A bit ago, I ran a survey to answer the question – does having sex before marriage impact sex within the marriage? Because, let’s face it, many people got fed the line that “if you wait until marriage, God is going to give you an amazing sex life!” But we also sort of want it to be true because many of us want our kids to wait until marriage, and, frankly, the best line would be, “If you wait, it will pay off big time in your marriage.” Imagine if you could tell teenagers, “If you don’t have sex now, you’re not going to have any problems when you get married.”
We all instinctively and experientially know that’s a lie, but what does the data say? Well, I asked 8,000+ people to tell me their experiences.
Unfortunately, half of them didn’t bother to open the email… but 4000 people did! Sadly, only about 1,500 of them bothered to go to the survey. And 200 of them didn’t finish it…
So, we’re left with about 1,300 responses. Less than I wanted but enough for our purposes. As always, we get way more men than women filling these out despite the stereotype of women being the sharers.
Anyways, here is the data from 879 men and 425 women. The vast majority are married (1200 or so). The rest are a mix of single (35), divorced (26), engaged (11) and widows/widowers (8).
Some basic stats
I thought we’d start at the beginning and grab some baselines.
How often do you have sex?
Women said 2.1 times per week.
Men said 1.6 times per week.
Now, if you’re asking, “Wait, how is that possible?” that’s a good question. My best guess is that we get many husbands here asking, “How do I get my wife to have sex?” and many wives ask, “How can I enjoy/want sex more?” And, of course, you’ll make a lot more progress on things you can control. So, if wives are focused on improving their side of things – they’re going make more progress, whereas the husbands are trying to improve things for their wives, which can still work, but it’s more complicated.
This is why when I’m coaching, I can confidently say that both spouses show up and are actively invested in improving things – it will happen. If it’s just one – it may happen.
Of course, this is just the “typical” dynamic; plenty of wives visit Uncovering Intimacy who want sex more than their husbands.
How often would you like to have sex?
Women said 3.3 times per week.
Men said 4.0 times per week.
If you’re surprised that the women’s average is so high – that might be owing to that group of wives with higher drives than their husbands pushing the average up.
On a scale of 0-10, how would you rate your sexual satisfaction?
Women said 6.8
Men said 5.9
Not fantastic, but not terrible – mediocre, I guess.
Did you grow up in a Christian home?
77% of our audience grew up in Christian homes where both parents were Christian. 0.7% had only a father who was Christian, and 8.5% had only a mother who was Christian. 13% were not raised by Christians, and 0.5% by Christian caregivers.
Did your parents have sex before they got married?
Yes – 34.4%
No – 25.9%
I don’t know – 39.7%
Did you decide to remain a virgin until marriage when you were younger?
No – 45%
Yes – 55%
It is interesting to note here that the girls (65.8%) were far more likely to have made that decision than the boys (50.4%), but still, over half of each made that decision.
How old were you when you first had (consensual) sex?
Female – 19.6
Male – 20.2
What was your relationship status when you first had sex with?
Sex, in this case, is any sexual contact.
Casual sex – 14.9%
Boyfriend/Girlfriend – 53.3%
Fiancee – 9.5%
Spouse – 22.3%
Men and women here were pretty close. The men tended to be a little more likely to engage in sexual behaviours earlier in the relationship, and the women a little more towards later, but not significantly so.
How many sexual partners did you have before your spouse?
Women – 8.2
Men – 6.1
This one surprised me a bit, too, so I looked a bit closer at the data, and I think showing the distribution might help here:
The majority of the data is down in the 0-10 range, with some outliers pulling the average up.
Are there any sexual activities you did in previous relationships that you don’t do in your marriage?
No – 72.5%
Yes – 27.5%
The men were more likely to say “yes”:
Women, Yes – 22.5%
Men, Yes – 29.5%
The comments were interesting. The reasons generally fit into a few categories:
- Their spouse is less adventurous than previous partners were.
- Their spouse became less adventurous over time.
- They felt pressured to do things in previous relationships that they no longer feel pressured to do.
- They felt pressured to do things in previous relationships and now don’t cave under that pressure.
- They tried something once (or a few times) in the past and didn’t like it.
- They used to engage in things they now consider immoral or unhealthy.
- Their spouse doesn’t want sex, so everything is off the table.
