The question turned up in the list of search engine terms that can lead to my blog. Looks like it connected with the post I wrote about a church whose pastor was keen on encouraging sex between married couples to improve their relationships.
It was in Joplin, Missouri. I’d make jokes about God approving of married couple sex for why Ignite Church withstood that tornado when so many other parts of Joplin fell, but instead I’ll just inform readers that they’re open as a relief shelter. Tornadoes are not the product of God’s judgement on anyone’s love life.
Religiously inspired guilt is all you need, apparently.
The findings emerged in the ‘Sex and Secularism’ survey of more than 14,500 people carried out by psychologist Darrel Ray and Amanda Brown from Kansas University.
All of the people who were questioned were found to have sex around the same number of times a week. They also became sexually active at similar ages.
But devoutly religious people rated their sex lives far lower than atheists. They also admitted to strong feelings of guilt afterwards.
Strict religions such as Mormons ranked highest on the scale of sexual guilt. Their average score was 8.19 out of 10. They were followed closely behind by Jehovah’s Witness, Pentecostal, Seventh Day Adventist, and Baptist.
Catholics rated their levels of sexual guilt at 6.34 while Lutherans came slightly lower at 5.88 . In contrast, atheists and agnostics ranked at 4.71 and 4.81 respectively.
Subjective rating, of course. Can’t really measure yourself against someone else’s experience unless everyone gets wired up and computer-tracked. That’s assuming guilt lights up the brain in some obvious and telling way, too.
For some respondents, the most guilt came from specific sexual tasks (i.e. masturbating) rather than the activity on the whole. Others admitted that they’d turned to pornography for clues rather than try to talk about sex with their parents. The survey also uncovered something probably not that surprising. Those religious folks who later became atheist were able to shed a lot of that guilt.
People who had left their beliefs behind said their sex lives were ‘much improved’ and rated their new experiences on average as 7.81 out of ten.
The finding dispelled conventional wisdom that feelings of guilt can continue to trouble people after the religion has faded.
‘We did think that religion would have residual effects in people after they left but our data did not show this. That was a very pleasant surprise. The vast majority seem to shake it off and get on with their sexual lives pretty well,’ Darrel told alternet.org.
Greta Christina’s article goes into a lot more detail about that little tidbit but notes that the survey takers in this case “aren’t statistically representative of the population.” Atheists may have found out about the survey via Pharyngula, or some other pro-atheist venue and thus skewed the results. (I’m trying to recall if I was one of them. I have enough trouble remembering last week, let alone January.) Even so, she writes, similar research done in other, better ways have led to similar results so there’s no reason to discount Darrel Ray’s findings here.
According to the report, religion has essentially no effect on people’s actual sexual behavior. Atheists and believers engage in the same practices, at basically the same rate, starting at essentially the same age. We’re all doing pretty much the same stuff. Believers just feel worse about it. As Ray told me, “Our data shows that people feel very guilty about their sexual behavior when they are religious, but that does not stop them: it just makes them feel bad. Of course, they have to return to their religion to get forgiveness. It’s like the church gives you the disease, then offers you a fake cure.”
But as we see, it’s a cycle that can be broken. This is good news.