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Premarital Sex and Greater Risk of Divorce

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Are there practical consequences of pre-marital sex for future marital happiness?

This is a question many young people ponder. Even if you grow up with a faith or belief system that teaches sex before marriage is wrong, many wonder what real, practical difference engaging in unmarried sex might have beyond the risk of unmarried pregnancy or contracting an infection.

Well, here’s one: New data emerging consistently for decades show that premarital sexual activity seems to be associated with a significant elevated risk of divorce. And, as nearly all people enter marriage desiring it last, this is not a small consideration for teens and young adults.

Let’s look at the handful of leading population-based studies exploring this question and what they find.

Kahn and London, 1991

Data from the National Survey of Family Growth indicate that “women who are sexually active prior to marriage faced considerably higher risk of marital disruption than women who were virgin brides.” These scholars explain that even when controlling for various differentials between virginal and non-virginal groups — such as socio-economics, family background as well as attitudinal and value differences — “non-virgins still face a much higher risk of divorce than virgins.” Joan R. Kahn and Kathryn A. London, “Premarital Sex and the Risk of Divorce,” Journal of Marriage and the Family, 53 (1991): 845-855.

Laumann, Gagnon, Michael and Michaels, 1994

The massive and highly respected National Health and Social Life Survey, conducted at the University of Chicago, was the first serious, fully reputable study of sexual behavior in America. It found a marked connection between premarital sex and elevated risk of divorce. The authors explain:

“For both genders, we find that virgins have dramatically more stable first marriages…” Edward O. Laumann et al., The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), p. 503.

“The finding confirms the results reported by Kahn and London…those who are virgins at marriage have much lower rates of separation and divorce.” Laumann, 1994, p. 503-505.

Additionally, “Those who marry as non-virgins are also more likely – all other things being equal – to be unfaithful over the remainder of their life compared with those spouses who do marry as virgins.” Laumann, 1994, p. 505.

This higher prevalence of marital infidelity among the non-virginal is assumed to be an important factor in their higher likelihood of divorce, while “those who are virgins at marriage are those who go to greater lengths to avoid divorce.” Laumann, 1994, p. 505. Essentially, non-virgins typically appear to do more to harm their marriages and virgins do more to strengthen them.

Heaton, 2002

In a study looking at factors impacting increased marital stability, Brigham Young sociologist Tim Heaton examined how premarital sexual experience, premarital child-bearing, cohabitation and marrying someone of a different religious faith were all associated with greater risk of divorce. Heaton explains, “Dissolution rates are substantially higher among those who initiate sexual activity before marriage.” Heaton asserts that divorce is more likely among the sexually active and cohabitors because they have established their life together on “relatively unstable sexual relationships.” Tim B. Heaton, “Factors Contributing to Increasing Marital Stability in the United States,” Journal of Family Issues, 23 (2002): 392-409, p. 401, 407.

Teachman, 2003

Sociologist Jay Teachman examined how both premarital sex and cohabitation impacts risk of divorce among women. He found that “[i]t remains the case, however, that women with more than one intimate relationship prior to marriage have an elevated risk of marital disruption.” Jay Teachman, “Premarital Sex, Premarital Cohabitation, and the Risk of Subsequent Marital Dissolution Among Women,” Journal of Marriage and Family 65 (2003): 444-455, p. 454.

Paik, 2011

This newest study looks specifically at first sexual experience in adolescence and was conducted by Professor Anthony Paik at the University of Iowa. He explains that his “research shows that adolescent sexuality/premarital sex is associated with marital dissolution” and that a significant factor is whether the sexual experience in later adolescence was welcomed by the girl. He explains, “Adolescent sexual debut that is not completely wanted is both directly and indirectly linked to marital dissolution” which are the overwhelming majority of adolescent sexual experiences for girls.Anthony Paik, “Adolescent Sexuality and Risk of Marital Dissolution,” Journal of Marriage and Family 73 (2011): 472-485, p. 483, 484. Seldom do they report not being pressured or forced into sex.

