Conflicts of interest

The Daily Mail and the Daily Express both have rather similiar articles today, under the headlines “Want the secret to a happy marriage? Don’t have sex before the wedding” and “The secret of a happy marriage? Save the sex for the honeymoon” respectively.

COUPLES who marry the old-fashioned way – shunning sex until after the wedding – enjoy happier marriages, a study has found.

Researchers say delaying the joy of the wedding night not only results in better relationships but also improves sex itself.

Odd, since most other studies either find no connection between sex and later relationship satisfaction or a non-causal connection (i.e. the sort of person who has sex while not married is also the sort of person who would prefer to get a divorce rather than remain in a loveless relationship, but the two are not directly related); it’s interesting that The Express and The Mail never publish articles about these studies.

The paper itself has not yet been published, so I can’t say anything about the quality of the science, apart from that by only asking married people about their sex lives – as opposed to people who cohabit or people who don’t want a long term relationship – it would seem to be impossible to tell whether there is legitimately a cause-and-effect connection between premarital sex and happiness, or whether couples who are happy and unmarried are simply more likely to remain unmarried than couples who are unhappy and looking to recapture their “spark”.*

More interesting though is the background. The research was carried out at Brigham Young University, a Latter Day Saints university with notoriously strict rules regarding the sex lives of its students, and was led by Professor Dean Busby, co-founder of the RELATE Institute specialising in marital advice, and author of a book called “Pathways to Marriage”. There are quite a few conflicts of interest of there.

Busby is, and should be, free to carry out research as he sees fit (within ethical limits, of course), just as any academic can – I certainly wouldn’t want to see anyone banned from performing research because of their religious or personal views – but it would have been nice to see an acknowledgement from either paper that a university which places an absolute ban on extramarital sex and all same-sex relationships is going have a vested interest in proving that marriage is the “best” state for a relationship.

* Presumably the researchers did not ask same-sex couples at all – Brigham Young University is in Utah, where same sex marriage and civil partnerships are not just unrecognised, but specifically banned in their constitution. While this doesn’t disprove their research, it does limit its validity somewhat.

Edit: It turns out that Brigham Young University can prohibit staff from making any statement thatcontradicts or opposes, rather than analyzes or discusses, fundamental Church doctrine or policy” , as well anything deemed “unchaste” – and has used this power to dismiss staff who’ve come out in favour of same sex marriage – which puts validity of this research under more strain.

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