Guys get a warm chuckle inside when they hear gals talk about being empowered to have sex ‘just like guys’. Warm because they’re excited about the free sex. A chuckle because they know that it’s rather foolhardy on her part. But they’re OK with that – they’re not about to let the latter stand in the way of the former and so the chuckle stays buried deep inside.
Women argue that they are empowered to have sex just like guys, and to some extent they indeed are. And guys are quite thrilled about that.
Empowerment though really comes only with knowledge and having the freedom, the choice, to act on that knowledge. Making a decision or being coerced in to a decision without relevant and accurate knowledge is the opposite of empowerment.
When a warning light on my truck came on the the dealer told me that I needed a new sensor for $2200. With a bit of research I learned that this sensor is useless for how I use my truck and many knowledgable people do not replace it when it goes bad. That knowledge was empowering and allowed me to make a better decision. I could have made a decision without that knowledge based on what the dealer wanted me to hear but that would arguably have been a bad decision – because of my ignorance the dealer would have been empowered, not me.
Likewise, knowledge about the costs and benefits of sexual stuff. And I say sexual stuff rather than sex because this covers a spectrum of stuff – from skinny dipping to sending nude selfies to blow jobs to intercourse.
One critical issue with the concept of sexual empowerment is that it’s based on a false premise from its foundation – that sex for guys and gals is the same for each and with equal outcomes. It’s not. Or at least does not appear to be the same. Statistics for instance continuously indicate very dramatic marital outcome differences based on her sexual history. And with no change in this effect even after 60-100 years of sexual revolution in the U.S.
When a guy and gal do anything sexual prior to life commitment (marriage or decision-based committed cohab) they are playing two very different games for very different outcomes. He walks away with fond memories. She walks away with an oxytocin induced pair-bond that will likely be with her for years to come. There is largely no risk for him – pretty much all upside enjoyment, but there is considerable cost for her personally and women generally.
He’s got no skin in the game and little interest in nor reason for not having sex beyond religious beliefs. He’s not likely to be negatively affected in any way, now or in the future. It costs him nothing unless he gets an STD* but it will cost her far more and far more than the risks of STD’s or a surprise pregnancy.
The costs for her are also non-negotiable – they are fixed, part of the human package, they are what they are. Because of that, no matter how much we might want it to be, fairness is not an element any more than women scoring higher on IQ tests or having better immune systems. Fair is only an element if we can change the outcome of the system. We can’t do that here.
If I’m in a hurry to get somewhere and at an intersection I see a truck coming towards me from my right at too high a speed to stop, then even though I have right-of-way I should stop and let the truck illegally barrel through. It’s not fair, but it is reality. And non-negotiable reality. I can’t change the system of physics that dictates what will happen if that truck t-bones me.
Likewise, we can’t change the neurobiological systems that for her result in certain outcomes for certain actions. Thanks to Oxytocin and related bits, no-strings-attached is not an option for her as it is for him. Perhaps in the future we’ll have a pill that does allow her to have sex freely without the strings but we don’t have that today so for now she has a lot of quite strong strings attached.
Three critical costs – attached strings – for her are the stability of her future marriage and family, psychological impacts and impaired decision-making.
Family Cost – The greatest cost for her, if she will have children, is the stability of a family for her children. Her premarital sexual activity will negatively affect her marriage – the question is how much. The stats for failed families; divorce, divorce affected children and strife affected children, based on her prior sexual activities are quite astounding.
Her having any sex partners of any activity other than her husband is the single biggest determinant of how stable her marriage will be and how stable of a home her children will have. There is no such known correlation for men (which is not surprising when we begin looking in to causes but we also have less data on men).
This overshadows the impact of all other determinants. Her marriage is over 9x as likely to fail if she has had a pre-marital intercourse partner (PIV or PIA) other than her husband than if not. And this is regardless of religion as the results appear much the same for people who are religious, very religious or not at all religious. This chart looks largely the same for evangelical christians as for non-religious with the primary differences that christians are more likely to have no pre-marital sexual partners (wider None and Spouse Only columns) but with somewhat greater divorce rates for those who do.
No sexual activity of any sort prior to marriage results in the most stable and presumably happy marriage. No pre-marital partners (of any type of activity from skinny dipping to intercourse) except her future husband carries a higher risk but still relatively low.
Being a technical virgin (nude cuddling/showering, oral, mutual masturbation, etc.) appears to increase her risk of divorce by about 5x. The portion of the population in the chart is accurate, the divorce / failed family rate is somewhat less certain.
Natural nudity at a beach or sauna does not seem to have much or any negative impact. Erotic and Sexual nudity including skinny dipping, games, or any activities where a key component is for guys to get aroused seeing her nude often does negatively impact her marriage though how much varies considerably from zero to eventual failure of the relationship.
