Apr 28, 2010
From Tom Rees of Epiphenom:
Cindy Meston at the University of Texas and her colleagues interviewed more than 1,000 students in their survey of sexual behaviors and found almost no difference between different faith groups in what was reported. Virtually all of them reported engaging in some form of premarital sex.
Women (although not men) who were Jewish or fundamentalist Christians did report a somewhat lower incidence of sexual intercourse, but apart from that, there was no differences in the types of sexual activities, in the number of partners (both in the past and the number anticipated in the next five years), or in the age at which they lost their virginity. If anything, Christian women lost their virginity slightly earlier than atheists.
What’s more, there was no difference in the level of infidelity between atheists and the nonreligious—more evidence that religious identification is a poor guide to honesty.
In a separate study, they looked at the frequency and types of sexual fantasies. Here, there was a clear difference. Atheist and especially agnostic women (but again, not men) fantasize more often and more widely (gender bending, masochism, sadism).
Oddly enough, the only men to confess to having taken part in homosexual intercourse were Christians (just under 10 percent of Christian men), although in the second study, there was no hint of increased gender-bending fantasies. Make of that what you will.
So far, this has all been about self-reported identification: Are you Christian, Jewish, spiritualist, nonreligious, atheist, or agnostic? But what about intensity of beliefs?
Meston and her colleagues also measured beliefs using some fairly standard scales: spiritual beliefs, paranormal/new age beliefs, fundamentalist beliefs, and intrinsic religiosity (how central religious belief is to your life). When you look at beliefs rather than identification, some rather starker differences emerge.
Broadly speaking, compared with nonbelievers, any form of traditional religious belief has a deadening effect on sexual activity (both the act and also fantasies), especially for women. However, paranormal and new age beliefs were linked to an increase in all kinds of sexual activity.
For men, the effect was much less. Indeed, fundamentalist Christian men actually reported more sexual partners in the past year than their nonreligious counterparts! A case of get religion and get laid? Or just due to the fact that there is a relative shortage of evangelical men?
So, among these students, it seems that religious affiliation is a poor guide to sexual behavior and fantasies, but women (and also some men) with strong religious beliefs try to avoid even thinking about it.
But that’s students. What about older folk? Well, Mark Regnerus, also at the University of Texas, and his colleagues have just published a study of the sex lives of older Americans. It turns out that among older adults, too, there is very little relationship between religion and either sexual frequency or sexual satisfaction. Just as with the youngsters, however, unmarried women who were religious were also less likely to have had sex. But religion had no effect on male sexual activity.