Is “Sexual Compatibility” a Myth? Some Thoughts on Cohabitation

Is “Sexual Compatibility” a Myth? Some Thoughts on Cohabitation June 14, 2011

I recently returned from Twickenham, England, the home of Catholic satirist Alexander Pope, where I gave a workshop titled “How Far Can We Go?  Talking to Young People about Physical Intimacy,” at the 3rd International Theology of the Body Symposium.  It was a very fruitful experience.  Apart from making all kinds of interesting connections with other conference participants, I had my thoughts on several issues stimulated by the excellent feedback I received in the Q & A sessions of my workshops.  I hope to share some of these thoughts with the readership here at Vox Nova over the next little while.

At the end of my second workshop I was asked about how to talk to young people about the pitfalls of cohabitation.  As we are all aware, most of our contemporaries see it as foolhardy to marry someone if you haven’t lived with them.  “Isn’t it just asking for trouble,” they suggest, “to commit to someone when you don’t even know if you can stand to be in the same house with them?”  This seems perfectly logical, of course, which is why, when a widely publicized study came out several years back (I read about it on MSN when I signed out of my hotmail account) indicating that cohabitation radically lowered the odds of marital success, people didn’t know what to make of it.  It was simply inconceivable that people who did the smart thing and test-drove the relationship first would increase their chance of divorce by 60%.

The obvious explanation to many people was that it was religious people who didn’t live together before marriage, and religious people are less prone to divorce.  But this second claim isn’t actually true, at least not very significantly.  Furthermore, it was often suggested, religious people are more likely to stay in unhappy marriages, exactly the kind encouraged by the silly practice of not living together.  But there is no evidence that religious marriages are unhappier than other marriages.

No, it turns out that it is not simply that a certain cross-section of society which doesn’t cohabitate also does not divorce.  It is actually the case that cohabitation itself is a problem.  Cohabitation ostensibly says, “We’re being prudent by not rushing into things.  Our future will be happier if we make sure we are compatible by living in a situation that is very like marriage.  And, if we find that this doesn’t work out, we can part ways before making a huge mistake.”

What is really says is . . . well, that last sentence should give it away.

In fact, though cohabitation looks a lot like marriage on the surface, it is missing the very heart of marriage, namely a promise to be faithful come what may.  And without this promise, cohabitation ends up being not a close analogate of marriage, but it’s radical opposite.  While marriage says, “I’ll be with you no matter what,” cohabitation says, “I’ll be with you as long as I can stand you.”  It says, “If you do your share of the housework, and pay your share of the bills, and keep me satisfied sexually, I’ll stick around.  But if you don’t, well, I guess it wasn’t meant to be.”

The kind of insecurity this un-promise engenders is at the heart of the increased failure of cohabitation-preceded-marriages (to say nothing of a series of cohabitating relationship which end without ever reaching marriage).  When you promise to take someone in health, for richer, and for better, for as long as either of you shall like, you aren’t really promising anything.  And, without a promise, the ambiguity of human relationships are unlikely to stand the test of time.

In the Q & A session I said that a test-drive says, “I will love you as long as you put the cap back on the toothpaste, and make the bed and remember not to use metal utensils in my non-stick cookware,” while a promise says “I will love you even if you don’t put the cap back on the toothpaste!  I will love you even if you void the warranty on my cookware!”

Just as I thought I was hitting my stride, the questioner interrupted me and said, “We know all that.  But kids are telling us that they have to live together to find out if they are sexually compatible.  What are we supposed to say to them about that?”  At that point, as happens with Q & A sessions, we were informed that we were over time.  But I thought about the question and had an interesting talk with the questioner at the social on Saturday night.

As someone who has only ever had one sexual partner, I cannot speak authoritatively on this matter, and I invite others of broader experience to offer their thoughts as well, but it seems to me that “sexual compatibility” so construed is a myth.  It seems to presume that there is something almost biological going on wherein one must find someone with a similar sex drive, similar sexual tastes, even a compatible body.