Her sending nude photos or videos to someone appears to have about the same effect as one other sex partner though this is too new to have solid data. Anxiety over revenge porn or his thinking about other guys jerking off to nude photos of his wife (visual sex) are proving to be increasingly difficult issues for marriages to overcome.
This relationship of her prior sexual activity to marital stability appear largely consistent with both the General Social Survey, National Survey of Family Growth as well as with prior data and studies across earlier time periods.
There are a number of likely contributing causes but the core appears to center around lessor depth of commitment for making it through the struggles that all relationships face. The more virginal she is when they commit at the alter, the more of her oxytocin derived mate pair-bond space is devoted to him rather than shared with her prior sex partners, the stickier he and she will be and the less likely that surface issues (conflict/arguing, money, jealousy, etc.) will become major problems or lead to marital failure.
This is an underlying foundation weakening thing, not a surface primary thing. Her mate pair bond space is quite literally the glue that keeps their relationship strong and the more of it devoted to her husband and the less shared with others the stronger their relationship will be.
For perspective, the second strongest determinant is age when first married but that has only a 2x impact, followed by education attainment, parents marital status, religious affiliation, religious attendance, race/ethnicity and family structure (cohab vs married).
Statistically, even if they both score highest on all of the other determinants but she had one sex partner other than her husband then she still has a 32% likelihood of divorce – 3x the likelihood if she’d remained a virgin until marriage but all of the other determinants were against her.
Of the marriages that do survive, relationship quality is often affected. In one of several study examples, Psychologists Galena K. Rhoades and Scott M. Stanley concluded that “Multiple sex partners prior to marriage reduced marital quality for women, but not men”. This does not appear to be as stark an impact as divorce statistics but still significant. What we don’t know is how much children of these marriages are impacted. They will be, statistically, much better off simply because of being in an intact stable family but perhaps not do as well as those in marriages where she was a virgin and are, presumably, happier.
Related to this is a noted irritability difference with men whose wives were virgins entering their relationship/marriage being notably less irritable on average than those whose wives were not. Among other likely causes, pair bond strength likely plays a role.
Consensual sexual activity with others resulting in conflicting pair bonds may also impact her ability to bond with her children as this is part of the same pair-bond system. We don’t yet know beyond speculation what this impact is or even if there is any impact.
Somewhat surprisingly, there is little distinction if she does something before marriage or during marriage as the result is largely the same. Having sex with someone other than her husband before marriage carries about the same likelihood of divorce as if she does it while married. And this appears somewhat similar for other things such as sending nude selfies or mutual masturbation though these do appear to have a slightly greater impact during marriage.
There is a bit of a time element to this. While doing something when she’s 16 and then nothing else until she marries at 27 will have a negative impact, it will be somewhat less than something she does when she’s 23 and only four years before she marries.
Perhaps, and given how pair-bonds function and that they have no concept of marriage but only sex partners, this shouldn’t be so surprising.
Psychological Cost – The second cost for her is a risk of increased anxiety, stress, and depression along with these affects on her family and work. This has been commonly noted by psychologists for women who’ve had multiple sex partners.
First is that men and women have different motivations for sex. Men largely just want to enjoy an orgasm. Women are much more likely to want a relationship out of it.
And experience different outcomes.
Women reported significantly more negative emotional outcomes than men, including loneliness, unhappiness, rejection, regret, general negative feelings, and a perception of negative judgment from others. Conversely, men reported greater sexual satisfaction, happiness, self-confidence, contentment, and mood improvement. Each of these findings is consistent with the general idea that men experience some kind of emotional enhancement from engaging in casual sex, but for women the emotional effect is reductive. *
The ‘perception of negative judgement from others’ is likely more than just perception. As egalitarian as we’ve become as a society many or most guys will still view her as having pre-cuckolded her future husband and thus damaging her relationship with him by doing anything sexual with anyone else.
Recently we’re learning how Oxytocin induced pair-bond conflicts from multiple partners may be the source.
Related to this is increased substance abuse. This is likely both correlation and causation. Substance abuse, particularly of alcohol, caused from increased stress, anxiety and depression is very common as is correlation of someone who engages in one risky behavior also engaging in others.
This can quickly become a self feeding cycle of an increase in one leading to an increase of the other. A minor pair-bond conflict causes some extra anxiety resulting in an extra drink that lowers her inhibitions later that night resulting in more pair-bond conflict, a bit more to drink the next time only do discover that while she was sleeping it off on his sofa he pulled her pants down and took photos that ended up on the internet…
It’s not fair, he shouldn’t have done it but she’s the one who’ll suffer the consequences.
