A wonderful bit of research on hooking up is making the internet rounds today. It is from a Psychology Today blog written by John Buri, a psychology professor and author of the book How to Love Your Wife. It’s a really powerful, important book: research has shown that 78% of men who purchase the book self-report higher levels of love and satisfaction in their marriage. And that number jumps to 93% if you only include the men who actually read it!
Of course I made that up, but it is probably just as methodically rigorous as his argument here, in which he claims that “hooking up” has direct negative consequences for maintaining a stable marriage.
“For example, having just 2 non-marital sexual partners reduces the probability of an intact marriage to just 44%. And once the number of non-marital sexual partners has gone up to 5, then the probability of an intact marriage dips under 30%…Another researcher (working with data from over 10,000 women) reported that non-marital sex with just one partner other than the man you marry triples the risk of divorce compared with those who have only had sex with the man who has become their husband.”
I know what you’re thinking: Holy crap! I’ve slept with more than just my wife/husband/domestic partner/ocelot! My marriage is doomed! But do you know anyone who has only ever slept with their current partner? Unless you hang out with a bunch of deeply religious people, probably not. And, uh, what group is it that is ideologically anti-divorce? Not the same people who believe in sleeping with only one person in their lifetime?
Alright, fine, so obviously that number is bogus, but what about the first statistic? That’s disturbing, right? Well, it might be if it said “having just 2 non-marital sexual partners before marriage.” But it just says having more than two.
“Wait, are you implying that people might increase their number of sexual partners after divorce? And that means people who are divorced are almost definitely going to have more sexual partners then their happily married peers?”
A little further down, we get this little nugget:
“Findings from this latter study also revealed that as the number of sexual partners went up, life satisfaction for these women plummeted. In fact, the evidence was clear — as the number of sexual partners went up, depression levels among these women began to soar.”
Hmm, yes, so women who have slept with more people are less happy, that makes sense. It all connects back to that one sentence I remember hearing about Freud in a freshman art history seminar, something about how well-being is tied to past sexual experiences? So obviously it’s the slutty behavior that makes them unhappy, not the unhappiness that makes them sleep around.
And if that wasn’t enough, he then makes the incredibly egregious leap that ‘disposable hook up culture’ is to blame for our horrible divorce rates. Correct me if I’m wrong, but at 25 years old I think I’m among the oldest people to grow up in the ‘hook up’ culture, and I’m pretty sure the majority of people getting divorced have got at least five years on me. I can’t imagine the median age of the 10,000 divorced women in this study is any lower than 35, and that’s lowballing it. I could tell you with more accuracy if Professor Burl had linked to the original study rather than just citing it, because I’m sure as hell not gonna Google Scholar this to prove an incredibly obvious point. I’m also pretty sure (again, correct me if I’m wrong) that our divorce rate has been high for decades.
Disposable hook up culture has some serious, dangerous problems- it increases self-objectification and equates sexual pleasure with the number of different vaginas orgasmed in, thus turning sex into a question of quantity and consumption, and it can certainly be hostile to trusting relationships when said ‘relationship’ starts with drunk climaxing arrived at by lies and gamemanship. But I think it’s a little premature to start blaming it for bad marriages. We have to wait about ten years before that lie rings less false.