But, from my limited experience, this simply isn’t how things work.  If every man is to hold out until he finds a woman with a sex drive to match his, only a select few males will ever find a partner.  Women’s sex drives are a different kind of thing than men’s.  They require different stimuli, they naturally vary over the course of a mentrual cycle, and they are much more easily affected by the seemingly non-sexual aspects of the relationship.  Sexual tastes and compatible bodies follow from this.  If a man doesn’t recognize how a woman’s sex drive works, her sexual tastes (cuddling, for instance) will seem foreign to him, and her body will not respond to his in the way he expects.  (One could write a whole other piece about how the porn epidemic is destroying any realistic expectations about women’s drives, tastes, and bodies.)

The fact is that virtually every couple will go through times when their drives, tastes, and bodies seem less compatible and times when they seem more compatible.  And, as most marriage counselors will tell you, in this their sex lives mirror the rest of their lives together.  The real problem about the search for “sexual compatibility” is that it abstracts sex from the broader relationship.  It makes good sex the result of a biological fluke rather than the natural outcome of a loving relationship.  It absolves women and (probably, especially) men from taking the responsibility to be good lovers to their spouses.  And, in doing so, it undoes one of the most important functions of sex in marriage.

The natural desire for physical intimacy should serve to help us focus on the other aspects of our relationship where our urge to serve the other person is compromised by human weakness.  Foreplay starts with helping around the house and listening when someone has had a bad day.  When “sexual compatibility” becomes something independent of relational compatibility as a whole, sex becomes less and less capable of confirming and sealing the commitment between two people who have promised their lives to one another.  And when we strip sex of its power to hold people together by isolating it from its normal role in a relationship, we should not be surprised when marital breakdown follows.

Brett Salkeld is a doctoral student in theology at Regis College in Toronto. He is a father of two (so far) and husband of one. He is the co-author of How Far Can We Go? A Catholic Guide to Sex and Dating.

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  • Excellent, Brett.

  • Christine

    This “sexual compatibility” idea is the physical equivalent of “true love”. Either it works or it doesn’t. Of course you can’t work on it, it’s magic. I feel the same way about arguments about sexual compatibility as I do about people who say that they’re so much in love that they see no need to have any sort of pre-marital counselling. Love will make it work.

  • Thales

    I think you’re exactly right on.

  • Amanda

    I suspect when my kids are teenagers asking these questions my answer will be “call your Uncle Brett”. 🙂

  • Bruce in Kansas

    Very good!

  • muldoont

    Spot on, Brett. It’s the myth of the soul mate, writ into sex. “I can find someone who perfectly suits me.” It’s the logical consequence of radical individualism grafted onto a consumer society, in which sex and marriage are commodities for which one must shop around.

    You’re putting your finger on a ripe fruit for evangelization: the Christian view of sex is that it’s not commodified, but sacramentalized–i.e. caught up in the larger story of what God is doing in human history, by turning selfish desires toward a good end of the Kingdom of God. I redeem the other through my love for her. This is a far cry from “I enjoy the orgasm that the other provides me with.”

  • Ronald King

    Excellent. Additionally, I think a discussion needs to focus on how the woman resonates with the male’s mood and desires and how the male unconsciously influences the attitudes and behaviors of the woman. Safety is the prime instinctive need of the female in relationships. Safety is established by the male and the female is always instinctively attuned to this aspect of the relationship.

  • Darwin

    Great post, Brett.

    Aside from the point already made about consumerism, sex as commodity, etc., it strikes me that one of the issues with the “sexual compatibility” idea that it represents a failure to realize that sex is a learned activity.

    I suppose if one posits a culture in which people rapidly change sexual partners, it would make sense that one would have a given set of abilities or sexual style and that one would thus look for those with a compatible style and abilities.

    Marriage, however, is intended to be permanent relationship. The two spouses don’t just stay together, they become one. Learning from each other and their desire to please each other, they build up a shared sexual culture, if you will. They create compatibility.

