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Christianity, Dating Mating Sex and Reproduction

Sex and Christianity: The Effects of Guilt

Among the criticisms being leveled at the recent study on sex and secularism is the assertion that there is no established correlation between guilt and enjoyment of sex.  This is a very odd criticism for anyone who has been both religious and secular.  We know we’re enjoying sex more now that we’re not feeling guilty.  But for someone who’s never experienced non-guilty sex, I suppose I can understand the objection.

Still, critics will say that personal experience does not constitute scientific fact, and they will be correct.  (Never mind that the survey by Darrel Ray is a scientific examination of the differences between guilty and non-guilty sex and that it did discover a strong correlation.)  In support of the proposition that guilt results in decreased sexual enjoyment, there is also a PhD dissertation from 1998 which discovered the following:

  • Guilt was negatively associated with frequency of orgasm for women.  It doesn’t get any plainer than this.  Women who feel guilty about having sex don’t have as many orgasms.  Orgasms are pretty much universally agreed upon as being pleasurable.  We could end here, but there is plenty more.
  • Guilt was negatively associated with the frequency of women initiating sex.
  • Guilt was negatively associated with the frequency of intercourse.
  • Guilt was positively associated with sex partners being unwilling to “experiment” in bed.
  • When the question was asked directly, guilt was positively associated with lack of sexual desire and negatively associated with sexual satisfaction.

There it is.  Guilt make sex less enjoyable.
To be perfectly honest, this is one of those “facepalm” moments for me.  It seems patently obvious that anyone with any sexual experience has had guilty sex and less guilty sex.  Most “good Christians” have pre-marital sex, and many feel guilty about it.  Shouldn’t they be able to compare their feelings of satisfaction from that sex to the marital sex they feel less guilty about?

But critics will be critics, and all of us sexually satisfied secularists would do well to remember that there are people out there who honestly have no idea what guilt-free sex feels like.  So we owe them the courtesy of at least pointing them in the direction of research proving the obvious.

Other notable scientific studies have concluded the following:

  • Women suffer more from guilt relative to men, experiencing less satisfaction than men with comparable levels of guilt.  (This is expected, since men generally always orgasm and guilty women seldom do.)
  • Also in women, guilt is negatively associated with internal fantasy, masturbation, and erotic visualization, all of which are fun according to women who do them frequently.
  • People who feel intense guilt are less likely to use proper contraception during casual encounters, which in turn leads to intensified feelings of guilt and the negative consequences listed here.
  • Curiously, guilt specifically reduced the use of diaphragms — because women were ashamed to touch themselves in the rather intimate ways necessary for insertion.
  • In men, sex guilt was negatively correlated with frequency of both self-testicular exams and professional testicular exams.

The facts — THE FACTS — are in and they are clear.  Guilt and sexual enjoyment are negative correlates on many levels.  From masturbation to marital enjoyment to safe sex to sexual health, guilt prohibits people from fully enjoying their sexual experiences.

.

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References:

Derflinger J. Sex guilt among evangelical Christians in the 1990s: An examination of gender differences and salient correlates of sex guilt among married couples [e-book]. US: ProQuest Information & Learning; 1998.

Benetti-McQuoid J, Bursik K. Individual Differences in Experiences of and Responses to Guilt and Shame: Examining the Lenses of Gender and Gender Role. Sex Roles [serial online]

Lamb S. Review of ‘The Secret Lives of Girls: What Good Girls Really Do-Sex Play, Aggression, and Their Guilt’. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy [serial online]. May 2003;29(3):244-246.

Mosher D, Vonderheide S. Contributions of sex guilt and masturbation guilt to women’s contraceptive attitudes and use. Journal of Sex Research [serial online]. February 1985;21(1):24-39.

Woo J, Brotto L, Gorzalka B. Sex guilt and culture-linked barriers to testicular examinations. International Journal of Sexual Health [serial online]. July 2010;22(3):144-154.

Discussion

20 thoughts on “Sex and Christianity: The Effects of Guilt

  1. Actually I didn’t say there was, “no established correlation between guilt and enjoyment of sex.”

    You seem intent on misunderstanding (and now misrepresenting) my point, which I made clear in my response to you here:

    http://jackhudson.wordpress.com/2011/05/24/atheism-and-sex/#comment-2883

    Posted by jackhudson | May 25, 2011, 1:45 pm
  2. Again, you seem completely oblivious to the point, which makes your list irrelevant. Are you really contending that if one’s idea of ‘good sex’ is to solicit a prostitute on Craigslist that it matters whether one is guilty about such behavior? Does the lack of guilt make such behavior ‘better’?

