you're reading...
Atheism, Christianity, Dating Mating Sex and Reproduction

Sex and Secularism – The Juicy Details

It’s only been a decade or so since social scientists even began to recognize “non-believers” as a legitimate demographic.  Sadly, there have only been a few studies designed to discover the nature of a “typical non-believer.”  Darrel Ray, author of The God Virus, and research assistant Amanda Brown of Kansas University, have put together a monumental survey of American secularists with a special emphasis on sex.  (For the full report, go to IPCPress.com.)

A number of the results were consistent with what many of us already suspected, or knew intuitively.  There were also some surprises.  (I’ll get to them in a minute.)  Overall, there were two major themes that were of particular interest to me:

    1. All other things being equal, leaving religion is one of the best ways to improve your sex life.
    2. Religious instruction has a negligible effect on behaviors, but a massive effect on guilt and decreased pleasure.


A noteworthy disclaimer:  This is a non-random targeted sample of secularists, so much of the demographic data must be considered within that context.  However, within this targeted population, the data are robust.  Among the notable qualities of the respondents:

  • 69.4% male and 29.7% female with .2% intersexed and .7% answering “other.”  This is slightly biased towards male compared with random surveys.
  • 47%, 30 or younger and 61.1%, 35 or younger. This is biased towards younger secularists which is consistent with the observation that this is an especially tech savvy population, and also hints at the effect of atheist blogging and general visibility on the internet.
  • In the younger category, women were over-represented, which says something valuable about the power of secularism to undo the repression of religious sexual indoctrination and allow young females to discuss and think about their sexuality openly.
  • “Alternative Sexualities,” mainly gay, bisexual, and lesbian, were also over-represented.  It is impossible from this survey to ascertain a direct causal line, but intuitively, it seems that this might point to religious repression, and the comfort level secularists feel in “coming out” compared to religious environments where such lifestyles are demonized and practitioners persecuted.
  • Respondents were far better educated than the average population, with over 70% having higher degrees.

I mentioned surprises.  Here’s the biggest one for me:  Evangelical Christianity is a gateway to atheism.  Yeah, I know this isn’t about sex, but it’s a shocking and exciting result.  Of the formerly religious respondents, the two former religions running away were Catholicism and Non-denominational Christianity.  (For you foreigners, “Non-denominational” is code in America for “Evangelical.”)  Let me put that another way:  Within this population, Evangelical Christianity is one of the two religions most likely to produce atheists.

Upon reflection, there’s logic to this.  Evangelical Christianity is extremist.  It is the most likely to espouse Young Earth theology, which is easily disproven.  It is the most likely to advocate taking away civil rights for the glory of Jesus, altering the Constitution to discriminate against gays, and many other extreme political positions.  In short, it’s the one most likely to offend educated people’s sensibilities.

This is strong support for the claim that educating the religious is extremely important.  It’s especially important for diffusing the absurd extremism we are seeing too often in the news and on Capitol Hill.

Ok.  I’ve made you read way too much that has nothing to do with sex, and I apologize for that.  Let’s get to the juicy details.

  • Guilt over sex is directly correlated with the extremism of the religion.  Pentecostals, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists and Baptists are the most heavily guilt-laden religions.  Unitarianism, Judaism, and Buddhism are the least concerned with your sex life.
  • In “guilty religions,” 80% of respondents felt guilty while engaging in normal sexual activities.  In non-guilty religions, 74% did not feel guilty.

This observation deserves some discussion.  It is not just an observation of feelings.  It’s also philosophy.  The conservative religions believe that it’s good to feel guilty.  Guilt, they say, is God’s way of preventing us from doing things we ought not do.  If that is true, then we should expect to see guilt as a powerful predictor of sexual abstinence.