Decision Making Cost – A third cost, and one we’ve only very recently begun to understand from a neurobiological standpoint, is the extent to which increased sexuality in a relationship leads to bad or irrational decisions.
A key element of an Oxytocin pair-bond for her is deeper trust, empathy and attachment with the person she did something sexual with which can cause her to make irrational decisions about them. For example, she will overlook faults that would normally warn her off of continuing the relationship. This is good in maintaining a marriage, not so good otherwise.
She’s also now invested something more of herself in to the relationship (he has not) and she doesn’t want to throw that out so easily no matter what her rational mind and friends might be telling her. Brain scan studies have shown that breaking a pair-bonded relationship can be a similar distress level to divorce. This creates problems both in decision-making about breaking up as well as increased psychological stress afterwards.
Often when people wonder why a gal sticks with some obvious jerk of a guy, this is it.
Abandoned pair-bonds then leave a bit of a deep hole – a new level of thirst that she might do almost anything to quench leading to further bad decisions. Good for the guys, not so much for her.
Besides the direct effect that these decisions have on her life it may also affect people’s perceptions of her. She’s making bad decisions in her personal life, can she then be trusted to make good decisions in business? Or as a friend? Or wife?
There is also some evidence that each succeeding mate pair-bond may be somewhat weaker than the prior. Perhaps as a result of her dealing with and getting better at abandoning them, something she’s not otherwise naturally adept at. This may then play an additional role if her husband is the second or third or sixth mate pair-bond she forms. Besides his getting less of her mate pair-bond space, what he gets is weaker.
No Magic Switch – Whatever she does before marriage appears to have about the same effect on her marriage as doing so during her marriage – there’s not a magic before/after switch that switches off her prior sexual activities. The likelihood of divorce is about the same, ± 84%, whether she has sex with another guy before she gets married or an affair after. If her participating in a World Naked Bike Ride after they’re married is OK then her having done so before is likely not an issue. If her playing strip poker with some guys after marriage would be an issue then having done so before will be as well.
Time may make a bit of a difference however. A long time period, years, between her pre-marital activities and anything with her husband does appear to somewhat lessen the likelihood of a failed marriage. This may be, or likely is, related to Oxytocin induced pair-bonds with prior partners subsiding over time and that they may subside much faster in the absence of new Oxytocin releases. More study is needed to understand this better though.
Some bit of tempering perspective is always good.
The impact on her marriage and children is what it is and likely will be for at least the foreseeable generations. It doesn’t seem like one little act can or should have such a major and lasting life impact, but that does appear the case. The rest is very real but the extent of the impact is more difficult to gauge.
However, just because she has a past doesn’t mean that her marriage is absolutely doomed. While most will fail, a few will survive and some of these will do well. These relationships take more work and especially more perseverance but can be successful.
One success key may be time. It appears that the longer the time period between her past pair-bond creating/strengthening sexual activities and any pair-bond inducing activity with her husband, the more that older pair-bonds can subside, the stronger his pair-bond will be in her, and the better chance her marriage will last and be a happier one. Quite possibly the marriages above that survived her past are those where she had a longer chaste period, likely many years, prior to her husband.
There is nothing empowering about life as a single mom or the effect that divorce or cohab breakup has on everyone involved, particularly children (including adult children).
Saying that she’s empowered to have sex just like guys is like me saying that I’m empowered to fight a young fit gangbanger. I can certainly do it and maybe enjoy it for a bit but the ultimate outcome will be rather costly and painful for me and an enjoyable easy no cost win for him.
If she’ll have children and wants a good marriage and stable family for her children then it’s up to her. It may seem unfair that she’s vulnerable on this and he not, that this responsibility falls on her and not him, but that appears to be a key part of the human package and is not likely to ever change. In the end she and her children will be defenseless against the costs of a bad decision and he’ll feel no obligation to protect her from her own bad decisions if it means free sex for him.
And it should be no surprise that the number one factor in how children fare in life is family structure. Being raised in a home with married biological parents is overwhelmingly best across every measure. Failed families from divorce, cohab breakup or never together frequently result in poor outcomes for children. And this largely regardless of religion, income, class, race or other factors.
On the other hand, if she knows that she will never have children and is willing to take the other risks, is she OK to do whatever? From what we know above that would seem to be the case. The costs may or may not be worth it, that’s for her to decide, but so long as she fully understands the costs then she can make an empowered decision. Many women have chosen this path and some or many have lived what for them is a full and happy life.
* McKeen, B.E., Anderson, R.C. & Mitchell, D.A. Was it Good for You? Gender Differences in Motives and Emotional Outcomes Following Casual Sex. Sexuality & Culture (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-022-09946-w