Sex and SecularismShayne2

Comments

Transcription

Sex and SecularismShayne2
Sex and Secularism
Sex and Secularism
By Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown1
IPCpress.com
Abstract:
Purpose of the Study: For thousands of years, religion has involved itself in sex
and sexuality. Guilt plays a major role in religion and sex. This paper tests hypotheses
related to the impact of religion and religious guilt on sexual behavior. Over 14,500
people participated in an internet-based survey with over 9500 finishing the survey
during two weeks in January 2011. Six hypotheses are considered: 1. Religions’ use of
sexual guilt is measurably greater in conservative religions and less in liberal ones. 2.
People feel the sexual guilt taught by their religion but sexual behavior shows no
difference from those with less guilt. 3. Religiously conservative parents will be less
effective at teaching their children about sex than more secular parents. 4. Children raised
in highly religious homes will receive poorer sexual education. 5. Leaving religion has a
positive impact on sexual satisfaction. 6. Religion has continuing negative consequences
on individuals after they leave.
Results: Strong evidence for five of the six hypotheses were found. Respondents
reported higher levels of sexual satisfaction after leaving religion, depending on how
conservative their religious upbringing. There was little if any reported difference in the
onset of a variety of sexual behaviors between religious and non-religiously raised
children. Religiously conservative parents were perceived to be less effective at teaching
sex education to the respondents. The children of religious homes perceived their sexual
education to be inferior. Once people left religion, over 50% saw an improvement in their
sex life, 29.6% saw no change, and 2.2% thought it was worse. Finally, few people
reported continuing problems after leaving religion. It appears that the effects of religion
are more easily eliminated than predicted.
Overview
The Sex and Secularism survey was conceived as a means of taking a look at both
secular sexual behavior as well as understanding the differences between those who have
been secular all their lives and those who have more recently left religion. In addition,
the survey collected other information on secularists. In this paper we will look at some
key aspects of the research.
Our apologies
There were errors in the survey. The version we put up was our second test
version. We intended to collect 300-400 responses, make corrections, then put out a final
version. We anticipated that it would take us a week or more to get responses,
1
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. is author of The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture. Founder of
Recovering from Religion he is also an organizational psychologist and author of many articles and two
other books. His fourth book, Sex and God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality will be published in late 2011.
Visit IPCpress.com for more information. Amanda Brown is an undergraduate at Kansas University and is
interested in sexuality and sex therapy.
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
1
Sex and Secularism
unfortunately, when we checked the next morning there were 2,500 responses and more
coming in by the hour. As a result we made the decision to go with the less than perfect
version so as not to lose 2,500 responses and others who were actively filling it out.
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.
Thanks
Our thanks to many people who helped get the word out and make this a
successful survey: PZ Myers, who was single handedly responsible for over half of our
respondents; Adam Brown and atheismresource.com who was the first to help us get the
word out; American Atheists and Blair Scott who were on board very early helping us get
off to a good start; Matt Dillahunty and The Atheist Experience; Chariots of Iron with Eli
and Lamar, and Living After Faith Podcast with Rich and Deanna Joy. A special thanks
to Richard Haynes and Atheist Nexus for sharing their population statistics as well as
publicizing our efforts.
Basic Demographics
All of the people in our survey were 18 years or older. The participant pool was
69.4% male and 29.7% female with .2% intersexed and .7% answering “other.” Extra
effort was made to contact more females and people in the LGBT community, as they are
typically underrepresented in the secular population. Sexuality and religious upbringing
were also areas we were interested in examining.
The 2008 ARIS survey reported that those reporting “no religion” had a gender
gap of 60% men and 40% women.2 Of course, many of these may not classify
themselves as atheist, agnostic or even secular. Data from other sources shows that the
sex ratio of the general secular community is about 21-25% female.3 The gender gap we
see is similar to those found in national research and from other sources. For further
comparison, we acquired gender distribution statistics from the social website for atheists
and other secularists, Atheist Nexus. A/N has 32% female and 68% male. Statistics on
our YouTube site with almost 70,000 views, shows a distribution of 20% female, 80%
male. At 29.7%, it appears that the gender distribution in this study is similar to other
sources.
We do not claim that this is a representative sample of the secular community.
The sample was obtained by publicizing the survey through a wide range of websites
including scientific sites. It is entirely possible that our sample is more scientifically and
2
See: Americans Who Don't Identify with a Religion No Longer a Fringe Group, "Nones" now largely
mirror Mainstream America, http://www.americanreligionsurveyaris.org/2009/09/american_nones_the_profile_of_the_no_religion_population.html
3
Membership of Atheist Nexus www.atheistnexus.org, Our own YouTube Channel focused mainly on
