Let's Talk About Sex

Let's Talk About Sex

Recently Darrel Ray, a psychologist and author of the book The God Virus, did a survey concerning sex after one left religion called Sex and Secularism.  Astoundingly, despite all the guilt religion imposes on people concerning sex, most people stated they had less guilt and more satisfaction concerning sex after they left.  This supposedly surprised and relieved Darrel Ray, according to Greta Christina in her “Atheists do it better: Why Leaving Religion Leads to Better Sex” article, even though this study was not the first with such results.

I must admit, even when I was married, I felt shame and guilt about sex and was married twice.  Often I would blame it on my experience growing up, but my religious upbringing did play a part with my feelings.  Marriage only made the feelings concerning sex, slightly better, but not by much.  After I divorced the second time, left religion, and was involved in my first relationship after leaving religion, I felt no guilt or even shame.  In fact, it was amazing lovemaking, of which I did not feel horrible mentally afterward and we were not even married.

He and I recently left religion for our own reasons.  He considered himself an agnostic-atheist and I considered myself a humanist, but despite our religious past, we both were fine concerning our moment of passion.  The rest of our relationship, even though it started out good, was not so good in the end though.  Even though we clashed greatly towards the end on a variety of things, our moment of passion was not one of them, and in that area, I have no regrets.

Ray’s survey results, concerning sex and Secularism, can be downloaded here for free, including the full report, which just take a few moments to register and is free also.  I was one of those participants, seven years free of religion at the time and despite struggling with some questions, who volunteered to take the survey.  My struggle with some questions was not with answering, but other issues of which I made note of within the survey and did my best to complete it anyway.  However, I was apparently not the only one who noticed some flaws in the survey:

There are no major flaws, but there were a number of things we would have adjusted or improved.  Our thanks to those who pointed out the flaws but completed the survey anyway.

Hemant Mehta, the Friendly Atheist, had this to say concerning the survey:

You have to take everything with a grain of salt. This was a voluntary survey (not unlike something you’d see in Cosmopolitan). It’s not a random sample. In fact, most of the people taking the survey came via a link at Pharyngula. So I wouldn’t cite this report in any paper… but the findings do give us things to think about. And I hope these questions are asked again in the future in a more controlled, randomized survey.

Regardless, these results were a wonderful surprise to even Darrel Ray, of which Greta Christina said concerning the survey,

Atheists and other non-believers, as a whole, experience a lot more satisfaction in their sex lives than they did when they were believers.  They feel much less guilt about their sex lives and their sexuality.  The sexual guilt instilled by so many religions tends to fade, and indeed disappear, when people leave religion — much more thoroughly than you might expect.

With that said…

Before discussing the guilt trip religion plays concerning sex, let us go over some of the demographics of the survey. After leaving religion, the vast majority called themselves atheist or agnostic (90.2%). The rest considered themselves humanists, spiritual, secularists, or other. The location of participants was not controlled so some of the respondents to the survey were outside the U.S. Approximately 22% were non-religious for less than five years and the majority of those were under 30 years of age. The majority was straight, but others were gay, lesbian, transgender, and other. The majority was also in a long-term relationship and has some form of college degree too.

The majority, who took the survey, was non-denominational or Catholic before leaving religion, but they were not the ones with the highest amount of guilt though. That prize goes to the Mormons. Jehovah Witnesses were second, followed by my sad neighbours, the Pentecostals. The prize for the least amount of guilt concerning sex, less than atheists and agnostics, goes to the Unitarians and Jews. Buddhist and Episcopalians fell just after atheists and agnostics.

One of the questions on the survey concerned guilt regarding a specific activity or desire and those from the least religious homes replied “no” far more often than those who were in an extremely religious home. However, there was no difference between the activities of either religious or non-religious. The same sexual acts, but the guilt for people in a highly religious home was higher before leaving.

The common view of religious sexual guilt is that it is designed to control,prevent or stop behaviors like masturbation or sex outside of marriage. Our hypothesis is that guilt serves an entirely different purpose unrelated to actual sexual behavior. If we are correct, we should see few if any differences between those who are most and least guilty in the age of onset of masturbation, oral sex or sexual intercourse. We would also see no difference in other behaviors like use of pornography or sexual experimentation. At the same time, since conservative religion uses guilt, shame and fear more than liberal religions, we would expect to see a measurable difference between groups in the attitude and behavior of parents around issues of sex.

To answer this question, the surveyors asked questions concerning masturbation, oral sex, and sexual intercourse before 18.  For those who read my book, you will understand why I struggled with these questions, because my experience was not a typical one and any answer I gave, could have caused problems with the results.  Thus, I made notes where necessary to let them decide whether or not to use my responses.  For this reason, I might have been one of the people who pointed out problems with their survey.  It is also, where I started to feel bad taking the survey because I felt like I was the wrong person for it, but it is not unusual to find abuse behind closed doors in highly religious homes.  Therefore, after such comments, they may have adjusted for this or tossed survey responses that included abuse, other than from clergy.  The report does not state, but because the survey is discussing consensual sexual behaviours, it would not surprise me if the surveys of those who admitted they did not have an average childhood in this respect, were thrown out of the results of this survey.