If you had any sexual activity before marriage, do you feel it impacted your marriage?
No impact – 24.5%
Yes, a negative impact – 64.1%
Yes, a positive impact – 11.4%
No impact – 42.4%
Yes, a positive impact – 10.4%
Yes, a negative impact – 47.2%
So, the largest group for both was that it had a negative impact, and the smallest group was that it had a positive impact. The men tend to think it was no big deal. I’m curious if that means they personally didn’t feel any impact from it or that they felt their wife also was not impacted by it because the women seem far more likely to have felt it was a negative impact.
Did you live with a sexual partner before marriage?
No – 66.4%
Yes – 12.8%
Yes, but only with my future spouse – 20.8%
I didn’t split this up by gender because they were relatively small differences. The women seem to have answered they were slightly more likely to have not waited until marriage to move in.
Has an affair happened in your marriage?
I had an affair – 4.2%
I suspect my spouse might have had an affair – 1.8%
My spouse had an affair – 9.8%
Neither of us has had an affair – 81.6%
We both had an affair – 2.7%
I had an affair – 9.8%
I suspect my spouse might have had an affair – 2.6%
My spouse had an affair – 5.0%
Neither of us has had an affair – 79.6%
We both had an affair – 3.0%
This was somewhat reassuring because I run into people who believe that no marriage makes it a significant length without someone having an affair, usually by both spouses. I never believed that to be true, but it’s nice to see that the vast majority (80%) have stayed true to each other.
If your spouse had sex with someone other than you, how does that affect you?
I don’t know if they had sex with anyone other than me- 7.3%
Negatively – 39.0%
Positively – 3.6%
They did not have sex with anyone other than me – 50.2%
I don’t know if they had sex with anyone other than me – 6.7%
Negatively – 32.2%
Positively – 6.3%
They did not have sex with anyone other than me – 54.9%
If we take out the ones that didn’t have sex with anyone else, or didn’t know, we end up with this:
91.5% of women and 84.8% of men say their spouse having sex with someone else negatively impacted them. Some will say, “Yeah, but some of those were affairs”. Good point. Let’s filter them out.
89.5% of women and 80.8% of men say that their spouse having sex with someone else – before their marriage (not an affair) negatively impacted them.
Now, that’s interesting when just a couple of questions prior, about 25% of women and 43% of men said that their having sex before marriage had no impact on their marriage.
So, of course, now I’m curious – what if we only filter for those who said it had no impact? Of those who said that having sex before marriage had no impact on their marriage and their spouse didn’t have an affair that they were aware of or suspected, 73% of women and 77% of men said it negatively impacted them that their spouse had sex with someone before getting married.
I’ll return to this in my summary because I think there’s an important lesson.
Did you share your sexual history with your spouse before getting married?
I had no sexual history – 17.8%
All of it – 47.8%
Some of it – 34.4%
I had no sexual history – 17.0%
All of it – 39.9%
Some of it – 43.1%
If you take out the people who had no sexual history, then it’s about 50/50 whether or not they shared it all. Now, granted, I should have an answer here for “No, I didn’t,” but I missed that.
Did your spouse share their sexual history with you before getting married?
Women (about their husbands):
They had no sexual history – 26.2%
Yes, all of it – 40.0%
Yes, some of it – 33.8%
Men (about their wives):
They had no sexual history – 33.6%
Yes, all of it – 29.3%
Yes, some of it – 37.2%
Removing the people who had no sexual history, we end up with a 54%/46% split women vs men regarding sharing all the history. So, it seems that either women really wanted to know all the history, or men were more willing to share more than the other way around.
Do you regret having (consensual) sex before marriage?
I’m not sure – 14.7%
No – 20.8%
Yes – 64.5%
I’m not sure – 15.1%
No – 38.0%
Yes – 47.0%
Now, sadly, the comments of many of these qualify the answers. For a lot of them, the ones that don’t regret it don’t because their current sex life within marriage is so abysmal that they feel they would never have experienced good sex if they hadn’t had it before marriage. That’s an unfortunate reason.
Do you regret not having sex before marriage?
I’m not sure – 6.7%
No – 91.0%
Yes – 2.2%
I’m not sure – 10.8%
No – 79.1%
Yes – 10.1%
I also had some questions about sexual assault, but I’m going to save them for a separate post because there’s already a lot here, and the implications of that data, the bit I dipped into, were surprising, to be honest. I think it deserves its post, and I will write it because there are lessons to be learned there.