  • Winifred Holloway

    I’ve been married a very long time and have several children. I have always told my now adult children that there are any number of people they could marry and be happy and compatible with on all levels. First, you have to want to be married. Otherwise, no one will satisfy you. Marriages are not made in heaven. They are made right here on earth. if you are uncertain about marriage, Angelina Jolie or George Clooney will not do it for you .There will always be someone else on the horizon, at least in your fantasies. And sexual compatibility changes over time. That loving relationship has to be both generous and erotic. Both partners need to pay attention. Very difficult to do at times with the stress of children, aging parents, careers, etc. If you stay with it, the rewards are rich, deep and so worth it. And no, sex does not have to end at some arbitrarily determined age.

  • There is only one case I know of in any detail (this is not about me) and it involves a “good Catholic girl” who was a virgin when she got married. I don’t know about the man. As it turns out, he was all but impotent (probably at least in part to his physical health, but it is difficult to believe there was no psychological component). They did actually have two children, but in this case it was not a man who always wanted more sex than his wife did, but a woman who no doubt had a normal appetite for sex and a man who had close to none. They stopped having sex some time after the second child was born, early in the marriage, and she reached the point where she would not have been sexually interested in him at all had he miraculously become potent enough and interested enough to have a reasonably normal sex life. They stayed together, however. She had at least one affair. He died at about the age of 60.

    It seems to me if they had slept together just a few times, she would have had an inkling there was something wrong. She had interpreted his lack of interest in testing the limits of “how far you can go” to his Catholic faith.

    It’s only one person’s story, and maybe he knew something he should have divulged before they were married, or maybe he thought he was just virtuous not pushing his girlfriends to go however far it is you can go.

    I would need a lot of convincing that marrying someone—especially in the Catholic Church, where it’s for life—without having a clear picture of his or her sexuality (and probably sleeping together to some extent) is a good thing. It may work out for a lot of people, but it doesn’t work out for everyone.

    One more thing. The man and woman, as a couple, were active in their parish. The woman went to the priest to try to get some counseling on her situation. The priest’s chief concern was that they were a prominent couple in the parish and how terrible it would be for appearances if people found out there were troubles in the marriage. My advice, again based on only one person’s experience, would be not to go to a priest to discuss sexual difficulties in marriage.

    • brettsalkeld

      It seems to me that there is a pretty significant difference between what people typically mean by “sexual compatibility” and this situation. This fellow, it seems, would not have been compatible with anyone. Now it is certainly the case that such sexual dysfunction is best discovered beforehand, but I hardly think everyone needs to sleep with a potential spouse to figure this out. A good marriage prep program should be able to discern a problem.

      • A good marriage prep program should be able to discern a problem.

        How? (That’s not a rhetorical question. I have no idea what a good marriage prep program is.) Are such programs common?

        • brettsalkeld

          In my marriage prep there were some pretty detailed questions about sexual expectations (among other things). I can’t remember the name of it, but it was a kind of test where each person answered independently questions about sex, money, problem-solving etc. Where there were major discrepancies, the priest guided the couple in discussion about it.

          I have no idea how common this is, though I was under the impression that every couple in the Archdiocese of Regina had to go through it. That said, it has been a few years and I don’t remember the questions exactly. It could be the case that even more detail would be helpful.

          On another tack, it seems to me that the “how far can we go” question also comes into play here. While we shouldn’t intentionally stimulate one another to the point where putting on the brakes is a major difficulty, it seems to me perfectly healthy that couples seriously considering marriage go far enough to know that they could intentionally stimulate each other in the future. My guess is that for the vast majority of couples this happens pretty automatically, and the emphasis needs to be on not over-doing it, but if a man never finds self-control with his affianced to be a bit of a trial, there’s probably something wrong. Frigidity should not be mistaken for virtue.

    • Thales

      Sounds like the couple was unfortunately getting terrible advice and support from their priest. It’s possible to get good Catholic counseling and spiritual direction for couples having trouble like this.

      • Thales

        I should add that I’ve heard about a couple similar to what David has described (he was suffering impotence for several years), and that the couple was able to overcome this problem through counseling and spiritual direction, and later had a child.

