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American women who abstain from sex before marriage are the most likely to remain married after five years.
But divorce is also less likely when a bride has had sex with between three and nine men before her wedding day, according to a new study from University of Utah professor Nicholas Wolfinger.
"In short, if you're going to have comparisons to your [future] husband," Wolfinger said in a prepared statement, "it's best to have more than one."
Using data from the National Survey of Family Growth, Wolfinger researched premarital sex and divorce trends for women in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.
The data reflect the changing attitude toward premarital sex, Wolfinger said, as the percentage of women with one or zero sexual partners before marriage has fallen from 64 percent in the 1970s to 27 percent since 2010.
And while premarital sex has become more common, five-year divorce rates relative to sexual activity have remained relatively unchanged, peaking at two sexual partners.
The exception to that trend is women with 10 or more sexual partners who married in the 2000s. They divorced after five years at a rate of 33 percent higher than the 30 percent rate for women with two sexual partners who married in that decade.
"Perhaps it is not unexpected that having many partners increases the odds of divorce," Wolfinger said. "The greatest surprise is that this only holds true in recent years. Previously, women with two partners prior to marriage had the highest divorce rates."
Wolfinger said Monday that the data is unclear on what variables drive divorce trends, but he offered a personal theory on why two sexual partners results in consistently high rates of marriage failure.
In those cases, he said, a woman likely has had a single sexual partner other than the man she ultimately married, which could lead to an "overemphasized comparison" between two serious romantic choices.
"That's the one that got away," he said.
The study did not include data on same-sex marriages, and Wolfinger said that including that population would likely have produced different results.
"There's just no way to get a big enough sample of same-sex couples," he said.
Wolfinger's study also showed a correlation between religious observance and premarital sexual activity, with fewer premarital sexual partners linked to higher church attendance.