Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Human Development and Family Studies


Human Development and Family Studies

First Advisor

Tera Jordan


Patterns of marriage in the United States have changed in recent decades. Many scholars have attributed this change to the acceptance and prevalence of beliefs and practices that previously were positioned under the context of marriage, but today are occurring outside of marriage, specifically, the acceptance of premarital sex once viewed as deviant behavior which is now socially normative. Yet, scholars have found that sexual abstinence is linked to informed decision-making, healthier relationships, and higher quality and stable marriages. However, these scholars have utilized nationally representative samples and conducted analyses that illuminate associations, not process or meaning. Therefore, we still know very little about the lived experiences of people who remain sexually abstinent until marriage. Another gap in the scholarly literature on sexual abstinence concerns the inclusion of African American samples. It is important to understand how sexual abstinence occurs within this population. Thus, the aim of this study is to explore the lived experiences and relationship processes among ten African American couples (N=20) who remained sexually abstinent for at least six months prior to marriage. In the current study, I utilized phenomenology and conducted in-depth interviews to explore the couples’ lived experiences. I found seven major themes: Motivations to Abstain, Challenges while Abstaining, Sexual Decision-making, Spiritual Connections in Partner Selection, Allowable Sexual Behaviors and Boundaries, and Connections among Sexual Abstinence and Relationships as well as Marriage. Implications for future research, practice, and policy are discussed.


Copyright Owner

Emily Nanci McKnight



File Format


File Size

266 pages