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Waiting to have sex until after marriage can pay off, a new study says.

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First comes love, then comes marriage. Where should sex fit in?

Couples who wait until they are married to have sex appear to be much happier than those who race to get it on, according to a new study in the American Psychological Association's Journal of Family Psychology.

The study was based on 2,035 married individuals who participated in an online assessment, which included questions such as, "When did you become sexual in this relationship?"

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A statistical analysis of participants showed that couples who wait until they put a ring on it enjoy significantly more benefits than those who had sex earlier: relationship stability was rated 22 per cent higher; relationship satisfaction was rated 20 per cent higher; sexual quality of the relationship was rated 15 per cent better and communication was rated 12 per cent better.

"There's more to a relationship than sex, but we did find that those who waited longer were happier with the sexual aspect of their relationship," lead study author Dean Busby, a professor in Brigham Young University's School of Family Life, said in a release.

Why does waiting produce these benefits?

"I think it's because they've learned to talk and have the skills to work with issues that come up," Prof. Busby said.

The benefits were about half as strong for couples who became sexually involved later in their relationship but before marriage, according to the release.

If you're thinking it's because couples who choose to wait do so because of religious beliefs - and those are responsible for all the extra happy feelings - you're wrong. The study's analysis controlled for religion.

"Regardless of religiosity, waiting helps the relationship form better communication processes, and these help improve long-term stability and relationship satisfaction," Prof. Busby said.

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