Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Tempo of Sexual Activity and Later Relationship Quality

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Tempo of Sexual Activity and Later Relationship Quality

Article excerpt

Rapid sexual involvement may have adverse long-term implications for relationship quality. This study examined the tempo of sexual intimacy and subsequent relationship quality in a sample of married and cohabiting men and women. Data come from the Marital and Relationship Survey, which provides information on nearly 600 low- to moderate-income couples living with minor children. Over one third of respondents became sexually involved within the first month of the relationship. Bivariate results suggested that delaying sexual involvement was associated with higher relationship quality across several dimensions. The multivariate results indicated that the speed of entry into sexual relationships was negatively associated with marital quality, but only among women. The association between relationship tempo and relationship quality was largely driven by cohabitation. Cohabiting may result in poorer quality relationship because rapid sexual involvement early in the romantic relationship is associated with entrance into shared living.

Key Words: cohabitation, low-income couples, relationship quality, sexual activity.

Young adults today enter and exit intimate relationships frequently and often rapidly (Régneras & Uecker, 201 1; Sassier & Joyner, 201 1). Quickly formed sexual relationships are sometimes characterized as chaotic and impulsive. Indeed, the frequency with which adults end and form new romantic attachments, called churning, may affect relationship quality and other important family functions, such as parenting (Cherlin, 2009; Stanley, Rhoades, & Whitton, 2010). The courtship period is a time for exploration and decision making about the relationship (Cate & Lloyd, 1988; Surra, Arizzi, & Asmussen, 1988). It is when partners assess compatibility, make commitments, and build on emotional and physical intimacy. The rapid entry into sexual relationships, however, may cut short this process, setting the stage for "sliding" rather than "deciding" to enter into cohabiting unions (Sassier, 2004; Stanley, Rhoades, & Markman, 2006), and even leading to unhealthy or dissatisfying marriages (Glenn, 2002). In this study, we assessed whether the speed of relationship progression - from dating to sexual intimacy - is negatively associated with relationship quality.

Specifically, we asked whether rapid entry into sexual relationships is associated with several dimensions of relationship quality (e.g., commitment) that have been linked in previous research to marital stability (Surra et al., 1988). We tested whether the tempo of sexual activity hastens transitions into cohabitation and, ultimately, the quality of marital relationships. Unlike previous studies, we focus here on selfreports of 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 data come from a recently collected survey, the Marital and Relationship Survey (MARS), which provides information on several aspects of relationship quality, including intimacy, commitment, relationship satisfaction, conflict, and sexual satisfaction (Lichter & Carmalt, 2009; Yucel & Gassanov, 2010).

Theoretical Background

Relationship Tempo and Marital Quality

Relationship quality is a widely studied topic in the area of close relationships (see Bradbury, Fincham, & Beach, 2000, for a review). Research on relationship progression typically explores how transitions into marriage are associated with gender equity, sexual satisfaction, commitment, and union stability (Cate, Levin, & Richmond, 2002; Demaris, 2007; Impett & Peplau, 2002; Sprecher, 2002). Slowly developing relationships are often of higher quality than those that developed rapidly (Birtchnell & Kennard, 1984; Grover, Russell, Schumm, & Paff-Bergen, 1985). Few studies, however, have explored how the speed of entry into sexual relationships affects subsequent marital quality. …

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