Paik also found that females who first had sex in their teens had roughly double the risk of divorce later in life compared to women who had their first unmarried sexual experience in their adult years.

He found that teen girls who experienced their first sexual experience with a young man who would eventually be her husband did not have particularly elevated risk of divorce. However, very few of girls who lose their virginity in their teens end up having only had sex with their husband. The overwhelming majority of non-virginal adolescent girls – nearly all – end up having had sex with multiple partners before marriage, thus increasing their later risk for divorce. Paik, 2011, p. 479.

Conclusion

Science is now showing us what our grandmothers and pastors knew all along. Having sex with someone who is not our spouse can have a real, measurable and harmful impact upon later relationships.

When we give ourselves away – and sex is a full giving of ourselves away physically, emotionally, spiritually – to someone outside the commitment and protection of marriage, it breaks down an important part of us, making our future relationships more unhealthy and difficult to sustain.

Young adults have a right to know about this sort of empirical information because of its very real potential impact on their later, most-important relationships.

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    Giving up Sugar, Tasting God's Goodness

    As a latchkey kid, Wendy Speake turned to sugar for comfort. Every Friday, she would pedal to the candy show and use her allowance to fill her bag with candy. And one day, when she was older and a mom of three young boys, she came to realize that she was still “pedaling” away from her stress and using sugar as comfort, instead of turning to Jesus. She was joyless, worn out, tired, and in need of a change. In this interview, Wendy will challenge Christians to take 40 days to focus on fasting from something they turn to instead of Jesus for comfort. She invited people to break free from a dependence on sugar and taste the goodness of God.

    Author Wendy Speake smiling as she holds up her book "The 40-Day Social Media Fast"

    Mrs. Wendy Speake

    With a background in Hollywood as a trained actress, Wendy Speake ministers to women as a bible teacher by applying the power of drama, poetry and comedy to the study of Scripture and real-life application of biblical truths. She has co-authored two books with Amber Lia titled Triggers: Exchanging Parents’ Angry Reactions for Gentle Biblical Responses and their latest, Parenting Scripts: When What You’re Saying Isn’t Working, Say Something New. Wendy is also the co-author (with Kelli Stuart) of Life Creative: Inspiration for Today’s Renaissance Mom.

    Cover image of the book "The 40-Day Sugar Fast"

    The 40-Day Sugar Fast: Where Physical Detox Meets Spiritual Transformation

    Welcome to the 40-Day Sugar Fast, a fast that begins with us giving Jesus our sugar and ends with Jesus giving us himself–the only thing that can ever truly satisfy our soul’s deep hunger. On this 40-day journey you’ll learn how to stop fixating on food and other things you use to fill the voids in life and instead fix your eyes on Christ. Anyone who runs to sugar for comfort or a reward, who eats mindlessly or out of boredom, who feels physically and spiritually lethargic, or who struggles with self-control will discover here not only freedom from their cravings but an entirely new appetite for the good things God has for us.

    Understanding the Root of Your Child's Misbehavior - Part 1

    Often, children act out because they are used to getting attention through bad behavior. Dr. Kevin Leman offers advice to help parents transform their child’s behavior. He discusses the benefits of allowing your kids to learn from real-life consequences and describes the importance of understanding your child’s temperament based on his birth order.

    Dr. Kevin Leman

    Dr. Kevin Leman

    Dr. Kevin Leman is an internationally known family psychologist and an award-winning, New York Times best-selling author. He is also a popular public speaker and media personality who has made countless guest appearances on numerous radio and TV programs. Dr. Leman has written more than 50 books including The Birth Order BookHave a New Kid by Friday and Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours.

