This study suggests that people with fewer sexual partners are happier in their marriages—but don’t freak out

Could the number of sexual partners you’ve had affect your level of marital happiness? A new study seems to suggest so, but there’s a lot more to the story.

In a blog post for the Institute for Family Studies, University of Utah sociologist Nicholas Wolfinger wrote that after examining data from the General Social Survey, he found that people whose spouses were their only sexual partners had happier marriages than those who had sex with multiple people before tying the knot.

According to Wolfinger’s research, both men and women who had slept with only one person were most likely to rate their marriages as “very happy.” 71% of men who had only had one sexual partner called their marriage “very happy,” along with 64% of women. Marital happiness declined slightly for both men and women as their number of sexual partners increased. Women who had between six and 10 sexual partners were the least likely—at 52%—to rate their marriage as “very happy.”

However, Wolfinger acknowledged that "past one partner, it doesn't make much of a difference."

For instance, there was no statistically significant difference in marital happiness between the number of women with 11-20 sexual partners and women with two partners.

And there are some important caveats to the study. First, it doesn’t account for same-sex couples, and the IFS is known for having a conservative bias. It should also be noted that Wolfinger’s research shows a correlation but not a causation. In other words, it’s not clear if having fewer partners actually makesa marriage happier. It could be that another factor—like someone’s desire for a committed relationship—is what leads to both things. And, as the The Atlantic notes, someone with fewer partners simply might not know what they’re missing.

Overall, the data shows that the majority of marriages are doing just fine. A total of 64% of Americans reported being happy in their marriages, and even among women with six to 10 partners—the least happy group—52% reported a “very happy” marriage.

Everyone is different when it comes to sex and marriage, so always do what makes you feel best—and try not to worry about how many people you have (or haven’t) been with.

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