Darrel Ray, who recently published the results of his Sex and Secularism survey, sent me a detailed email responding to various criticisms, and invited me to publish it in whole, part, or as a collaborative effort. I’ve decided to do something in between. I’ll be posting his comments (in regular type) and my additional comments (in italics).
Ray: Dear Religious Reader
We have received a good deal of criticism from religious people about our Sex and Secularism research. In any study there are methodological problems that need to be scrutinized and examined. No single study is the final word on anything. That is as it should be. That is the way science works. The scrutiny of our Sex and Secularism research is welcome. It only improves future research. However, we would appreciate criticism from people who have actually read the report and not just the news media articles. The news media have been hilariously wrong. Reporters often only read other reporters then repeat their errors. It makes for entertaining reading, but not necessarily based on anything we said.
There is another type of scrutiny I want to discuss – that of religionists criticizing our lustful godlessness. Yes, we are lustful and godless. That is not a newsflash. Yet religious people have criticized us for claiming that our sexual satisfaction is higher than theirs. That surprised us because our conclusions are pretty much in line with what religionists say about atheists and secularists. After all, you accuse us of being lustful and enjoying sexual sin. I should think you would be happy your hypothesis has been confirmed – we are lustful and sinful people. If I were a religionist, I would be saying, “Yes, I told you so. They just proved our point! Atheists just want to have sex and don’t care that it goes against our God’s law.” To this we say, “Our research completely verifies your claims – YOU WIN!” It is a great example of science validating religion. It seems like something to be celebrated by religious people.
Hamby: Darrel brings up an interesting point I hadn’t thought of. This survey does indeed verify what religionists have been saying about us heathens. We ARE into sex, and we do practice pre-marital sex without regret, and we do masturbate, and we do indulge in porn and fantasy and open discussions of sex.
The sticking point, it seems to me, is not on the behaviors but what they represent. To us secularists, enjoying many varieties of sexual pleasure seems perfectly normal and healthy, and we don’t notice any horrible consequences of our actions. To religionists observing us, there is a strong conviction that we are in fact desperately unhappy because our sin is corrupting our soul.
This is why Darrel’s research is so important. He has tapped into one of only two groups that can give us reliable information about the differences between secularists and religionists — People who have been both religionists and secularists as mature sexual beings. (The choices are current religionists who converted after sexual maturity and current secularists who de-converted after sexual maturity.)
Quantifying the sex lives of people who used to be religious has built a very strong case for the claim that secular sex is better sex. There are two reasonable options:
- Only people whose sex lives will improve with secularization leave religion.
- The people whose sex lives improved with secularization are representative of wide swaths of adults, and therefore consistent with the hypothesis that secularization is the independent variable.
While there are demographic limitations in Darrel’s survey, they do not lend themselves to any sort of gross selection bias that would justify option 1. That is, the sample is diverse in terms of age, location, sexual orientation, gender identification, education, etc. While there are certain groups which are over-represented (young women, tech savvy individuals, well educated individuals, e.g.) there are enough participants from other groups that IF there were a unique pattern to one demographic, it should be evident. There is no such pattern. Sex lives improved across age, race, religious background, income, and education.
Ray: On the other hand, we found it most interesting that some of you claim Christian sex is more fun and satisfying. Somehow you are happier because you DON’T do all the fun things that secularists are doing. You don’t masturbate or have oral sex. You don’t enjoy gay sex or pornography. You don’t explore and share fantasies with your partner and certainly never enjoy sex before or outside of marriage or the occasional fetish party. The joys that you receive are of a spiritual nature. You pray and commune with your god. You don’t need mind blowing orgasms from your husband while watching a little porn. The love of Jesus or Allah is far better.
These claims may be true (or false), we would not know because that is not what we were studying. For this reason your criticism is off the mark. Our research did not ask if married people who pray everyday have better orgasms than atheists. We were not studying how much happier single people are when they pray and praise their god instead of masturbating and having premarital sex. A religious organization might want to research those ideas. It might be a good Ph.D. topic for a Liberty University grad student. Alternatively, if a religious university wants to give us a grant, we would be happy to study it and send them the results.
Hamby: I suspect there’s a little snark in Ray’s suggestion that a Liberty U grad do this research. Even so, his point is a very good one. There is plenty of room for additional research into different levels of sexual satisfaction between religionists and secularists. Studying the sex lives of religionists is a very important piece of the puzzle, and Darrel and I both support the endeavor.
Having said that, there is a considerable task in front of religionists. In fact, it’s almost a paradox. Religionists must somehow demonstrate that not participating in enjoyable sexual practices is more enjoyable than participating.