Does pre-marital sex affect your married sex life?
Alright, that’s all the primary data. So, what does it tell us when we start comparing some pieces with others?
First, does having sex before marriage impact the marriage? Well, we saw above that while nearly 40% of respondents claim that having sex didn’t affect the marriage negatively, they also generally felt negatively impacted by their spouse having sex before marriage. And that is, well, an amazing feat of hypocrisy unless I’m missing something. As I understand it, that’s literally, “I can have sex before marriage; that won’t be a problem, but if YOU do, that’s a problem.” Rules for thee, but not for me.
So, what difference does it make? Does it, say, reduce the amount of sex you have in your marriage?
Statistically – no.
I mean, there are some ups and downs; for example, men who first had sex during a casual hookup seem to have slightly less sex than, say, a man who waited for marriage but not as much as one who had sex with a girlfriend. Still, we’re talking about the difference between having sex once more a week every ten weeks – this is negligible.
What about living with someone before marriage?
Nope, again, insignificant.
What about waiting until you’re older to have sex? There’s no statistical difference between waiting until a certain age or not. There is a very weak correlation (r=0.2) between waiting until being older and sexual satisfaction, but that’s so low it’s barely worth considering from a statistics point of view. So, it’s not a good argument to make.
But some things are true.
Sexual activities before marriage lower sexual satisfaction in marriage
Women’s sexual satisfaction in marriage is 10% higher if they don’t engage in oral sex before marriage. It’s 9% higher if she didn’t engage in manual sex. This pattern follows with vaginal sex (11%), anal sex (13%), mutual masturbation (20%) and phone sex (11%).
So, it doesn’t significantly affect their desire for or frequency of sex, but their sexual satisfaction is lower.
For men, the effect is smaller:
Manual – 5%
Oral – 2%
Anal – 14%
Vaginal – 2%
Mutual masturbation – 4%
Phone sex – 7%
As for the anal sex number being high – there were a fair number of complaints of men who said they had anal sex with prior partners and their wife wasn’t interested.
Turns out it is not better to have loved and lost, at least in this case.
Let’s say you had a “conservatively wild life” before marriage and engaged in manual, oral and vaginal sex only before marriage. Women are likely to experience being 16% less satisfied due to their marriage, and men 5% less.
The number of partners you have had affects your spouse and the chance of affairs
There is a weak inverse relationship between the number of partners and sexual satisfaction (r=-0.13 for women, -0.2 for men); however, we’re measuring sexual satisfaction from the partner who had the number of partners. Based on the previous questions, it seems that it matters more to the other spouse.
It may not affect you much, but it affects your spouse more.
Now, this is strictly dealing with sexual satisfaction. We know from other studies that there is a higher correlation between the number of partners and divorce rates, but I think there’s a different mechanism at play there.
We asked people, “Are there sexual activities you did in previous relationships that you don’t do in your marriage?”
Women who said “no” were 21% more sexually satisfied in their marriage.
Men who said “no” were 33% more sexually satisfied in their marriage.
So, men strongly experience that loss of freedom of expression in the bedroom. If they never had it, it’s less of an impact, but if they have, then they know what they’re missing out on. I know this also holds if you were more sexually free with your spouse before or early on in the marriage and then less so later. In some ways, this is crueller than never being sexually open (though not by much).
Women, on the other hand, experienced 27% more sexual satisfaction in their marriage if they only lived together with their spouse and not someone else. Perhaps this is because women tend to focus more on relational issues than specific sexual acts.
This dichotomy is shown in the stats on affairs as well. Surprisingly, women’s sexual satisfaction is less impacted by an affair, or their sexual satisfaction doesn’t drive them to an affair.
The difference between the wives having an affair or not and their sexual satisfaction is only 9%. For men, it’s 66%. In short, either men’s sexual satisfaction is a huge driver in affairs, or they are significantly impacted by the affair they had.
If the husband has an affair, the wife’s sexual satisfaction tends to be 8% lower. If the wife has an affair, the husband’s sexual satisfaction tends to be 38% lower.
If neither had an affair, the wives listed their sexual satisfaction as 19% higher. The men – 71% higher.