    Bundle of Why Your Kids Misbehave

    Why Your Kids Misbehave and What to Do about It

    Tantrums. Talking back. Throwing toys or food. Meltdowns. Slamming doors. Kids know just how to push your buttons. You’ve tried all sorts of methods, but nothing seems to work. In this book, Dr. Kevin Leman reveals exactly why kids misbehave and how you can turn that behavior around with practical, no-nonsense strategies that really work . . . and are a long-term win for both of you.

    Understanding the Root of Your Child's Misbehavior - Part 2

    Often, children act out because they are used to getting attention through bad behavior. Dr. Kevin Leman offers advice to help parents transform their child’s behavior. He discusses the benefits of allowing your kids to learn from real-life consequences and describes the importance of understanding your child’s temperament based on his birth order.

    Dr. Kevin Leman

    Dr. Kevin Leman

    Dr. Kevin Leman is an internationally known family psychologist and an award-winning, New York Times best-selling author. He is also a popular public speaker and media personality who has made countless guest appearances on numerous radio and TV programs. Dr. Leman has written more than 50 books including The Birth Order BookHave a New Kid by Friday and Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours.

    Bundle of Why Your Kids Misbehave

    Why Your Kids Misbehave and What to Do about It

    Tantrums. Talking back. Throwing toys or food. Meltdowns. Slamming doors. Kids know just how to push your buttons. You’ve tried all sorts of methods, but nothing seems to work. In this book, Dr. Kevin Leman reveals exactly why kids misbehave and how you can turn that behavior around with practical, no-nonsense strategies that really work . . . and are a long-term win for both of you.

    Loving Your Spouse Through the Seasons of Marriage - Part 2

    Debra Fileta has identified the four seasons of marriage that correspond with our natural seasons – spring (new life and new love), summer (things get hot!), fall (showing our true colors), and winter (long days ahead). In this interview, she will help couples better understand the four seasons of healthy relationships, what to expect during each one, and how to carefully navigate them for a stronger marriage.

    Author Debra Fileta in the Focus on the Family broadcast studio

    Debra Fileta

    Debra Fileta is a licensed professional counselor specializing in relationship and marital issues. She is also a public speaker and the author of multiple books, including Married SexChoosing Marriage: Why It Has to Start With We > Me, Love in Every Season, and Are You Really OK: Getting Real About Who You Are, How You’re Doing, and Why It Matters. Debra’s popular relationship advice blog, TrueLoveDates.com, and her Love + Relationships podcast reach millions of people each year offering guidance on topics including love, sex, and marriage.

    Love in Every Season: Understanding the Four Stages of a Healthy Relationship

    Every relationship goes through four life-changing seasons: Spring. Summer. Fall. Winter. Each season plays an important role in taking your relationship to the next level. And depending on how you navigate each season, your relationship will either flourish and grow, or it will slowly die. Whether you’re single, dating, engaged or married, join licensed professional counselor and relationship expert, Debra Fileta as she takes you on an eye-opening psychological and spiritual journey through the four seasons that she has observed in every healthy relationship.

    Reconciling Faith and Science in a Medical Crisis

    Dr. Lee Warren is a neurosurgeon who has faced many heavy challenges in his life – from serving in the Iraq War to removing deadly brain tumors to experiencing the loss of a teenage son. He’ll share about his difficult quest to find answers to some of life’s toughest questions, while holding onto his faith in God and the sure hope of heaven

    Headshot of Focus on the Family broadcast guest Dr. W. Lee Warren

    Dr. Lee Warren

    W. Lee Warren, M.D., is a brain surgeon , inventor, Iraq War veteran, and author of I’ve Seen the End of You: A Neurosurgeon’s Look at Faith, Doubt, and the Things We Think We Know, winner of the Christian Book Award®. His previous book, No Place to Hide, was included on the 2015 U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff’s Recommended Reading List. Dr. Warren has appeared on The 700 Club and the CBS Evening News, and his writings have been featured in Guideposts magazine. His Dr. Lee Warren Podcast, which is heard in more than 60 countries, helps listeners use the power of neuroscience, faith, and common sense to change their lives.