To be fair, religionists will probably counter with something like this: The sexual enjoyment obtained from the limited sexual behaviors permitted in a straight, monogamous, lifelong marriage are so much better than “secular” practices that religionists still gain more. Would you rather eat Ryan’s Steakhouse five days a week or go to Ruth’s Chris once a week?
This is a testable hypothesis, and it should be tested. However, there is another religionist response that is a red herring: The spiritual rewards of not having sex are better than the physical rewards of having sex. That is, it’s better — and more fulfilling — to have a less rewarding sex life in favor of a “proper” sex life that will lead to a much happier soul. This is not a testable hypothesis. It’s a deflection from the issue. The question Darrel asked was this: Do secularists have better sex lives than religionists? The answer seems to be Yes. If religionists do have a better “soul life” than secularists, then that is something to be addressed by other research. But it is NOT a counter to the claim that secularists do indeed have better sex.
Darrel: Here is a challenge for you. Religionists make all sorts of claims about how wonderful it is to be Mormon, Christian, Muslim, Scientologist, etc. They tell us how happy they are in their marriage because Allah or Jesus blesses them. Some even say their sex lives are better with Jesus in their bedroom. We simply ask that you put your claims to the test. Here is one question that might be researched: “Who feels better about sex, those who think Jesus is watching them, or those who don’t?” or “What is the frequency and intensity of orgasms between those who think they are being watched by Jesus and those who are not?”
You do not have to be an academic researcher to test hypotheses about religion and sex. You don’t need any training, just an audience in the proper venue. First, let me explain my own approach to informal testing. When I travel around the country speaking on sex and religion, I ask one question at the beginning of my talk – “How many of you masturbate?” I generally get about 90% who raise their hand. Some even raise both their hands and wave them around vigorously. Then I ask, “How many of you are religious or believe in Jesus, Allah or some other god?” the other 10% raise their hands. Now masturbation is among the easiest and simplest ways to enjoy sex. So this could be a good indicator of how comfortable people are about their sexuality, especially with their own body. From this it seems that the religious are not enjoying their body, or they are afraid to admit it in public. Alternatively, they may be experiencing greater joy and satisfaction through prayer and religious activities.
Next I ask, “How many of you use Pornography?” About 80% raise their hands. The religious 10% don’t raise their hands here either. Our research, and other national surveys, show that about 75% of women and 90% of men use porn to some degree. We even know that religious people use a lot of porn because the highest porn use is in cities and states with the highest religiosity – like Utah and Mississippi. Our research indicates that religious people use more porn than secular people but it seems only the secular people raise their hands in my talks. A recent internet study found that 40% of women who visit a major Christian Women’s website also visit porn sites. From these studies, you can be pretty sure the people in your church are using porn, they just can’t raise their hands if asked.
We know that religious people engage in all of these things. It would be interesting to know why they don’t publically admit their sexual behavior. Secularists seem to have little problem admitting them. What prevents religionists from being honest? Could it be shame and guilt or admitting in public that they behave just like secularists? That was what we found in our study.
Hamby: Again, we have an important finding — with limitations. Among what appears to be a reasonably representative sample of people who left religion, guilt was the major factor in reducing sexual satisfaction — even in church approved sexual practices. This finding has been borne out by previous research into the sex lives of current religionists. People who are still in religion experience varying levels of guilt, and guilt is causally linked to decreased enjoyment of sex.
The reluctance of religionists to admit their practices is cognitive dissonance. They do one thing and say another. In essence, they live a double life. Research into the cognitive dissonance of leading a double life is also clear: It’s stressful and decreases the enjoyment of both lives.
Ray: So here is a test that will only take a few minutes at your next church, mosque or synagogue service. Ask the congregation (or have the minister ask), “How many of you masturbate?” and “How many use porn?” and “In the last week, how many of you have prayed for forgiveness because you had a lustful thought?” Count the responses and figure the ratio. Send me the numbers so we can compare statistics. Taking the figures I have quoted, calculate the number of people who are sinning but not admitting it. Here is the way to calculate it.
Question: How many masturbated in the last month?
Zero (0) hands raised in First Evangelical Baptist Church
100% church attendees minus 30% who really don’t masturbate minus 0 who admitted to masturbating = 70% who probably do but are not admitting it. This would tell you that approximately 70% of those in attendance are not telling the truth about their sinful behavior. This is a serious concern, since those committing such sins are in danger of hellfire.