    This is your point? That I’m equating solicitation of prostitutes with “good sex”? That’s a very weak point indeed. For one thing, all the studies I linked were studying sex primarily in the context of committed relationships. For another thing, it is not an a priori conclusion that sex with a prostitute is “bad sex.” This is a personal bias, not an established fact.

    If not, then ‘good sex’ isn’t merely about guilt or lack thereof – guilt, like pain, is an indicator which can prevent us from pursuing activities that are harmful. We can override both guilt in pain, but doing so in the long run doesn’t actually address the issues that caused them to begin with, and ends up hurting us more.

    Ok… so this is what you’re really getting at, which is what I suspected. However, I’ve already addressed this in the article you somehow managed to quote but didn’t read. Here’s the salient conclusion:

    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.

    Here’s your final point (which is just a restatement of your previous point):

    The point wasn’ that guilt can’t reduce enjoyment of sex. Pain can reduce the enjoyment of one’s life, and one can overcome pain with drugs or alcohol – that doesn’t how ever make one’s life better. In the same way, guilt can be dealt with by simply ignoring the wisdom that tells us certain sexual behaviors are harmful. But that doesn’t make sex, or one’s life, better.

    The interesting thing here is that it is YOU who are relying on unsupported assumptions. While the scientific link between guilt and decreased sexual pleasure is clear, there is no such clarity with regard to the “inherent harmfulness” of sex outside the bonds of Christian marriage. In fact, there is ample evidence that many “non-traditional” sexual behaviors are quite healthy — if one doesn’t feel guilty about them, and has the consent of all parties involved.

    As an example, masturbation is well documented as a healthy sexual activity, promoting good health, happiness, and… marital satisfaction. Look it up. And then ask yourself why so many Christians feel guilty about it and avoid it.

    But… to return to the implication of your objection, let me restate: Each of these studies was conducted primarily with individuals in committed sexual relationships. They were not studying people getting prostitutes off of Craigslist. The findings were clear: Sex within committed sexual relationships is better when there’s no guilt.

    So I’m afraid all you’re left with is a retreat to the “sanctity of marriage,” which you will find — if you go to the university libraries you’re so familiar with — is not uniquely correlated to either sexual satisfaction or general happiness. It’s the commitment, not the paper, that makes people feel better. Look it up.

    Posted by Living Life Without a Net | May 25, 2011, 2:00 pm
  3. Simple question.

    If a person cheats on their spouse, would it be wrong for them to feel guilty about doing so?

    Posted by jackhudson | May 25, 2011, 2:41 pm
  4. If a person cheats on their spouse, would it be wrong for them to feel guilty about doing so?

    Simple answer: No. They should feel guilty.

    Now, to address what you seem to be getting at, but don’t seem to want to come out and say. Your inherent point is that all guilt refers to inappropriate behaviors. That is, if one feels guilty, then the thing one is doing or contemplating is wrong. Guilt determines wrongness.

    The thing is, that’s simply not true and you know it. There have been plenty of times in all of our lives when we felt guilty about something even though we knew it was the right thing to do. Sometimes guilt gets in the way of doing the right thing.

    For instance, take the all-too-common case of abused wives. Ask any therapist: Many of these women feel guilty for thinking about leaving their abusive husbands, even though an objective observer can see that it is the husband who is in the wrong. Guilt can be — and often is — instilled in people for things that are not wrong.

    To return to your question, let me ask you a simple question: If a person has sex with someone other than their spouse with the permission and enthusiasm of their spouse, is it cheating?

    Posted by Living Life Without a Net | May 25, 2011, 2:49 pm
  5. No, my point is not that “all guilt refers to inappropriate behaviors.” I am not sure why you keep insisting on positing words I didn’t say or didn’t intend to say. If you are unclear about what I am saying, then just ask.

    My point is that there are certainly cases (as you agreed above) where guilt is an indicator of inappropriate or harmful behaviors.

    That being the case, then that which relives guilt isn’t necessarily in and of itself a good thing since sometimes, as you agreed, we should feel guilty about a behavior.