  • Ronald King

    I’ve treated couples that you have described, David. Fear is the primary problem. If that is not addressed then resentment develops. If that resentment is not addressed then contempt develops. Contempt is the most difficult feeling to heal.

  • Shauntel

    Thanks for this!!

  • We should distinguish between cohabitation after engagement, serial cohabitation, and promiscuity. These are different behaviors, and my three-item list doesn’t cover the range we see in modern society, where things that used to be private are much more likely to emerge into the open. Today, sexual relations and cohabitation before the marriage ceremony are the “norm” in the USA, and don’t carry the stigma they once did. We’d do better to emphasize the importance of learning mutual respect and the importance of truly understanding what self-respect and mutual respect really are — within marriage and outside it. Equating “save it for your wedding night” with self- and mutual respect probably aren’t the best way to teach that.

    From the abstract of
    a paper by Rhoades and Stanley:

    There were no significant differences between those who cohabited after engagement and not at all before marriage, supporting a pre-engagement, but not a premarital cohabitation effect.

    It is temptingbut probably not helpful, especially on a Catholic blog site, to think that “Catholic” norms are healthier than “secular” norms. To think “We are healthier because we live like Catholics” dilutes the commitment we make to faith by mixing faith with utilitarian concerns.

    Obviously “just because” is way harder to sell to young people whose bodies are soaked in hormones and bombarded with advertisement of all kinds. The research doesn’t support “save it for your wedding night” but it does support the idea that promiscuity and serial monogamy don’t lead to happiness.

    • brettsalkeld

      I recall that the study showed that the detrimental effect that cohabitation had on on marriage did not come into play for couples that moved in together after engagement. While that is not the Catholic ideal, it does basically support my broader point, namely that when cohabitation is a test-drive, it undermines long-term relationships and when living together is founded on a previous commitment, it does not.
      I think you are right that the reasons Catholics should not engage in this practice are not utilitarian. I would also add that (even Christian) marriage has taken many forms historically and that, in many contexts couples moved in together (or with one another’s families) and/or commenced sexual relations once the deal was made, even if the ceremony had to wait until, say, after the harvest.

      • Brett:

        I don’t believe “cohabitation is a test-drive” explains the true motivation. Co-habitants often report testing the relationship as a justification after the fact. Doesn’t it seem likely that justification is given in the face of disapproval from parents, pastors and theology students, when the real reasons were different and largely unconscious? From another paper (full-text available) by the same authors:

        …couples’ own reports suggest that many do not give the transition from dating to cohabiting quite so much thought. Instead, they report that living together just sort of happened (Lindsay, 2000) or that they slid into it (Manning & Smock, 2005). In one of the first quantitative studies of reasons for cohabitation, Rhoades, Stanley, and Markman (2009) found that cohabiting couples most often report that they started living together so that they could spend more time together. In fact, only about 15% ranked testing the relationship as the top reason for their own cohabitations. Nevertheless, the majority of young adults in general believe that cohabitation provides a good test for compatibility (Glenn, 2005) and that it lowers the likelihood of marital distress and divorce, once married (Johnson et al., 2002).

        I agree with your point that cohabitation correlates with divorce and marital instability, and that “test-drive” as a justification is counter-factual. But I find it more productive to understand cohabitation as a symptom of impaired capacity for commitment, rather than as a primary cause of divorce. In my view, young adult formation and teaching is better invested with a focus on the positives of living a conscious life, on self-examination of motives and on generally making and keeping personal commitments, rather than on the negatives of premarital sexuality.

        If I were to pick a critical piece of Catholic tradition which is neglected too much, it would be having a relationship with a confessor. To some extent, therapists have inherited this role because of the perception is that they are less judgmental about modern “norms” of sexuality.

        • brettsalkeld

          I think that the distinction between the justification people give for doing something and their actual reasons for doing that thing is a very important one. The text you quote reflects my experience as well. Most people seem to kind of fall into it, often when their current roommate situation disintegrates for one reason or other.