With that flaw in the survey aside, the majority of those surveyed, were masturbating by age 15 (86.7% of the more secular and 83% of the more religious) and up to 90-92.8% by age 18.  Thus, there was little difference in that one behaviour.  Questions concerning the other sexual behaviours also had similar outcomes and there appeared to be a slight delay concerning sexual development between the two groups, but not by much. Surprisingly, when it comes to fantasizing, the more religious one was, the more they fantasized, and the more they felt it was wrong.

The least religious said they had fantasized about others 13.4% of the time whilethe religious said 35.8% of the time. Of those who fantasized, the less religious felt it was wrong 6.2% of the time but the religious said it was wrong 46.1% of the time, a 43.7% difference. The less religious fantasized less but believed it was perfectly ok. The more religious fantasized more and felt it was wrong. Religious proscriptions do not seem to be working. It may be a case of guilt driving rather than stopping behavior.

After they left religion, their attitudes and feelings changed about sex.

We asked “After leaving religion do you still harbor any fear or guilt when or if thinking about someone else while having sex?” the most religious said “Yes” 16.6% of the time, “No” 64.5%. of the time The least religious said “No” 59.4% of the time with 8.2% saying “Yes”. This shows a decline in guilty feelings after leaving religion, especially among those who were most religious. Before leaving religion, the most religious felt guilty 46.1% of the time, and after, 16.6% of the time, a 29.5% decrease in guilt.

Greta Christina pointed out in her blog concerning this survey, the Christians would say people should feel guilty about sex, but this survey is about normal sexual behaviours, not those that are out of the norm.  She continues:

And maybe more to the point: 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." So the argument that religious sexual guilt is good because it polices immoral sexual behavior falls down on two fronts. The sexual behavior it's policing isn't actually immoral… and the policing is almost entirely ineffective.

After leaving religion, many of the people surveyed stated that their sex life improved somewhat if they were least religious and greatly if they were very religious.

The least religious report a 5.57 or “about the same” or slightly improved, whereas people from the most religious homes report a 7.81 or much improved. 61.6% gave an 8, 9 or 10 – greatly improved. For the most religious, getting religion out of their lives seemed to make a huge difference in their sex life.

Those who changed their sexual behaviour most were the individuals who were most religious and more often came out as gay, or bisexual, polyamorous after leaving religion.  They were also more likely to experiment more then those who were least religious.  For those who were least religious, there was very little change in their sexual behaviours, probably because most liberal churches accept gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders. Women adjusted their sexuality more than men did.  Once the restrictions were removed from the genders, women appeared to feel freer in expressing their sexuality.

Most religions put more restrictions on women than on men. Contrasting the sexes and using the entire sample, men reported that they had changed or adjusted their sexuality 26.9% since leaving religion, while women said 38.6%. Perhaps women are feeling less restriction once leaving religion. They are making adjustments 11.7% more than men.

After leaving religion, most people in the most religious group, reported an increase in sexual satisfaction.  There was little change, concerning sexual satisfaction with the least religious group and no change at all among Unitarians.

Examination of the data showed that sexual satisfaction was hardly impacted regardless of previous religious upbringing. In other words, those raised in the most restricted religious environments caught up with everyone else very rapidly after leaving religion. It seems the guilt messages don’t stick around very long. That is not to say that some are not still bothered by thoughts and feelings of guilt, but they were a small minority.

In terms of anger, after leaving religion, there was a vast difference in the amount both groups felt.  The group, who grew up least religious, was the group with the least amount of anger towards their religious training.  The most religious group had more anger, but on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the most, the average was 4.20 and only 23% of that group choose number 7 or higher.  However, this did not affect their current level of sexual satisfaction.

While the score indicates that there is little current anger, the comments show that a large number of people experienced huge problems before they lost their religion. Some even life-threatening:  (personal comments follow in report)

Many of the comments are heart breaking and show the deep hurt and harm that comes from religious training. These are the people who escaped – many while still young. We can’t help but wonder how many more are actively being harmed with no hope of escape.

Concerning porn, most women prefer erotic novels.  I write some of the erotic stories some women, both religious and non-religious, read, especially if they are Star Trek fans, so this did not surprise me in the least.  I was writing Star Trek smut stories within the last five years before I left the Church and I have been out for the last eight.  However, men prefer internet shorts, as opposed to reading their sex.  As the survey mentioned, most were using some sort porn by ages 13-15 and I was reading Jackie Collins by this age.

One of the criticisms of our research will undoubtedly be that the people in oursample “were never really religious or truly Christian” so that is why porn use us so high among the religious.  While we think there is ample evidence within our data to refute that, other research by Ogas and Gaddam further supports our claim. They found that one-third of the subscribers to Today’s Christian Women website seek out erotica online. That is just one religious website among many.