    So merely touting the ‘guilt free’ aspect of atheist sex could just as easily mean someone feels better about drunken anonymous hook-ups as they do about being in a committed affirming relationship.

    Posted by jackhudson | May 25, 2011, 3:21 pm
  6. Oh, and the answer to your question is yes.

    Posted by jackhudson | May 25, 2011, 3:22 pm
  7. So merely touting the ‘guilt free’ aspect of atheist sex could just as easily mean someone feels better about drunken anonymous hook-ups as they do about being in a committed affirming relationship.

    Well, then you have a task in front of you. First, find evidence that secularists are more prone to anonymous hook-ups than religionists. Second, find evidence that they feel less guilt about these hookups than religionists. Third — and most importantly — find evidence that their quality of life suffers in a tangible way as a result of these behaviors.

    If you can do these three things, then you might have a point that a single element of guilt-free secular sex is harmful.

    But… as I’ve said before… that’s NOT what we’re talking about. In all of the studies I linked to, the overwhelming majority of respondents were IN COMMITTED RELATIONSHIPS, and they were talking about their guilt-related behaviors and feelings WITHIN COMMITTED RELATIONSHIPS.

    Which is the whole point of the Darrel Ray survey — secularists in healthy sexual relationships have better sex than religionists.

    Oh, and the answer to your question is yes.

    Why?

    Posted by Living Life Without a Net | May 25, 2011, 4:13 pm
  8. So merely touting the ‘guilt free’ aspect of atheist sex could just as easily mean someone feels better about drunken anonymous hook-ups as they do about being in a committed affirming relationship.

    Nice of you to point this out, but I’m missing where it was said, or even implied. Since the entire article, and all the supporting research, is based on committed relationships, and the sex had therein, one must consider that you are just arguing for the sake of argument.

    To be clear, I’m fine with that, so please feel free to continue.

    Posted by Alex Hardman | May 25, 2011, 4:15 pm
  9. Alex, I’ve already pointed that out three times. I’m fairly certain we’re dealing with someone who doesn’t care much for discussing the reality of the study — only what he’d like it to be.

    And I know from both his blog post and responses to me that he either did not read the study or in reading it managed to completely misunderstand it… which seems… odd…

    So I’m gonna go with TL;DR.

    Posted by Living Life Without a Net | May 25, 2011, 4:20 pm
  10. Well, then you have a task in front of you. First, find evidence that secularists are more prone to anonymous hook-ups than religionists. Second, find evidence that they feel less guilt about these hookups than religionists. Third — and most importantly — find evidence that their quality of life suffers in a tangible way as a result of these behaviors.

    It doesn’t matter if they do or not, that isn’t the point. The point is the mere removal of guilt in and of itself (and it could be guilt over this behavior, or some other; you have already agree we should feel guilty for some behaviors) isn’t necessarily a positive goal.

    If you can do these three things, then you might have a point that a single element of guilt-free secular sex is harmful.

    As I said, you have already agreed that there are cases where we should experience guilt – that’s all that is necessary to establish my point.

    But… as I’ve said before… that’s NOT what we’re talking about. In all of the studies I linked to, the overwhelming majority of respondents were IN COMMITTED RELATIONSHIPS, and they were talking about their guilt-related behaviors and feelings WITHIN COMMITTED RELATIONSHIPS.

    How do you know what sort of relationships the respondents had? Or if they had any of the experiences you agreed should incite guilt?

    Which is the whole point of the Darrel Ray survey — secularists in healthy sexual relationships have better sex than religionists.

    Actually your argument is rather circular. You think less guilt = healthy sexual relationship. Therefore they must be having ‘better sex’ because they are less guilty. But a healthy sexual relationship isn’t merely about the absence of guilt; one could have no guilt about treating women like objects, but that doesn’t make your relationships healthier.

    Also, this claim assumes that all ‘religionists’ are guilty – or guiltier than atheists. But the attitudes of those who believe aren’t studied in this survey, only those who abandoned their faith. So we can’t say one group is better than another, only that when self-reporting secularists claim their sex lives are better.

    Why?

    Because I would be breaking a promise to be faithful.

    Posted by jackhudson | May 25, 2011, 5:01 pm
  11. It doesn’t matter if they do or not, that isn’t the point. The point is the mere removal of guilt in and of itself (and it could be guilt over this behavior, or some other; you have already agree we should feel guilty for some behaviors) isn’t necessarily a positive goal.