    Cover image of Dr. Lee Warren's book "I've Seen the End of You"

    I've Seen the End of You: A Neurosurgeon's Look at Faith, Doubt, and the Things We Think We Know

    This gripping inspirational memoir grapples with the tension between faith and science—and between death and hope—as a seasoned neurosurgeon faces insurmountable odds and grief both in the office and at home.

    Praying Scripture Over Your Child’s Life - Part 1

    Jodie Berndt loves to pray for her children. She’s been doing that for the past thirty years. Now she helps other parents to talk to God, asking for the salvation of their kids, and for wisdom, self-discipline, purpose, a future and much more. She offers fun and practical encouragement that moms and dads can put to work immediately in their daily lives as they prepare their children for a life in Christ.

    Headshot of Focus on the Family broadcast guest Jodie Berndt

    Jodie Berndt

    Jodie Berndt is a public speaker, a Bible teacher, and the the author of 10 books. Find out more about Jodie and get some free resources (including printable prayer cards and calendars) at her website, jodieberndt.com.

    Cover image of Jodie Berndt's book "Praying the Scriptures for Your Children"

    Praying the Scriptures Over Your Children

    You will discover how using the Bible to shape your desires and requests opens the door to God’s provision—and frees us from things like worry and fear in our parenting! This expanded edition of the bestseller features updated content on issues like technology and identity, and comes with new material designed to invite children into the family prayer circle. Purchase now and receive 10% off your product.

    Mothers and Sons: Being a Godly Influence - Part 1

    Rhonda Stoppe describes her early motherhood challenges of raising a son, which was intimidating to her. She found help through group of older women mentors. She urges moms to see their role as ministry in shaping sons to be good and godly men. Rhonda outlines several practical suggestions to moms about spiritual training, how to communicate with boys, and supporting the father-son relationship as a wife.

    Headshot of Rhonda Stoppe

    Rhonda Stoppe

    Drawing upon 35 years of experience as a mentor, pastor’s wife, and homeschool mom, Rhonda Stoppe offers encouragement and guidance to women as an author and public speaker. She is popularly known as the “No Regrets Woman,” as she is especially passionate about helping women live life without regrets. Rhonda’s books include Moms Raising Sons to Be MenReal Life Romance, and The Marriage Mentor, which she co-authored with her husband, Steve.

    Cover image of Rhonda Stoppe's book "Moms Raising Sons to be Men"

    Moms Raising Sons to Be Men

    Mothers of boys have the special calling to shape future men of God. Popular speaker Rhonda Stoppe, mom to two sons, knows this opportunity is a challenge, a joy, and probably the most important work of a woman’s life. Drawing from years of experience, this inspirational resource will revive the faithfulness and fortitude a woman needs to partner with God as they shape the character and heart of a future godly man.

    Identifying Triggers in Your Marriage Part 1

    They were both convinced they had married the wrong person. From almost the very beginning of their marriage, Amber and Guy Lia experienced various tensions and personality clashes related to house cleaning, backseat driving, workaholism, and intimacy. In this two-day Focus on the Family broadcast, Amber and Guy discuss how they bravely faced the triggers head-on, and committed to working on their own relationships with Jesus. As you listen to the Lia’s story, you’ll feel hope that you, too, can see real marriage transformation!

    Headshot of Guy and Amber Lia

    Mr. and Mrs. Guy and Amber Lia and Mrs. Jean Daly

    Amber Lia is a work-at-home mom, blogger, public speaker, and co-author of two best-selling books. Her husband, Guy, is a former TV, feature film, and VFX development and production executive who has worked on popular TV shows and films. Guy and Amber own Storehouse Media Group, a faith- and family-friendly TV and film production company based in Los Angeles,

    Cover image of the book "Marriage Triggers" by Guy and Amber Lia

    Marriage Triggers: How You and Your Spouse Can Exchange Angry Reactions for Gentle Biblical Responses

    A husband-wife team offers practical advice for married couples to end the cycle of reactionary arguments by examining the most common issues that trigger disagreements and apply God’s Word to radically transform relationships.

