I doubt that it’s a sign of progress, but nowadays you have to do a scientific study to discover things that everyone has always known.
For instance, if you compare married couples who have sex sooner with married couples who have had sex later in their relationships, you discover that those who wait tend to have higher levels of marital satisfaction, sexual and otherwise.
So proves a study performed by Prof. Dean Busby of Brigham Young University. Link here.
Since all of the study subjects were married, early onset sexual relations did not prevent marriage from taking place. It did have a decided effect on how happy the marriages were.
The study seems to demonstrate that couples who are willing to defer gratification until they are actually acquainted with their partner have happier marriages.
It might well be that the ability to defer sex might be a sign of better character, and that people with better character tend, over the long run, to have better marriages.
The study does not seem to say that love was the issue, but that marriage was better when people began by having sex with someone they trusted.
I know that it does not sound very romantic, but it is probably true that trust is essential to a good long term sex life.
As you might have guessed, this study has already provoked an internet reaction.
Over at Gawker Max Read happily impugned the motives of the researcher because he worked for a Mormon university.
At Jezebel, Sadie Stein offered an interesting commentary on her own chastity, explaining that she did not have sex with her first boyfriend for an ungodly long period of time, and that, by the way, the relationship did not work out very well.
To my understanding, the study was not predicting whether the early birds were less likely than the late risers to marry their hookups.
Nevertheless, I would imagine that couples who wait longer for sex will marry more often than couples who rush in. To that we can perhaps add the SadieStein corollary, namely, that you should try not to wait too long.
If we assume that the deferring couples did indulge in some forms of sexual activities, the study is really concerned with how long it took them to consummate their relationships.
To me that is the key to this discussion. Because it changes the nature of the sexual act.
Back in the bad old days coitus was the act whereby couples consummated their marriage. Nowadays, very few people think that sexual intercourse still retains that meaning. After all, people who do not even know each others’ names are very likely having wild, passionate coitus as we speak.
Like it or not, do it or not, hooking up aims at ecstatic sexual release. It is generally a one/off experience. Even if it advances into the realm of “friends with benefits” it intrinsically lacks any meaning beyond the pursuit of pleasure.
People who hook up are today’s version of what they used to call lotus-eaters. Yes, I know, that’s the first time you ever heard it called that.
If relationship formation precedes coitus, then the couple would have gotten to know each other’s names and would have discovered whether or not they have good character.
Call it sex with someone you trust, or, in contemporary terms, sex with someone your actually know.
After that point is reached, you sexual act consummates an existing, ongoing, committed relationship.
Many people today go through this process without the aid of any nuptial ceremony. The study, however, seems to find the most positive results in those couples who waited until marriage to consummate their relationship.
Of course, as it suggests, couples who wait for the honeymoon are walking down the aisle without even knowing whether or not they are sexually compatible. Or so people fear. Based on no survey whatever I would venture that these people had already been in close enough intimate proximity to have gained something of an idea of their level of attraction.
What does the study demonstrate?
First, that the concept of consummating a marriage (or a relationship) makes good sense, whether within or without the institutional commitment.
Second, that couples who refrain from the joys of immediate gratification take the institution of marriage more seriously, see themselves as social beings participating in a meaningful institution, and consider sex to an ongoing experience.