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Struggles from abstinence to intimacy after marriage common, study says

By Celeste Tholen Rosenlof | Posted - Nov 13th, 2013 @ 1:58pm



OREM — A pilot study about making the transition from abstinence to sexual intimacy after marriage says 56 percent of individuals did not talk about the marriage night beforehand.

The pilot looked at individuals who had practiced abstinence before marriage and their transition to marital intimacy. Of the anonymous participants, 91 percent were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who had been married on average for 12.3 years. They reported receiving mostly an abstinence-only sex education.

Study author Jeremy Boden, Ph.D, CFLE and full-time faculty of family studies at Utah Valley University, along with researchers Dr. Nate Cottle and Joyce Starks found that many individuals who struggled with the transition also had a lack of sexual knowledge.

When asked if they had had a “sex talk” with their parents or guardian, 53 percent responded in the affirmative, 33 percent said no and 14 percent were not sure. Of the participants, 73 percent were taught abstinence-only sex education. Twenty-eight percent were taught about human sexual response.

“People talked about that they just didn’t have enough sexual knowledge going into the relationship. They didn’t know what they were doing. They had this inadequate knowledge,” Boden said. “One person said, it was like two blind people discussing a painting. They didn’t have any knowledge to pull from.”

Before marriage, only 44 percent talked about their wedding night with their future partner, 83 percent talked about birth control and 87 percent talked about family planning. The numbers regarding communication between couples before marriage about specifics of sex, including individual sexual boundaries, frequency, or turning down sex were 32 percent and below.

“A lot of people said we just didn’t know how to talk about it because all we really received from school and parents was about contraception, (sexually transmitted infections), pregnancy and not having sex," Boden said. "Transitioning in, they had insufficient communication about sexual needs and specifically they had unclear, unknown and untrue expectations.”

For couples approaching marriage, Boden recommends getting an education and to communicate to make the transition from " 'no, no, no' to 'go, go, go.' "

"Be knowledgeable about it. Find some good books about it, go and talk to your doctor about it, talk to parents about it. I would really urge parents, you've gotta have that conversation. You can't just expect that they're going to figure out this very intimate and sometimes complex act in their relationship."

Parents, rather than schools, Boden believes, need to be a child and adults's primary provider of sex education, though he acknowledges parents often lack resources on how to do so. He also acknowledges that some equate knowing with doing.

"(K)nowing makes children smarter, in a better position to make informed decisions about sex, and less influenced by peer pressure," he wrote in an email. "I believe parents are doing a disservice to their children and students by not addressing sex and sexuality head on."

Often, Boden said, these unhealthy sexual scripts led to uncertainness or unrealistic expectations about the actual act. Sexual knowledge, healthy sexual scripts, emotional safety and sexual communication, however, were main factors in creating sexual security and healthy relationships.

“If I have the knowledge, then I have healthy knowledge about sex. If I feel safe in this relationship — if I feel good in this relationship — then I’m going to feel safe to talk about it,” Boden said. “If those things are going on before marriage, and I would say after marriage, then we have this sexual security and people feel comfortable and safe about talking about it.”

Boden said his students’ and patients’ expressions of their challenges with the transition from abstinence to sexual intimacy was his motivation to look into the transition further.

“Especially for people who have never had sex before, sex is one of the most vulnerable experiences that we’ll have in our life. ... And 56 percent of the sample didn’t talk about it.” Boden said.

“The real key is: does this create a trajectory of, perhaps, dysfunction? We don’t know yet. But we say it might because we’re seeing some of the results. People talk about, ‘our first experience wasn’t that great and it’s really hurt our sexual relationship and our marital relationship. I wish we would have talked about it more. I wish we would have had these conversations.’ ”

Boden and his colleagues will begin their formal study next.

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