We do not.  In fact, we see that like abstinence only education, guilt indoctrination is highly ineffective.  For masturbation, which is a private activity, there was only a 2.8% difference ascribed to guilt indoctrination.  For sexual intercourse, there was only a 9% difference at age 18.  At age 21 (the age at which nearly everyone is free from parental interference with sexual activity) there is virtually no difference at all between the guilt-religions and the non-guilt religions.

The strong indication is that it is not guilt which keeps young people from engaging in sexual activity.  It is parental interference.  Once believers have reached majority, there is no significant difference between them and their non-religious peers in practice.

There is another very important point to make here.  Being non-religious does not equate to sexual deviance in young people.  That is, both guilty religious, non-guilty religious, and secular youth all do approximately the same things.  The only difference is guilt.  Not behavior.  Guilt is like carrying six extra bags on the plane, none of which contain anything you need for the trip.  You’ll still get there, but it’ll be a pain in the ass, and you’ll annoy everyone around you.

More interesting findings:

  • Religious people are far less likely to share or act out fantasies with their partners.  Mountains of sex research demonstrate that fantasies are a healthy part of a fulfilling sex life.
  • Surprisingly, the indications are strong that leaving religion can significantly reduce guilty feelings and sexual inhibitions.  I have long believed that religious indoctrination screws up people’s sex lives permanently.  It appears I may have been wrong.  Only 16.6% of those who left a guilt-heavy religion report feeling guilty in their secular sex life.  This is very encouraging news.
  • In agreement with this finding is the startling number of people whose sex lives improved dramatically after leaving religion.  Of those who reported strong religious induced guilt while religious, 61.6% said their sex life was greatly improved since leaving religion — an 8, 9, or 10 on a scale of 1-10.

Of special note here is a potential confounding variable.  Of the respondents who had left religion, most had found a sex partner who shared their non-religious views.  It is possible that the guilt effect is negatively influenced by a religious partner.  Intuitively, it seems very likely that a non-believer who stays with a highly religious partner will experience second-hand effects of religious guilt.  More research is needed in this area.

There’s a lot of interesting information in the full report.  If you’re not into reports, Darrel is moving towards the release of his fourth book, which will focus on sexuality and religion and no doubt include the most salient details of this survey.

In summary, this survey of well educated, tech savvy and generally young secularists lends strong support to the following conclusions:

  1. Guilt is ineffective at changing sexual behaviors, only in decreasing pleasure while participating in them.

  2. Evangelical Christians are one of the best targets for “re-converts” to non-belief.

  3. Religions are highly effective at strong-arming gays, lesbians, and bisexuals into hiding or suppressing their sexual identities.

  4. Leaving religion is strongly correlated with a significant improvement in your sex life.


Discussion

12 thoughts on “Sex and Secularism – The Juicy Details

  1. For one thing, I think the fact that the behavors are the same, is good evidence against the whole “god virus” notion.

    But anyway, I do agree that guilt tripping isn’t good, [I've even had guilt trips] though I wouldn’t necessarily contribute all of it to religion, however, some is and I’ve mostly gotten past it.

    With all that said, it’s only a matter of time before religion changes face again and gets rid of the guilt trips [hopefully] especially as people lean away from the more extremist parts.

    Posted by cptpineapple | May 16, 2011, 4:13 pm
  2. For one thing, I think the fact that the behavors are the same, is good evidence against the whole “god virus” notion.

    I assumed you would. But I can’t help the fact that you don’t see the big picture from this. I’ve tried for years, and at this point, I’m just sort of letting it go for a bit. Did you… by chance… notice the bit about how the GUILT is substantially different? And have you ever studied the psychological impact of guilt over sex in long term relationships?

    Just wondering…

    Posted by Living Life Without a Net | May 16, 2011, 4:40 pm
  3. Did you… by chance… notice the bit about how the GUILT is substantially different? And have you ever studied the psychological impact of guilt over sex in long term relationships?

    Yes I did notice, and I’ve read up on it a little. I’m not saying that religion doesn’t cause guilt trips.

    My point was that if religion overrides our inner feelings and changes behavour, then this wouldn’t be the exception.