          Now, I believe it is important to show that this justification is generally a poor one, especially to young people who have not yet decided what they think about cohabitation. My guess is that being convinced that cohabitation is an unhealthy practice will keep at least some people from stumbling into it bass-ackwards. Nevertheless, your point about encouraging people to be more reflective is well-taken. In a culture where there is no stigma against living together, and a growing stigma against NOT living together, people are quite likely to do it without thinking too deeply.

      • Wouldn’t it be a reasonable hypothesis that cohabitation isn’t a cause of later marital troubles (for cohabiting couples who eventually marry) but rather that those who are more likely to cohabit are also more likely to have marital difficulties when they marry?

        It seems to me that from the point of view of those who believe in “traditional morality,” the goal should not be simply to prevent or discourage cohabitation, but rather to raise young people so that they are not the kind of people who cohabit. If parents are able to exercise enough control over their not-yet-married children to prevent them (against the children’s own feelings and wishes) from cohabiting, when those children eventually marry, they may have the same odds of marital difficulties as couples who actually cohabited, because they had the “cohabitation mentality,” and it is the “cohabitation mentality,” not cohabitation itself, that is the problem.

        • brettsalkeld

          Quite reasonable it seems to me. At least in many cases.

      • Darwin

        It seems to me that from the point of view of those who believe in “traditional morality,” the goal should not be simply to prevent or discourage cohabitation, but rather to raise young people so that they are not the kind of people who cohabit.

        Though to the extent that we take it (and it seems to me that in something like this, it must be the case to some degree) that a given action or lifestyle changes someone, preventing cohabitation may be part of (though not all of) what is involved in keeping someone from being the kind of person who cohabits.

  • Matt Bowman

    Great post, Brett.

  • Ronald King

    Here is a summary of Gottman’s research findings at the U of WA when marriages are failing.
    1 Failure of repair attempts.
    2 More negativity than positivity. Ratio must be about 5:1 for marriages to be stable.
    3 There is criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling. Women tend to be more critical and men more stonewalling.
    4 The failure of men to accept influence from their wives through two patterns of increased control attempts by either being domineering or belligerent resulting in escalation of negative affect.
    5 Men in dysfunctional marriages tend to rehearse distress-maintaining thoughts, but not women.
    6 Flooding of negative emotions and the resulting distancing from each other.
    7 Chronic physiological arousal and immunosuppression.
    The above symptoms reflect the immaturity of human relationships due to the instinctive reactions of the primitive regions of the brain, especially the lack of development in the prefrontal cortex of the male brain which is responsible for inhibiting aggressive responses. Sexual problems are symptomatic of this lack of maturity. Every woman I have seen in my practice has admitted to going against their better judgement when they agreed to live with a man rather than being married.

  • Darwin

    On a random note, Brett, a couple years back a coworker came in late, flopped into her chair, and complained, “It would be so damn much easier if he’d just let me move in.”

    “What’s the issue?” I asked.

    “He went to a Catholic school and he’s convinced that if you live together before getting married you’re more likely to get divorced, so every time I spend the night I have to either remember to bring everything I need for work or else drive from his place back down to mine and then up here again in the morning.”

    Obvious moral issues aside, it struck me as interesting that this had sunk in with the boyfriend — though I have no idea if the research suggests that sleeping together but not living together is more conducive to marital stability and living together. They did in fact get married a year or so later, so I guess only time will tell.

  • I appreciate Frank M’s contribution with studies and distinctions. I think your points are crucial in evangelizing people!

  • dookyhole

    Nice post sir.

    I like particularly the observation:

    “The real problem about the search for “sexual compatibility” is that it abstracts sex from the broader relationship. ”

    We dated 2 years without sex before getting married and learned to build the relationship on trust, respect and communication. When we married we that trinity of trust, respect and communication helped muddle through the whole sex thing without worrying about the divorce thing. We were on solid ground, not the sinking sand of sex. The bridge to my woman is trust, respect and communicatioin. Not my penis. Funny thing: I’m very satisfied sexually – as is she.

    btw: Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Beast pointed me here. He should pay you for writing his column today.