    I’m with you so far.

    As I said, you have already agreed that there are cases where we should experience guilt – that’s all that is necessary to establish my point.

    Yes. Some guilt refers to harmful actions. Some refer to helpful actions.

    How do you know what sort of relationships the respondents had? Or if they had any of the experiences you agreed should incite guilt?

    Have you actually read the study? Or looked up any of the studies I referred you to? Either you have, and you have a big problem with reading studies, or you haven’t. I’m going with “you haven’t read it.” So I’m going to leave this for you as your homework. The answers are there in plain print. Just read them.

    Actually your argument is rather circular. You think less guilt = healthy sexual relationship.

    No. You haven’t read, or you haven’t comprehended. I even quoted for you earlier from where I addressed this directly. Let’s take your paradigm of monogamous committed relationships: People who were in these relationships AND religious experienced more guilt, and therefore, less satisfaction with what — according to you — is proper sex.

    Above and beyond this fact is the observation that people in non-Christian committed relationships — gay, lesbian, non-monogamous, etc — experienced the same thing. More guilt, less enjoyment as religionists. Less guilt, more enjoyment as secularists.

    So… we’re right back to the problem in front of YOU. Across the board, people engaging in consensual sexual relationships of all kinds experienced less guilt and more pleasure as secularists than religionists. If you believe that some of these non-Christian relationships, like gay or non-monogamous, are inherently harmful regardless of the belief or intent of the participants, then prove it. You don’t just get to arbitrarily say that one kind of relationship is harmful and another is helpful.

    Also, this claim assumes that all ‘religionists’ are guilty – or guiltier than atheists.

    I’m done with you until you read the thing. It’s obvious you haven’t even read it. Which makes your commentary not only wrong, but downright fraudulent. You have no idea what you’re talking about.

    Because I would be breaking a promise to be faithful.

    I just told you in as many words that it would not be breaking a promise to be faithful. Some people do not make that promise to each other. Or, having made it, some people decide to rescind the requirement of faithfulness in their partner. In which case, it is not breaking a promise. So… if you care to continue discussing this, try again. Why would it be cheating if it was not breaking an oath? (We can talk about this if you like since it isn’t pertinent to or dependent on the survey you haven’t bothered to read.)

    Posted by Living Life Without a Net | May 25, 2011, 5:26 pm
  12. Have you actually read the study? Or looked up any of the studies I referred you to? Either you have, and you have a big problem with reading studies, or you haven’t. I’m going with “you haven’t read it.” So I’m going to leave this for you as your homework. The answers are there in plain print. Just read them.

    This study, which is based on self-selected self-reporting, does not give us reliable data in this regard.

    No. You haven’t read, or you haven’t comprehended. I even quoted for you earlier from where I addressed this directly. Let’s take your paradigm of monogamous committed relationships: People who were in these relationships AND religious experienced more guilt, and therefore, less satisfaction with what — according to you — is proper sex.

    Actually I didn’t say anything about what ‘proper sex’ is. Neither did you. Neither did this study. Which is part of the reason we have no basis by which to claim that certain groups are having ‘better’ sex.

    So… we’re right back to the problem in front of YOU. Across the board, people engaging in consensual sexual relationships of all kinds experienced less guilt and more pleasure as secularists than religionists. If you believe that some of these non-Christian relationships, like gay or non-monogamous, are inherently harmful regardless of the belief or intent of the participants, then prove it. You don’t just get to arbitrarily say that one kind of relationship is harmful and another is helpful.

    Well, again, no – in this study, secularists compared their current lives to their previous lives as believers of some religion. That isn’t a comparison between secularists and religionists. And as I point out in the comments section on my blog , academics familiar with this study agree:

    …Tara Collins, president of a multidisciplinary group of researchers at Kansas University’s psychology department, who gave Ray feedback after he presented his survey results.

    Collins and others were impressed, but they did express concern about his causal statements and urged him to make some modifications. Ray, she noted, had not looked at the satisfaction level of those who continued to practice their faith.

    In short, we have no idea how these people’s views would have changed had they continued to be religious, nor do we have a survey of a similar sort asking religious people how satisfied they are with their sexual lives. We do however have surveys of happiness and satisfaction in general though – randomly sampled, published studies that show a high degree of happiness and satisfaction amongst religious people. Hard to explain how they are guilt ridden and have terrible sex lives, and still manage to be happy over all, don’t you think?

