A longitudinal study of the timing of first sex in romantic relationships and subsequent relationship quality
Oldham, C. Rebecca
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Most research regarding the timing of first sex with a new romantic partner finds that delaying the onset of sex is associated with greater relationship satisfaction and stability. Although some studies suggest that this association can be explained by selection effects or mediating variables, all of these studies have relied on retrospective reports of the timing of sex and most studies were based on cross-sectional data. Therefore, the current study used inertia theory and sexual scripting theory to investigate the direct, selection, and indirect effects between the timing of first sex in a new relationship and four relationship outcomes: relationship satisfaction, sexual satisfaction, perceived relationship stability, and actual relationship stability, using a five-wave longitudinal study spanning three months. Individuals in premarital relationships, who had not yet had sex with their current partner, were recruited to participate in this longitudinal study. Several indicators of the timing of first sex were entered into a latent class analysis to generate homogenous sex-timing groups. Latent growth curve modeling was used to test whether membership in sex-timing groups predicted relationship outcomes and whether associations were explained by selection effects or mediation. There was little support that the timing of sex was associated with changes in relationship satisfaction or commitment. However, there was some evidence that having had sex with one’s partner early in the relationship increased feelings of passionate love, which was associated with increases in relationship satisfaction. Findings are discussed in light of theory and prior research, and directions for future research are provided.