    • brettsalkeld

      Or I should pay him for all the traffic! You know, if the traffic made me any money. 😉

      In fact, I am happy with an economy of gratuity in such matters.

  • jib

    Well, this seems to me to be another case of selecting the data to support what you already believe. I think the focus on if you live together or have sex before marriage misses the main issues with building a successful marriage. My wife and I both had multiple sex partners before we started dating. We lived together for over a year before we got married. And we have been married 26 years.

    What I knew from the beginning was that I wanted to spend my life with my wife. How that came about was more about our financial situation than anything philosophical. We really could not afford to keep 2 places when we were spending all our time at one or the others place.

    So living together was not important but sex before marriage very much was. Not because we wanted to see if we were sexually compatible but because for us, becoming lovers is a step in intimacy on the path to marriage. Neither one of use would ever marry some one we were not lovers with first. It has nothing to do with compatibly and everything to do with the journey from acquaintance to friend to lover to husband and wife to family.

    But you have religious reasons to wait to have sex and that is fine. You dont need to justify it with dubious studies. Every marriage is unique and the path will be unique. If you think waiting is important and you find a mate who feels the same way, then that is all that matters. Who cares what the studies show.

    • brettsalkeld

      Thank you for your comment jib. You seem a very charitable character and I sympathize with some of what you say so I hope you won’t take my disagreement in the wrong way, but I do want to say two things.

      First, I certainly never said anything remotely like “everyone who lives together and/or has multiple sexual partners is doomed for divorce.” Though that is what the argument here refutes.

      Second, one wonders what ‘religious reasons’ consist in if they have nothing to do with what one thinks is actually good for you. Religious people don’t just pick things to believe arbitrarily. They actually consider what will make them and others happy. In that way, they are oddly like other people. Now, life is messy, and there are few sure bets, but that’s no reason to throw up one’s hands.

      It would be one thing to demonstrate where one thinks I have made a bad argument. It is another to presume my argument is irrelevant because I am “religious” and therefore have made a dishonest one.

  • hazemyth

    A few quibbles:

    The obvious explanation to many people was that it was religious people who didn’t live together before marriage, and religious people are less prone to divorce. But this second claim isn’t actually true, at least not very significantly.

    Accounting for religious people doesn’t fully control for value-based differences. For instance, my parents are non-religious but morally disapprove of marriage and are strongly prejudiced against divorce.

    Furthermore, it was often suggested, religious people are more likely to stay in unhappy marriages, exactly the kind encouraged by the silly practice of not living together. But there is no evidence that religious marriages are unhappier than other marriages.

    Or, it could be an issue of differing definitions of happiness, which is actually amplified by your subsequent point that:

    While marriage says, “I’ll be with you no matter what,” cohabitation [or some corresponding attitude toward marriage] says, “I’ll be with you as long as I can stand you.”

    Call these the unconditional and conditional views on marriage. People who take these different views also seem likely, to me, to have different thresholds of happiness. (I’ll leave aside the fact that your latter characterization is unfairly glib.)

    No, it turns out that it is not simply that a certain cross-section of society which doesn’t cohabitate also does not divorce.

    Yet, doesn’t your argument above suggest two sectors of society, differentiable by their views on marriage (and, likely, other social issues)?

    The kind of insecurity this un-promise engenders is at the heart of the increased failure of cohabitation-preceded-marriages

    Failure by what standard? A dissatisfied couple that divorces would constitute a marital failure in either view but for different reasons. In the unconditional view, it failed simply because it ended in divorce. In the conditional view, it failed to live up to the couple’s standard of a happy marriage. The significance of this difference is evident in its corollary: If the couple had stayed married, it would be a success in the unconditional view but still a failure in the conditional view (assuming their overall marital satisfaction did not increase, which may or may not be the case).
    All of which amounts to the suggestion that couples with different values will make different choices. Or, socially liberal couples ‘fail’ to have socially conservative marriages.

