Ignorance Is Bliss

Is premarital sex damaging? A recent study from BYU seems to suggest so, at least with regard to marital satisfaction. I am a big fan of The Young Turks news program on YouTube. And several months ago they posted a video (actually a pair of videos) on the BYU study. Ana, one of the hosts of the show, seemed to not like the study and claimed that it was biased. Check out the second video below:



As I found myself disagreeing with some of Ana's assertions, I posted some comments on the video. They elicited quite a response from the TYT faithful. Here are some excerpts from the YouTube comments section. Mine are in italics

The study found that people who did not engage in premarital sex were 15% more satisfied with their marital sex lives than people who did. It compared two groups of married people: Those who had sex before marriage and those who didn't.

If you don't plan to get married, then the study results are basically meaningless for you. But if your goal is to one day be married, and you want your marital sex life to be as satisfying as possible, then you would be smart not to engage in premarital sex.

The reason these kinds of studies most often come from religious organizations is not because they want to intentionally bias the results to push an agenda. It is because no one else is interested in finding out the answers to these questions. Most people are satisfied assuming that premarital sex is not harmful. They don't want to study it to actually find out if it is or not. I say let's study it and try to discover the truth.

To Emergingworshiper: Yes, they would be happier because THEY WOULDN'T KNOW WHAT THEY'RE MISSING!!!!

I think you are exactly right. The problem with premarital sex, from my experience, is that it creates preferences and expectations that a future spouse cannot completely satisfy by themselves. Having a wealth of sexual experiences with a variety of partners will certainly teach you a lot about sex. But it will not make you happier if your goal is to one day be truly satisfied with only one partner for the rest of your life. As you said, you will know what you are missing.

@emergingworshiper: Yes. It's no surprise that those with a sample size of one are more satisfied. I thought my first time was great at the time. (if a bit awkward) But in retrospect, no it wasn't. I'm sure I'd be satisfied with a dial-up internet connection if i'd never heard of broadband. Ignorance is bliss, we all know this.

Then we agree. Those who remain virgins until marriage feel more sexually satisfied than those who don't. The study is accurate. Ignorance is bliss.

So the question is, which is more important to you? Would you rather have knowledge and experience or satisfaction? I would rather have the latter. You are free to choose the former.

What if you were married to the person you had that awkward sex with the first time? What would sex be like with them now? Probably much better!

@emergingworshiper: Not really shocking that those who've has only one sexual partner are going to be more satisfied with their sex lives... When you have a sample size of one and only social/religious conditioning about how awesome it's supposed to be as a point of reference, it's fairly unsurprising that you'd get skewed results. When I was 16 and had had only one sexual partner, I was satisfied with all the sex I got too. Impressive study there mormons.

The point of the study is not how awesome the sex is, but how satisfied the people are.

If a happy marriage is not important to you, then go ahead and get as much sexual experience as you can. Then you will have lots of experiences to compare your spouse to and be unsatisfied about. Or don't get married at all. But if you want to have a satisfying marriage, you would be wise to avoid sex beforehand.


@emergingworshiper: THINK ABOUT IT.. if you only had SEX WITH one person.. you would think its the best. cause you have nothing to compare to.. as to people who had many sex.. knows.. there is better things.

So what is more important to you? Being satisfied, or knowing better? If you want to be married to and satisfied by one person for the rest of your life, then you would be wise to heed the findings of this study and avoid premarital sex. But if a happy marriage is not important to you, then go ahead and get as much sexual experience as you can. Then you will have lots of experiences to compare your spouse to and be unsatisfied about.

@emergingworshiper: Notwithstanding the unrepresentative methodology, is it possible to say that the people who engaged in pre-marital sex have experience and they are going to know if they are with a terrible lover than those who have nothing to compare it with.

Besides, celibates will just be happy they finally got there.

I agree. But the reality is that no one is a perfect lover, so terrible is a relative term. It is relative to your experience. Not to pick on Hugh Hefner, but he has so much experience that I wonder how good a woman would have to be to keep him satisfied? Probably most women could not satisfy him.

@emergingworshiper: "If you don't know any better then of course you're going to be more satisfied. "

"That wasn't no regular cracker was it? ... that was a Ritz!"

So which is more important to you? Being more satisfied, or knowing better?

I suppose porn stars KNOW all about great sex, but I bet it is harder for them to be satisfied with just one person.

If you want to be married and happy with one person for the rest of your life, then avoid premarital sex. But if you don't care about having a happy marriage, then this study shouldn't matter to you.


To demonstrate cause you have to randomly assign people to one of the groups (not ethical for this) or follow people over time to demonstrate that one variable was preceded in time by the other. Here, participants had selected themselves into the premarital sex or no premarital sex group. Therefore, whatever lead them to that choice (tending to conform to dogma, conscientiousness, etc.) could have also lead them to report more satisfaction. CORRELATION DOESN'T EQUAL CAUSATION!!!!!

Yes, correlation does not equal causation. But trying to control for all possible variables is not realistic, especially those as vague as conscientiousness or conformity. Therefore, as you probably already know, statistical causation is basically impossible to prove in sociological studies like this. What the study shows is that waiting is positively correlated with increased satisfaction. That's enough to warrant a discussion about the potential results of one's personal choices.

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I congratulate BYU on their efforts, but I hope the research does not end here. There need to be more studies, larger studies, and better funded studies, from a variety of sources. A small study from a religiously affiliated institution is too easy to dismiss, as The Young Turks have done here.

I am still quite a fan of The Young Turks. In fact, I just got their iPhone app. You should definitely check out Cenk's video on why he quit MSNBC. Fascinating insider stuff. Here is the link to that vid: http://youtu.be/5x7o0sNrulg

In the end I am happy to concede that ignorance is bliss. There are many issues in my life where I would happily trade my knowledge and experience for more happiness and satisfaction. I don't have a problem with that at all.

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