Fools rush in? Sex early in a relationship linked to later dissatisfaction

December 20, 2012 by Alexa Mccourt

(—The saying "fools rush in" may be true when it comes to sex and relationships, especially for women, according to a new Cornell study.

who have sex early in a relationship are more likely to be dissatisfied later with the quality of the relationship, because sex may have greater symbolic value for women as an indicator of the relationship commitment than it does for men, the study suggests.

The study was published in the August issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family.

"Women who entered into sexual relationships with their current partners the most rapidly reported significantly lower levels of relationship satisfaction than those who waited somewhat longer before becoming sexually involved. Women are just more sensitive to issues than are men," said lead author Sharon Sassler, Cornell professor of policy analysis and management.

Conversely, women who entered with their partners later in the relationship were happier in the subsequent marriage than those who had rushed into sex. Men who delayed sex also reported higher levels of commitment and less conflict, but the effect was greater for women. According to the researchers, this is consistent with previous studies that have shown that men are not as sensitive as women to the quality of a relationship.

Early sex in a relationship was also associated with living together sooner and less satisfying marriages, the study found. "People who have sex within the first month often move in together quite rapidly," Sassler said. "By diving quickly into living together, they might not be weeding out lower-quality relationships, ones they might decide were not of the highest caliber or that they shouldn't be in."

Couples often don't discuss big issues, like expectations or the desire for children, in the first few months of a relationship, and so those who move in rapidly may move in together before they know how the other partner feels about those issues. Once living together, she noted, either partner may find it more difficult to end a poorly matched relationship. "It's really how fast you move in with a partner that accounts for these results," Sassler said.

The researchers analyzed data from the 2006 Marital and Relationship Survey, which provides information on nearly 600 married or cohabiting who have minor children and low-to-moderate incomes. Each partner rated various aspects of their romantic relationships, including sexual satisfaction, commitment, intimacy and . The researchers then examined how the speed of entry into sexual involvement was associated with higher or lower estimates of these measures of relationship quality.

More than one-third of the people surveyed in the study said that they began having sex within the first month of the relationship. At the other end of the spectrum only about one-quarter reported waiting more than six months before becoming sexually involved.

Unlike previous studies, the research includes men's reports of relationship quality as well as those of women. And it focused on self-reports from low- to moderate-income cohabiting and married women and men with minor children, the population often targeted by programs designed to strengthen fragile families.

"The speed at which relationships progress—sexually and emotionally—may be a matter of economic opportunities and constraints and other structural or cultural factors, including a highly sexualized youth culture," Sassler said. "Regardless of its causes, however, sex early on in a relationship may have lasting effects on the quality of that ."

Explore further: Couples report gender differences in relationship, sexual satisfaction over time

Related Stories

Study: Couples who delay having sex get benefits later

December 22, 2010

While there are still couples who wait for a deep level of commitment before having sex, today it's far more common for two people to explore their sexual compatibility before making long-term plans together.

Divorce reduces chance of new, successful relationship

September 7, 2007

After a separation or divorce the chances of marrying or cohabiting again decrease. In particular, a previous marriage or children from a previous relationship, reduce the chances of a new relationship. Moreover, the prospects ...

Recommended for you

Averaging the wisdom of crowds

December 12, 2017

The best decisions are made on the basis of the average of various estimates, as confirmed by the research of Dennie van Dolder and Martijn van den Assem, scientists at VU Amsterdam. Using data from Holland Casino promotional ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (2) Dec 20, 2012
Try setting aside the sexual aspects of relationships and ask yourself how much remains of the article and the quotes attributed to you.
3 / 5 (4) Dec 20, 2012
researchers tend to draw the conclusion that they want out of ambiguous results
5 / 5 (2) Dec 21, 2012
researchers tend to draw the conclusion that they want out of ambiguous results

The only obvious thing I see is that women and men exhibit a different degree of correlation.

For the rest, there may be a correlation, but it does not mean causation. Did they see the same effect in people with more experience (more partners) before their first marriage? Did they see the same effect on religious vs atheist people? Slice the statistics by painkiller and anti-depressants usage, and so on.
not rated yet Dec 26, 2012
How confusing! We had sex on the second date, but moved in together five months after we married. Guess we will keep working at the relationship, which is 90% of success.

Considering where this "study" was published ...

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.