From this simple research you can now design more effective prayer meetings, bible studies or abstinence only classes to help people recognize the importance of getting right with God and eliminating self abuse and lustful behavior.
Now you may be thinking, “This is a ridiculous idea. My minister would never allow me to ask those questions.” You are probably right. Unless you are a Unitarian, such questions are just not proper. People are supposed to be asexual while in church. Religionists aren’t used to being open about these things so you may want to conduct an anonymous survey instead of a public vote. This approach will help you get a more detailed picture of the type and frequency of sexual sin. After all, our Sex and Secularism survey was anonymous, it is only fair for you to use a similar methodology to help those reluctant to open up and confess their sin. So go ahead and use an anonymous survey.
I will caution you however, your minister might object to an anonymous sex survey as well. Nevertheless, if you really want to curb sexual sin and help people grow in Christ, you need to measure the effect Jesus and prayer have on sinful behavior. By surveying your congregation, you will know what sins are causing the most problems.
Here is another question I ask in my talks, “How many of you have had premarital sex?” Most audiences readily raise their hands – except for any religious people who slipped in. Surveys going back to the 1950’s show that 95% of all Americans have premarital sex so we can be pretty sure those in your church did as well. If few hands go up, we might conclude that they are among the most unusual group in the nation or they are withholding the truth (a sin of omission about a sin of commission). With only five percent of the population NOT having premarital sex, the abstaining group must be comprised of all the Baptist ministers, all evangelical clergy, Catholic Priests and all Sunday School teachers – that’s about 5% of the US population. The rest are taking St. Paul’s advice to “sin boldly.” Now what would cause a group of religionists to hide or deny sexual behavior that we know they are doing? Probably shame or guilt about publically admitting they have sinned. Another reason to use an anonymous survey.
Your research can go a long way toward helping pinpoint the sinful concerns of your congregation. The results could lead to more effective prayer meetings, bible studies or questioning during confession, and more people learning how to resist temptation. It will also lead to more timely forgiveness with less likelihood of punishment and hell, since they will improve in the sight of Jesus, Allah or Joseph Smith.
What responsible, caring minister, Imam or priest doesn’t want to help the souls in his care? How many souls could be saved? Imagine, becoming more powerful in prayer, gaining the strength to eliminate sexual urges, throwing away pornography, and learning to pray with girlfriend or boyfriend, rather than having sex.
Hamby: This is an interesting thought experiment, and illustrates an important finding in the Sex and Secularism survey: There really isn’t much difference at all between secularists and religionists behaviorally. We all masturbate, and we all have sex with multiple partners, and we all fantasize and most of us watch porn.
The thing is, religionists pretend like their religion keeps them from doing these things. In reality, it just creates a culture of denial. Everybody thinks they’re the only ones acting like the heathens, so nobody has the guts to tell the truth. It’s guilt-induced denialism. And that sense of being a uniquely sinful person creates more guilt, so that when the religionist does engage in the same behaviors as secularists, they feel even more guilty. It’s a downward spiral that often has no bottom point. It’s just guilt upon guilt upon guilt.
And as the survey pointed out, it doesn’t change behaviors. It’s just guilt. And that brings us back to the original point — Secularists and religionists do the same things. Secularists just enjoy themselves more.
Why would a loving god create a race who enjoyed and desired such a rich diversity of sexual experience and then demand abstinence from all but the most boring and vanilla of them? Why would he promise relief from desire if only we conform to his standards, and then renege on that promise, allowing the secularists to enjoy themselves without regret and condemning his chosen followers to a life of guilt, fewer orgasms, less variety, and less sexual satisfaction in general?
Ray: To Conclude
Since the religionists have been quick to criticize our research, we encourage them to do their own research. Then design a plan to address the needs of those whose lustful thoughts and behavior inevitably lead to damnation.
When you are finished, please compare your results with ours to see if there are any important differences. Let us know if you find convincing evidence that your congregation has dramatically lower levels of premarital sex. We would be most interested if you found clear and convincing evidence that your prayer program eliminated lustful thinking and/or allowed people to go for years resisting the urge to use pornography or masturbate.
Come to your own conclusions — but according to our research, we can be pretty certain your church members are doing the same sexual activities as secularists. You watch porn while masturbating. You think about that hot boy in your Sunday school class while using your vibrator. You think about the cute youth minister or his wife while having sex with your spouse. All of these are sins you commit frequently. The only difference between you and secularists is that Jesus is watching you. When you get finished, you need to pray for his forgiveness or you may regret it forever! We just cuddle up and enjoy the moment.
Have fun with your research and please share you results with us.