Sex & Divorce

Aug 8, 2012 by

News published in the Journal of Marriage and Family highlights new research from the University of Iowa that shows women who lost their virginity as young teenagers are more likely to get divorced later, even more so if it was an unwanted first sexual experience. The study’s author, Anthony Paik, associate professor of sociology in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, utilized data from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth to weed out the responses from over 3,700 women who had been married at some point in their lives.

Paik determined that 31 percent of women who reported they had sex for the first time as teens got divorced within five years, and 47 percent got divorced within 10 years. Those are pretty high numbers considering the divorce rate for women who did not have sex until they were adults was only 15 percent at the five year mark, and 27 percent after 10 years. Breaking the responses down even further, it was found that when a woman had experienced her first intercourse early in adolescence before the age of 16, there was a strong association with divorce, even if her first experience was wanted. Early sexual experiences that were unwanted were even more associated with an eventual divorce. When a woman waited until after age 16 and her first sexual experience was wanted, the researchers found no positive association with an eventual divorce later in life.

The University of Iowa study also found that while sex itself did not increase the risk of divorce directly, other sexual factors like a high number of sexual partners, pregnancy, or out-of-wedlock birth did seem to increase the risk of divorce in some cases. The figures break out that thirty-one percent of those women who had early sexual experiences also had premarital sex with multiple partners.  The figure was only 24 percent for women who initial sex later. Twenty-nine percent of the early sex experience women also had premarital conceptions, compared to just 15 percent of the women in the “after 16″ category. The out-of-wedlock birth tally for women who had early sex was a surprising one in four compared to just one in ten for the women who did not have early sexual experience.

Lead study author Anthony Paik noted that the results support the notion that early adolescent sexuality comes with several potentially negative consequences including an increased likelihood of divorce and that the link between teen sex and divorce has two possible causes. One is that the women who had early sex might simply be predisposed to divorce. The second is that early sex might lead to behaviors or beliefs that encourage breakups and divorce. Looking at the numbers, it does appear that early sexual experiences do negatively affect marriage.

The Iowa research did not really take into account the fact that unfortunately, a lot of both men and women choose the wrong person to marry, some multiple times. And perhaps those women who did delay having sex until they were older, or until they were married, might have done so for religious or moral reasons that would also make them less likely to get a divorce later in life.


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