So, sexual satisfaction seems far more strongly tied to affairs, either causing or being caused by them, than women.
Lastly, I was curious – does the number of partners you’ve had in the past affect your chance of affairs? Turns out it does. Both men and women who had affairs averaged nearly twice as many partners before getting married as those who didn’t.
Does having more partners make you a better lover?
Another interesting bit was that the wives who said that their spouse having sex with someone other than them (before marriage or during an affair) was a positive experience for themselves were 46% less sexually satisfied in their marriage than those who said their spouse had never had sex with anyone else.
That is something incredible because the number one reason I hear about the positive effect of your spouse having had sex with other people is that they can learn to be a better lover. However, it seems to have a radically opposite effect! At least for the women.
For the men who claim it’s a positive thing for their wives to have experience outside of the marriage (pre-marital or adultery), it does seem to have a positive effect. They see a 16% increase in sexual satisfaction if their wife has had sex with other people. Oddly enough, only 9% of those are pre-martial sex partners and 18% if that experience is from an affair. I don’t understand how that works since men seem to be strongly negatively impacted by affairs, according to the above stats. However, some of the comments pointed to the issue. Unfortunately, many of these men seem to be turned on by the fact that she’s had sex with other people. More than a few specifically said that they hoped it would increase the chance that she’d be interested in having sex with another man again, and they wanted to watch.
And I’m not sure how this fetish of cuckolding (wanting your wife to have sex with other men) infiltrated our society so strongly to the point that on a survey of largely Christians (these all reported to be Christians), some are actively hoping she’ll commit adultery (albeit with permission). I think that’s sad and shows the level of deception out there.
Thankfully, this is a small minority. Only 3.7% of men said that their spouse having sex with someone else was a positive experience, and 96.3% said it was negative.
Regret affects men and women differently
This one gets a bit weird. If you aren’t sure if you regret it, that correlates with lower sexual satisfaction.
It seems best for women not to regret it as their sexual satisfaction increases if they don’t. For men, their sexual satisfaction increases if they do regret it. What’s going on here?
After interacting with many men and women and discussing topics like this, I’ve learned that women tend (not always) to be more affected by shame and guilt regarding sex. On the other hand, men tend to compartmentalize more and can set that aside and be more in the moment.
I’m not saying one is better or worse, just different. Some men could probably learn to be more integrated. Some women could probably learn to be more forgiving of their past selves.
This theory is further validated by the data above when we asked women if they regretted not having sex before marriage – 91% said they did not regret waiting. Only 2% said they regretted not having sex before marriage. For most women, the potential shame and guilt seemingly wipe out any potential expected gains.
What can we learn from all of this?
I have two ideas that manage to put all the data together and make it coherent.
If you have sex before marriage, it’s not going to be the end of the world. You aren’t doomed to a terrible married sex life. You aren’t even doomed to a terrible sex life with your spouse if you had an affair or got divorced and remarried. What you are going to deal with is some extra baggage that you wouldn’t have if you had waited, not had an affair, or not gotten remarried. That’s the price that both you and your spouse have to pay. If it’s both of you, then you get to deal with both parts of each other. You’re going to have obstacles to overcome, and it’s going to take forgiveness to get through it. Your spouse may feel resentment and insecurity about your past, but if they can let it go and offer forgiveness, then your sex life together will be much better. You may feel some guilt and shame, and you have to let that go and accept forgiveness – and vice-versa. If you do, your sex life together will be much better as well.
If you manage to wait until marriage, you also don’t necessarily get away without baggage. You have to throw yourself into being a sexually free person with your spouse and let them be sexually free with you – within the bounds of morality, of course. If you do, then you’ll have an awesome sex life together.
Then, some obstacles can be those on either path. Pain during some activities, ED, PE, or a host of other things can happen. Still, if you live with that sexual freedom in the marriage bed and are free from the past (either because you avoided it or forgave and were forgiven), you can work through or around all those issues. It’s when you don’t that they become real problems.
Whatever path you take, work must be done to have an amazing sex life together. There’s no free ride. The second path is easier and less prone to bigger struggles (comparisons, disease, abortions, kids from other partners, guilt, shame, resentment). However, some people struggle with becoming sexual and those that do sometimes end up making that just as big a struggle as all the other stuff.
The point is to work with where you are now. You can still make it awesome if you both are willing.