    What to Do When You're Not Okay - Part 1

    Life can be pretty stressful. Between work, relationships, and other obligations, the pressure builds, and we lose sight of who we are. Counselor Debra Fileta helps you better understand your emotions, assess your mental, physical, and spiritual health, and intentionally pursue a path to wellbeing. In dealing with anxiety, depression, and panic attacks, Debra understands the importance of self-examination as well as the benefits of seeking professional help. She offers biblically-based advice, tools, and encouragement to help you get on a path toward healing and wholeness.

    Author Debra Fileta in the Focus on the Family broadcast studio

    Mrs. Debra Fileta

    Debra Fileta is a licensed professional counselor specializing in relationship and marital issues. She is also a public speaker and the author of multiple books, including Married SexChoosing Marriage: Why It Has to Start With We > Me, Love in Every Season, and Are You Really OK: Getting Real About Who You Are, How You’re Doing, and Why It Matters. Debra’s popular relationship advice blog, TrueLoveDates.com, and her Love + Relationships podcast reach millions of people each year offering guidance on topics including love, sex, and marriage. Debra resides in Pennsylvania with her husband, John, and their four children.

    Are You Really Okay?

    Are You Really OK: Getting Real About Who You Are

    In Are You Really OK? author and licensed counselor Debra Fileta challenges you to get real with who you are and how you’re doing spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically so you can recognize where you need growth and healing.

    Navigating a Toxic Culture with Your Daughter - Part 1

    As a pediatrician, Dr. Meg Meeker has seen thousands of girls come through her office through the years. They struggle with eating issues, sexual identity, social media…and many other challenges in this toxic culture. Dr. Meeker will encourage parents to invest love and time in their daughters and develop their character to give them the best opportunity for a bright future, all rooted in a spiritual foundation. The discussion also includes healthy feminism vs. toxic feminism

    Mrs. Meg Meeker

    Dr. Meg Meeker is a pediatrician who is widely recognized as one of the country’s leading authorities on parenting, teens and children’s health. With appearances on numerous nationally syndicated radio and TV programs, her popularity as a an expert on key issues confronting families has created a strong following across America. Her work with countless families over the years served as the inspiration behind her best-selling books which include Strong Fathers, Strong DaughtersStrong Mothers, Strong Sons and The Ten Habits of Happy Mothers

    Cover image of Dr. Meg Meeker's book "Raising a Strong Daughter in a Toxic Culture"

    Raising a Strong Daughter in a Toxic Culture: 11 Steps to Keep Her Happy, Healthy, and Safe

    Meg Meeker has been a pediatrician for more than thirty years, is a mother and a grandmother, and has seen it all. She knows what makes for strong, happy, healthy young women–and what puts our daughters at risk. Combining that experience with her famous common sense, she explains the eleven steps that will help your daughter–whether she’s a toddler or a troubled teen–to achieve her full human potential.

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    Newest Release - Episode 1: The Truth About Life!

    In this episode, we will tackle tough questions like, “When does life begin?” and “What does the Bible
    say about Life?” You’ll discover and understand the stages of pre-born life and that babies are more than
    just a clump of cells!

    Yes, I Promise to Pray for the Pre-born and Their Moms!

    Will you pray for the pre-born and moms that are facing unexpected pregnancies? We will send you a 7-day prayer guide that will help guide you along this journey with us!! You can even choose to receive this great resource by text!

    Thank you for committing to pray for the pre-born!

    Sign up below for your free seven-day prayer guide. This daily guide will help give direction to your prayers for the pro-life movement. We will be praying with you! 

    Focus on the Family

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