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Sexual Frequency and the Stability of Marital and Cohabiting Unions


  • This article was edited by David Johnson.

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    Department of Family & Child Studies, Montclair State University, One Normal Avenue, Montclair, NJ 07043.

Center for Population Dynamics and School of Social and Family Dynamics, Arizona State University, PO Box 873701, Tempe, AZ 85287-3701 (


Prior research found that lower sexual frequency and satisfaction were associated with higher rates of divorce, but little research had examined the role of sexual activity in the dissolution of cohabiting unions. We drew upon social exchange theory to hypothesize why sexual frequency is more important in cohabitation: (a) cohabitors' lower costs of finding sexual alternatives, (b) cohabitors' lower barriers to ending the relationship in the form of union-specific economic and noneconomic capital, and (c) cohabitors' higher expectations for sexual activity. Using the National Survey of Families and Households (N = 5,902), we examined the relationship between sexual frequency and union dissolution. Results indicated that low sexual frequency was associated with significantly higher rates of union dissolution among cohabitors than married couples.