Religion might offer scores of personal benefits, but it looks like a great sex life isn’t one of them. According to psychologist Darrel Ray from the University of Kansas, religious people suffer intense guilt during and after intercourse. Those devoted to their religion experienced regret after climaxing. Atheists and agnostics, on the other hand, boasted more satisfying sex lives.
It’s not as if one group were friskier than the other. All 14,500 subjects of Ray’s “Sex and Secularism” study had sex the same number of times a week and became sexually active at the same age. Both believers and non-believers watched pornography, engaged in oral sex, and even pursued affairs. The difference is that while atheists and agnostics reported feeling comfortable sharing their fantasies, religious people felt uncomfortable even entertaining certain desires.
We should note, however, that the study only surveyed people who were once religious, but had since abandoned their faith. The more conservative the religion, the worse its former followers had felt about their sexuality. Mormons were ranked at the top of the guilty scale, scoring an 8.19 out of 10. Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostals, Seventh Day Adventists and Baptists followed closely behind. Catholics and Lutherans were a little more relaxed, scoring 6.34 and 5.88 respectively. Atheists and agnostics scored 4.71 and 4.81.
As if that disparity didn’t seem dramatic enough, consider this: 79.9 percent of people raised in religious homes reported feeling guilty about a particular sex act or desire, compared to 26.3 percent of people raised in secular households. Similarly, 22.5 percent of those with religious upbringings said they were made to feel guilty about masturbating, while just 5.5 percent of those raised in non-religious homes experienced the same thing.
While this survey is certainly informative (if not a little disheartening for those of us with religious leanings), its findings should be taken with a grain of salt since Ray didn’t ask religious people themselves to fill out the survey. Nor does it offer a solution for how the devout can improve their sex lives, if they really are that bad.
At this point, the study’s only practical suggestion is to leave the church in order to have better sex, since it concludes that those who fall away from religion report a marked improvement in their sex lives. Conventional wisdom says that religious guilt lingers in those who leave the church, but Ray’s survey revealed that those who abandoned their beliefs rated their satisfaction at a 7.81 out of 10.
Could the survey benefit from peer reviewing and the perspective of people who actually practice their faith? Definitely—but in the meantime, it does beckon some potentially lively discussions on how worldview shapes our understanding (and mastery) of sex.
Has religion affected your sex life, for better or worse?
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