I could have told them that, because some of my readers, including of my erotic Star Trek writings, are Christians, and because I realize this, I put a warning on my recent sacrilegious Janeway and Chakotay story.  You cannot have an extremely sacrilegious story, knowing that some of your readers are Catholic, Episcopalians, Evangelicals, or alike without a warning.  Strangely enough, it is Catholics and Episcopalians, as well as former ones, who appreciate the story.

As far as fantasy goes, many stated they have a rich fantasy life.

Our sample has a rich fantasy life, 85.9% said they fantasize weekly or more often. Almost half said they fantasize daily (45.2%). About 5% said they never if ever fantasize. It seems fantasy is an important part for the vast majority.

I wonder how many write their fantasies.  The report did not say, but it did say some act out their fantasies (70.7%). The next question in relationship to fantasies was a question concerning acting out fantasies related to their religious training.

Last, we were interested in the effect of previous religious training on fantasy life. We asked, “Do you have any sexual fantasies or fetishes that seem related to your early religious sexual training?” Of 9,518 who answered this question, 94.3% said “No.” Religious training does not seem to affect fantasy life in this group.

As a former lay minister in the Episcopal Church, as well as a granddaughter and a niece to Evangelical Fundamentalist ministers, I wrote my fantasy.  Chakotay and Janeway are adults, so it is permissible, but unfortunately, I cannot act it out in reality.  No holodeck for starters, but I will be good and stop pimping my Star Trek: Voyager smut story.

As far as relationships go with one’s partners who are still religious, the response varied depending on how religious their partner was.  Some said it was good and others not so good.

As for clergy and sex, this was a big one, in which 317 out of 337 people, who said clergy had approached them, left written comments.

More than three out of every one hundred people have had an encounter with clergy that is in direct opposition to their training and values. It is difficult to know if this number is high or low since there is no way to know what the incidence of inappropriate clergy behavior is in the general population.

However, in the survey, they left out other forms of sexual abuse, such as in the home setting, which I hinted at earlier in this posting.

In conclusion, the report suggested that leaving religion, leads to a more satisfactory sex life.  Religion has made many things, including life itself, miserable for people and this study is one of many that show that conclusion.  Greta Christina stated:

Religion doesn't make people happier. Not in the sack, anyway. Religion makes people less happy. Leaving religion makes people happier. There's no reason to hang on to beliefs you don't actually believe in and that don't actually make sense to you, just because you can't imagine a happy and fulfilling life without them. We know that leaving religion can be a scary and painful process… but once it's behind you, life is good.  And the sex is great.

I have to agree with her 100%, which is funny, because we are not the same sexual orientation.  Just goes to show that people do not have to be of the same orientation to agree about sex and/or religion.  People seem to become happier after leaving religion, when they think for themselves and make their own decisions on what makes their life happier, purposeful, and fulfilling.

Darrel Ray had more to say about this survey on his blog.

About Mriana

Mriana is a humanist and the author of "A Source of Misery", who grew up in the Church of God, Anderson Indiana. After she became an adult, she joined the Episcopal Church, but later left the Church and became a humanist. She has two grown sons and raises cats. Mriana raised her sons in the Episcopal Church, but in their teen years, they left the Church and she soon followed. One of her sons became a "Tao Buddhist" and the other a None, creating his own world view. She enjoys writing, reading, science, philosophy, psychology, and other subjects. Mriana is also an animal lover, who cares for their welfare as living beings, who are part of the earth. She is a huge Star Trek fan in a little body.
  • Aquitaine

    I've got to be honest here and say; as a Christian and a newly converted one at that, I still find it hard to fathom what is actually wrong with sex. This seems to differ from what a lot of other Christian think and feel. I enjoy sex and I have it regularly with my girlfriend. I don't feel bad guilty or ashamed of that fact. I don't really consider sex to be so bad, as long it's kept within a loving relationship. Doesn't matter to me about the whole marriage thing at this point. I think a lot of people (because of indoctrination) are led to believe that sex is wrong, and that can sometimes make them afraid of it when they do eventually get married. It's the same situation for living together as well, some people I know (and this is true) who have gotten married and moved in together, hate each other now, and wish they'd have tried to move in together before marriage. They didn't of course, because of the stringent rules of their church and their branch of Christianity. I'm not saying that the bible is wrong, I'm just saying that I don't believe God would want people to be afraid of something such as sex, when it's a fundamental piece of our biological programming. Surely it should be enjoyed, but sensibly? In a strong and loving relationship, or in marriage. As for moving in together – I don't understand why this is such a bad thing before marriage either. I think this has probably got something to do with the fact that I was brought up in a very liberal, agnostic household. A lot of Christian wont agree with me, but thats for them to decide. I want to be a different sort of Christian, and I'm not afraid to break the mould. I'm sure God wouldn't want us to be afraid of sex, in fact I am almost sure that certain parts of the bible have been re-written for an agenda, or the message from god has been mis-interpreted, or interpreted wrongly, for the moddern age. I have hidden my normal name for security.

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