had the lowest divorce rates — 11 percent of virgin marriages (on the part of the woman) in the 1980s dissolved within five years. This number fell to 8 percent in the 1990s, then fell again in the 2000s. For all three decades, the women with the second lowest divorce rates were those who only had one partner before their marriage.
The highest divorce rates were for women who had two partners — especially in the 1980s when these women had divorce rates of 28 percent — much higher than women who had ten or more sex partners before their marriage (18 percent). But the highest five-year divorce rate of all was associated with marrying in the 2000s and having ten or more premarital ex partners, at a whopping 33 percent.
"Perhaps it is not unexpected that having many partners increases the odds of divorce," said Wolfinger. "The greater surprise is that this only holds true in recent years; previously, women with two partners prior to marriage had the highest divorce rates."
In the end, the findings of this study seem unclear and shifting. If you want to explore your sexuality, have as many sex partners as you want. You can't predict the future and you can't try to control it.
Who knows what the next study will find? Live your life exactly how you want and don't worry how it will affect your divorce rate.