  • hazemyth

    [The myth of sexual compatibility] seems to presume that there is something almost biological going on wherein one must find someone with a similar sex drive, similar sexual tastes, even a compatible body … it abstracts sex from the broader relationship. It makes good sex the result of a biological fluke rather than the natural outcome of a loving relationship. It absolves women and (probably, especially) men from taking the responsibility to be good lovers to their spouses.

    Do people who pursue sexual compatibility in a relationship actually take such an all-or-nothing approach? This strikes me as something of a straw man argument.

    • brettsalkeld

      I think, as Frank pointed out above, that we may be dealing here more with what people say they are doing (e.g., in response to people who disagree with their choices), than what people are actually doing.

  • Pingback: Sexual Compatibility in Romance | Something More()

  • brettsalkeld
  • Ronald King

    Brett, Have you seen any studies comparing parent-child attachment style as identified by the adult child and reported age of first sexual experience?

    • brettsalkeld

      No. But that’s sounds interesting. Are you aware of any you could direct the readership to?

      • Ronald King

        Brett, As of this moment I am not aware of current studies pertinent to this subject but I can give you a longitudinal summary of a study published in 2004. Attachment Styles and Intrapersonal Adjustment by Cooper, Albino, Orcutt and Williams examines 3 attachment styles assessed in adolescence and their effects on interpersonal adjustment at that time and then 41/2 years later. The 3 styles studied were securely attached, anxiously-amibivalent attached and avoidant attachment.
        The summary found that “Securely attached youths exhibited the healthies profile overall, reporting relatively low levels of distress, positive self-concepts, and moderate levels of involvement in risk or problem behaviors. To the extent that risk behaviors provide opportunities to explore alternative identities and to acquire important life skills, moderate involvement can be seen as developmentally appropriate exploratory behavior.”–much can be said about this last statement, but that will wait.
        “Anxious adolescents, in contrast, were the most poorly adjusted group, reporting the highest overall levels of involvement in risky or problematic behaviors, as well as the highest levels of psychological distress and the poorest self-concepts.”
        “…avoidant adolescents presented the most complex profile. Although they reported levels of distress and negative self-concepts that were nearly equal to those observed among their anxious counterparts, they were much less involved in risk or problem behaviors. …avoidant youths exhibited levels of involvement in most risk behaviors that were comparable to, or in the case of substance use, even less than, those of their securely attached counterparts.”
        “…attachment style differnces predicted the onset of sexual behavior, alcohol use, and illicit drug use among initially abstinent youths…avoidant youths were the least likely of the three attachment groups to initiate these behaviors, whereas anxious youths were the most likely. Moreover, (in the 4 and a half year time span)among those who did initiate these behaviors between Time 1 and Time 2, avoidant youths reported the fewest lifetime partners, the fewest risky sex practices, the fewest preganncies and STDs, and the lowest rates of heavy drinking, whereas anxious youths reported the highest level of involvement across all four of these behaviors…these data provide strong support for individual differences in attachment as causal factors shaping initial involvement in substance us and sexual behaviors.”
        This study did not address parents’ religious beliefs, nor did it address the stability of the marriage as influences shaping the development of the child’s attachment style.
        However, anxious parents create anxious attachments with their children and depending on the basic personality structure of the child, the child’s reaction can be either anxious with actively acting-out risky behaviors or avoidant and repression being used to avoid possible further damage to the already damaged attachment.
        There is a lot more which can be discussed.

  • Esther

    I am a widow having been in a wonderful relationship with my late husband. We loved one another and we were sexually very satisfied with each other. However our sexuality evolved through our relationship. Our first sexual encounter was clumsy on our wedding night. We had our ups and downs but we were extremely happy and cared for one another. For us love was something beautiful and we believed our bodies belonged to each other and we cared for each other like Christ cared for his church. Sex was wonderful. We both believed our religious convictions actually enhanced our sexuality.

    Lately I have been dating a man I came to love. He too is a Catholic however his belief is that sexual compatibility has to be tested with premarital sex. For me this equates sex to biology and not to true feelings. This is a no go for me and I have chosen not to continue with this relationship. True love for me goes deeper than sexual compatibility and true lovers will find what makes the other happy. Thank you for your article.