    That was more of an aside and should be treated as such. We should be focusing on how to get religion to stop guilt tripping, and how to get over the guilt tripping.

    Posted by cptpineapple | May 16, 2011, 5:06 pm
  4. CPTPINEAPPLE: I think you missed the point of this research Darrel Ray and I conducted. Guilt is something religion perpetuates especially regarding normal sexual behavior. Just because the sexual onsets are typically the same doesn’t mean the psychological effects aren’t severe or damaging.

    We had a lot of comments, paragraphs long, detailing out just how difficult this guilt was when the participant reported being raised in an extremely religious home. People were psychologically damaged. Their emotions and mental states regarding the manner that they constantly said at the time the act was done “in the heat of the moment” rather than having knowledge about the act they were doing as feeling “regretful” and “begging for forgiveness” until later after leaving religion and gaining access to adequate and proper information on their secondary sexual characteristics that their guilt was relieved and psychological, emotional, and sexual satisfaction improved.

    Why should we remove guilt from religion? We should be removing ourselves from religion. That’s how one gets rid of the guilt associated with it. A religion cannot change its dogma without becoming a completely new religion. With that said… how could a 2000 year old religion, bogged down in fear and guilt change without dying first?

    Posted by Amanda | May 17, 2011, 12:52 am
  5. Thanks for the comments, Amanda. (And thanks for your diligent work on the project!)

    I chided Alison (Cptpineapple) a week or so ago for a bit of naivety with regard to human sexuality, and I think this is one of the areas where it shows itself pretty glaringly. With rare exceptions, such as genuine asexuality, physical inability, etc, everyone has sex. And statistically speaking, everybody has approximately the same amount of sex, starting at the same time, etc, etc. It’s my belief that this “sexual constant” has rarely changed in history. Not significantly, anyway.

    What has changed significantly is the way people feel about the sex they’re having. And as you know, research is very, very clear on this point: People who are well informed and have guilt-free sex have not only more pleasurable sex, but safer sex. And they make better decisions about sex partners. And they heap no guilt on their partners or themselves, which means they spend less time while not having sex obsessing over their guilty sex… which means they are more productive and happier while not having sex.

    The thing is, without having had “guilty sex” and understanding just how debilitating it can be, and how obsessed you can get over the fact that you really can’t stop… and don’t want to stop… It’s pretty much impossible to have a real understanding of just how important it is to help people remove guilt from what ought to be a healthy sex life.

    But it is extremely important, and I commend you and Darrel for taking on this massive project and the criticism you’ll no doubt receive.

    Posted by Living Life Without a Net | May 17, 2011, 2:29 pm
  6. Amanda, the comment about similar behaviour, wasn’t directed at the research, it was more of a shot at Living Without A Net. We’ve had several discussions of religion and behavour.

    But to make it clear [again], I’m not saying religion doesn’t cause guilt. I’m not saying that just because the behavours are the same therefore religion doesn’t cause guilt or that psychological effects aren’t severe or damaging.

    I’m not so naive to throw the baby out with the bath water, just because I think “the god virus” is pseudoscience, doesn’t mean I automatically throw out what Darrel Ray says.

    Why should we remove guilt from religion? We should be removing ourselves from religion. That’s how one gets rid of the guilt associated with it. A religion cannot change its dogma without becoming a completely new religion. With that said… how could a 2000 year old religion, bogged down in fear and guilt change without dying first?

    Actually I would of suggested to get rid of religion all together, however that will prove extremely difficult [with it being a by-product of cognitive mechanisms rather than a 'virus' or 'meme'], so I went with the next best thing.

    Religious dogma does change. That has been shown over and over again.

    Posted by cptpineapple | May 17, 2011, 2:47 pm
  7. But to make it clear [again], I’m not saying religion doesn’t cause guilt. I’m not saying that just because the behavours are the same therefore religion doesn’t cause guilt or that psychological effects aren’t severe or damaging.

