This week, the Institute for Family Studies released a new study. Its key finding: married people are happiest if their spouses are the only people with whom they have ever had sex. While it has been reported before that those who marry as virgins have the lowest divorce rates, no study had observed whether marital quality was affected by prior sexual history.
This study found that women who reported one sexual partner over the course of their lifetimes were the most likely to be “very happy” in their marriages (64 percent); the least likely to be very happy were women who had six to ten lifetime sexual partners (52 percent). For men, the same held true—71 percent of men who reported one lifetime sexual partner reported being “very happy” in their marriages; just 60 percent of men with five lifetime sexual partners reported such happiness. Overall, the biggest dip for both men and women occurred beyond one lifetime sexual partner.
The sexual revolution promised elevated levels of happiness once sex was disconnected from commitment; the opposite has held true, particularly for women. An oft-cited 2009 study from Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania showed that female happiness has declined markedly since the 1970s—the advent of the modern feminist movement. Stevenson and Wolfers reported that “measures of women’s subjective well-being have fallen both absolutely and relatively to that of men…women no longer report being happier than men, and, in many instances, now report happiness that is below that of men.”
Not all of that is attributable to increased promiscuity, of course. But it is largely attributable to baseline changes in the nature of male-female relationships.