    I just told you in as many words that it would not be breaking a promise to be faithful. Some people do not make that promise to each other. Or, having made it, some people decide to rescind the requirement of faithfulness in their partner. In which case, it is not breaking a promise. So… if you care to continue discussing this, try again. Why would it be cheating if it was not breaking an oath? (We can talk about this if you like since it isn’t pertinent to or dependent on the survey you haven’t bothered to read.)

    It depends on how one sees marriage – if it is a mere contractual relationship or a simple agreement to remain exclusive for awhile between two people, then for them they can simple choose to come in and out of such a relationship as they see fit – but my promise was not to my wife alone, so I would be cheating. Obviously the moment one agrees to stop being faithful, one has ended one’s marriage in practice, if not formally.

    Posted by jackhudson | May 25, 2011, 7:45 pm
  13. You know why… his promise isn’t to his wife…

    Posted by Alex Hardman | May 25, 2011, 8:01 pm
  14. You know why… his promise isn’t to his wife…

    Yeah… not gonna go there.

    I’m done talking with him until he demonstrates at least a cursory knowledge of the data, but since he brought up the comments from academics, I will say that it’s a valid point. THIS STUDY did not address people who stayed believers. But the ones I linked to (which he hasn’t read) did. And their data is consistent with Darrel’s.

    That’s how science works. No single study can address every question. That’s why we look for consistency between studies and do meta-studies. To get at the questions left un-answered.

    Posted by Living Life Without a Net | May 25, 2011, 8:04 pm
  15. We look for consistency between valid studies. This isn’t one of those.

    Posted by jackhudson | May 25, 2011, 11:05 pm
  16. my husband feels no guilt, for being sexless fo 45 years.
    He wants nothing to do with me, he works the midnight shift and lives in our basement.
    After we had sex once that was enough for him, he told me it wasn’t exciting, wasn’t worth the trouble and energy involved and it was digusting and messy. I now understand what the word hate means,

    Posted by Amy | March 4, 2012, 4:54 pm
  17. Why haven’t you divorced an obviously dysfunctional individual like that, Amy?

    Posted by Rebecca | March 31, 2012, 10:30 pm
  18. Guilt or worry free sex. Does not exist unless within the intimacy of a monogamous relationship.
    Problems associated with free sex.
    1)pregnancy
    2)STDs
    3)the boyfriend-husband-wife-girlfriend grief…most sex does not occur in a relationship vacuum….that means that someone is being lied to and getting hurt, and your free sex is causing that.
    4)Someone recording the sex and putting it on the internet…it happens. Do you trust your sex buddy not to do this?

    All of this has nothing to do with religious or moral beliefs,(however if you do have some morals and are not just an animal eating, pooping, sleeping and sexing, the list becomes much longer)

    Posted by Jon Jackson | December 25, 2012, 12:07 pm
  19. Jon, I’ve gotta call BS. I’ve had the good fortune to have great, passionate sex within a stable long-term relationship, with relative strangers, and with friendly and/or professional acquaintances. I have only felt guilty about one experience, which was neither good, nor passionate, but basically boring. The guilt came from having to, after the fact, find out that my partner and I did not share compatible views about our relationship status post-coitus. Had that conversation happened beforehand, no guilt or worry would have ensued.
    Problems with your problems with sex:
    1) There are a multitude of ways to avoid this. In fact, it’s a far greater worry in a LTR, as there is usually a lot more sex involved.
    2) Also not that hard to avoid. Also still a worry in LTR’s, unless you hook up with a virgin, and that’s a whole other can of worms.
    3) What does that even mean? Are you alleging that at least one party to nearly every casual encounter is there cheating on a significant other? You must have a really messed-up sex life, dude.
    4) It almost never happens non-consensually, and yes, I do trust my partner not to do this. If she does, well, then I have proof for those who doubt a big hairy fatass like me could get laid.
    As for morals, why would they get in the way of good sex? I’ve always been careful to obtain the full and enthusiastic consent of every partner I’ve ever had. Everything done afterwards was safe, sane and consensual. I have respected and appreciated every woman who ever chose to share her body with me, whether for a couple of hours, or going on a decade now with the mother of my child. By the way, we met the morning after anonymously hooking up.

    Posted by Nerdsamwich | September 20, 2013, 6:38 pm

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