    So… you’re saying you agree with the findings? And by the way… you’re going to need to do more than just point out your methodological objections to put Darrel’s research in the same category as homeopathy. That’s insulting.

    Homeopathy, astrology, etc… these are pseudosciences. Conducting scientific research and (allegedly) incorrectly attributing cause and effect? Not pseudoscience. You need to take that back or appear foolish.

    Posted by Living Life Without a Net | May 17, 2011, 4:06 pm
  8. Yes Hamby, I agree with the findings.

    And yes, I do think the god virus is pseudoscience. That doesn’t mean I consider ALL of Darrel Ray’s idea pseudoscience.

    It’s not just the methodological flaws, it’s the over reliance on ‘memes’ which I’ve done some digging because the book ‘the religion virus’ overly relies on them, and found that they are also considered pseudoscience and haven’t found a single peer reviewed article outlining their existence and have found peer reviewed articles that do the opposite. Another thing is I know your objections, and can even predict yours in this regard.

    To be honest Hamby, I don’t even think you read my comments anymore, considering I said in my first one that I agree that religion can cause guilt tripping.

    You constantly confuse my objections with thinking religion is positive.

    I think the reason for that is a little bit of selection bias on my part, considering that I only voice my opinion when I disagree. When I read one of your posts, I only voice things I have issues with, not the things I don’t. The reason for that is because I think discourse is the best way to evaluate your views. If we both agree, there is little discourse [what are we going to do, fight over who agrees the most?]

    Posted by cptpineapple | May 17, 2011, 4:47 pm
  9. To be honest Hamby, I don’t even think you read my comments anymore, considering I said in my first one that I agree that religion can cause guilt tripping.

    No.. I actually read every word. I suspect that you think you are doing a good job of writing what you mean, but are mistaken. I try very hard to figure out exactly what the words you write mean. It’s not an easy task most of the time. You could work on “theses.” That is… make your broad point and then back it up in whatever way you need to. One shouldn’t have to dig to figure out what you believe.

    Posted by Living Life Without a Net | May 18, 2011, 3:32 am
  10. I think the reason for that is a little bit of selection bias on my part, considering that I only voice my opinion when I disagree. When I read one of your posts, I only voice things I have issues with, not the things I don’t. The reason for that is because I think discourse is the best way to evaluate your views. If we both agree, there is little discourse [what are we going to do, fight over who agrees the most?]

    I won’t fault you if it takes you a while to figure this out… It took me most of 20 years of adult life. Sometimes, the most important thing we can say to a person is that we agree with them. Especially as a fairly “half-empty” kind of girl, you should work on trying to voice the things you think are good about other people. It’s actually not the easiest skill in the world to develop, but it will take you a long way. More importantly, it will help people consider your objections more… objectively.

    Dig deep into your knowledge of psychology and you’ll see the truth of it. When all we hear from someone is disagreement, we pretty much turn off the switch in our heads that controls our level of “give a shit.” For us to care about someone’s opinion, we must be somewhat shocked that they disagree with us.

    This really isn’t so much about me… it’s about you finding more effective ways to get what you want and persuade people. If you asked me to name three times you’ve ever agreed with me without objection, I’d laugh and say I couldn’t think of one. I don’t know if that’s true or not. Maybe you have. But I’m conditioned to believe that when your name pops up in a comment, it’s to criticize my opinion of cause-effect.

    Posted by Living Life Without a Net | May 18, 2011, 3:38 am
  11. “this population” being?
    + I am with Amanda on that one. FYI, your reply to her made not attempt to take in what she had to say.

    Posted by anonimus | June 2, 2012, 6:45 pm
  12. well….. now we know why the mass murderers, rapist and other criminals are non God fearing people.
    they have no values, no sense of right or wrong–just do it if it feels good.
    what crap.

    Posted by waco | April 22, 2013, 6:46 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow Me On Twitter!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 114 other followers

%d bloggers like this: