Does Having Multiple Sex Partners Before Marriage Lead to Divorce?

According to a recent study, having multiple sex partners before saying “I do” does not necessarily lead to a higher chance of divorce – unless the number of previous partners is in the double-digits, that is.

By Avital Borisovsky
June 13, 2016
couple kissing in bed

As premarital sex has become more accepted among men and women in North America, the likelihood of a man or woman having multiple partners before settling down has increased. While the rate of divorce has increased at the same time, it is unlikely the effect of the growing trend, according to new research from the University of Utah.

By exploring and comparing five-year divorce rates and the number of sexual partners women had before marriage, Nicholas H. Wolfinger – professor at the University of Utah’s Department of Family and Consumer Studies – discovered some surprising facts. According to his research, having multiple partners before marriage does not necessarily mean you’re more likely to get divorced – unless you had more than 10 partners, that is.

 

Who’s More Likely to Get a Divorce?

Wolfinger explored data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Survey of Family Growth, looking at statistics from the 1970s to the 2010s. He concluded that:

  • Women who had no partners or only one partner (which usually means their current spouse) prior to marriage were the least likely to divorce;

  • Women who had between three and nine partners were less likely to divorce;

  • Women who had two partners were more likely to divorce; and

  • Women who had more than 10 partners were the most likely to divorce (but only since the 2000s).

“Earlier research found that having multiple sex partners prior to marriage could lead to less happy marriages, and often increased the odds of divorce,” Wolfinger wrote in his report. “But sexual attitudes and behaviors continue to change in America, and some of the strongest predictors of divorce in years gone by no longer matter as much as they once did.”

A higher divorce rate for those who have multiple partners is no longer the case as “waiting until marriage” is no longer the norm. In fact, statistics reveal that by the 2010s, only 5% of brides were virgins – a drastic drop when compared to the 21% of virgin brides in the 1970s. Men and women now expect their spouses to enter a marriage having had previous partners and relationships.

While virgins continue to have the lowest divorce rate – decreasing from an 11% divorce rate in the 1980s to a 6% divorce rate in the 2000s – women who had more than 10 partners don’t have a significantly higher divorce rate (33%) than women who had only two partners (30%). In fact, in the 1980s and 1990s, women with two or more partners had the highest divorce rate when compared to all other women.

The Impact of Multiple Sex Partners on Marriage

In his report, Wolfinger outlined a few speculations as to why the numbers appear the way they do. According to his research, women who had zero partners are the most likely to regularly attend church, which reveals the role religion often plays in how many sex partners a person has and how one views or treats marriage. As well, women who’ve had only one partner are unlikely to bring children into the equation, which has proven to negatively affect the success rate of a marriage.

The reason why a woman with two premarital partners is more likely to divorce could be due to the fact that, in most cases, she was involved with only one other man before meeting her current husband. This could more likely result in comparisons because, in Wolfinger’s opinion, while women who are inclined to hook up are more likely to have several partners, a woman who experiences serious relationships will likely have a lower number of premarital partners.

“Of course, women learn about the viability of nonmarital sex if they have multiple premarital partners, but with multiple partners, each one represents a smaller part of a woman’s sexual and romantic biography,” Wolfinger explained. “Having two partners may lead to uncertainty, but having a few more apparently leads to greater clarity about the right man to marry.”

While two partners results in uncertainty and three to nine partners results in clarity, more than 10 partners means excess baggage – Wolfinger’s argument for why women with “a lot of partners” are the most likely to get divorced.

While religion can often plays a role in how many sexual partners an individual has before marriage, race and family of origin play a bigger role. Latinas, for example, have fewer sexual partners than African American and Caucasian women, according to Wolfinger’s research. As well, individuals who grew up with both parents are less likely to have numerous partners and a divorce than those who grew up without both parents.

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June 13, 2016

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