atheist topics and with over 61,000 views since March 2009 shows 20% females. A study of sex ratio
among different nations found that 6% of US males were declared Atheist while only 1.2% of females or
16.7% of the total atheists.
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
2
Sex and Secularism
technically savvy than the average secularist. They are also probably younger since
many college students participated.
Age Distribution
The overall sample in our survey is 47%, 30 or younger and 61.1%, 35 or
younger. The Pew US Religious Landscape Survey (2007) found 34-37% of atheists and
agnostics were under 30.4 The 2008 ARIS survey found 22% of respondents who said,
”no religion” were under 30 years old. This indicates that our sample is significantly
younger than other surveys. At the same time, these surveys are 3-5 years old and we
have no way to know if the trend has continued, accelerated or decelerated. The growth
in secular group membership in the last few years hints that it may be accelerating.5 Our
data could well be within the current distribution of the secular population considering
growth rates in the last few years. The significantly younger sample could also be
because younger people are more tech savvy and may be more interested in the topic (see
Fig. 1 in Appendix).
Our sample had a higher number, proportionally, of younger females than males.
Females under 30 accounted for 52.2% of all females, while males under 30 only 44.3%
of all males (see Fig 2 and 3 in Appendix).
Sexual Identity
There were differences male to female in sexual identity. Males reported 86%
straight, 5.7% bisexual, 6.2% Gay, 2.1% pansexual, transsexual or “other.” Females
reported 71% straight, 18.7% bisexual and 3.4% Lesbian and 3.9% pansexual or
transsexual with 3.1% “other.” The largest difference was in bisexuality, where women
were more than three times that of men leading to a 15% difference between women and
men reporting “straight.” This is in line with other gender identity research that show a
much higher percentage of female bisexuals than male.6 At the same time, our sample
has a much higher proportion of non-straights than in the most recent National center for
Health Statistics which reported 1.8% of men consider themselves bisexual and 2.8% of
women. It is not possible to know what selection variables might be influencing our
sample, but it may be as simple as leaving religion may allow more freedom to establish
a sexual identity that was not possible while under the influence of religion. Another
explanation may be that tension between biological tendencies and religious restrictions
lead people to leave religion in higher numbers than straight people.
The differences in sexual identity between men and women was large. Among
women, 29.1% identify as non-straight e.g. Lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, transsexual.
Thirteen percent of men identify as Gay, bisexual, etc. It is a confirmation of other
4
See: http://religions.pewforum.org/reports
Secular Student Alliance affiliate groups have increased from 179 to 239 in only one year. Membership
on AtheistNexus.org has increased over 100% in the last two years. ARIS 2009, American “Nones” are the
fastest growing group in all 50 states.
6
Lippa, R. A. (2007). The relation between sex drive and sexual attraction to men and women: A
cross-national study of heterosexual, bisexual, and homosexual men and women, Archives of
Sexual Behavior, 36, 209-222. Available on line at:
http://psych.fullerton.edu/rlippa/bbc_sexdrive.htm
5
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
3
Sex and Secularism
research that indicates women’s sexual orientation is much more fluid and contextual
than men’s.7
Slightly more men were married than women (males 36%, females 33.8%).
Combining all long-term relationship conditions; married, civil union, cohabiting or in a
significant long term relationship, etc. 60.9% of men and 64.5% of women are currently
in a long term relationship. Cohabiting is a significant relationship status among these
secularists,10.9% for men and 14.7% for women (see Fig. 4 in Appendix).
Education
Respondents were highly educated with 72.6% of those over 25 years old holding
an associates degree or higher, far exceeding the US national average of 49.1% with an
Associates or higher, age 25 or more (see Fig. 5 in Appendix).8
Both sexes were comparable in education with women holding slight leads at the
Bachelor and Master’s level. Eight percent of men hold doctorates and 5.7% of women.
Income
As one might expect from the education level statistics, this was an affluent
group. Of those over 25 yrs., 60.4% earn over $50,000 with the median income range for
the group is $76-100,000 (15.8%) and 24.1% earned $100,000 or more (see Fig. 6 in
Appendix).
Comparing income data to that of other studies, it appears that we have a fairly
representative sample of the secular community. The Pew Religious Landscape Survey
(2007) found 25-28% of atheists and agnostics in the $100,000 plus range. Almost
exactly the same as this survey. In the 50-75K range, our survey shows 20.5 while the
Pew found 16-19%. Also, 14.9% of respondents in this survey were in the $75-100K
bracket as compared to 15% in the Pew.
Religious Affiliation and Experience
By far the largest reported previous affiliations were Catholic at 19.7 and
Christian Non-denominational at 14.4%. Behind these were all flavors of Baptists at
7.1%, Lutheran at 4.8%, and Methodist at 4.8%. In our sample, 21.6% said they had
been non-theist since at least adolescence. The 2008 ARIS survey found 24% of those
reporting no religion were former Catholics and 7% were former Baptists. It also found
that 32% of “nones” had been non-religious since age 12. The ARIS survey did not break
down former religions into the detail this survey does, so comparisons are not very
precise beyond these two former religions. Nevertheless, it appears that our sample is
roughly comparable with the ARIS survey.
7
Saron, A., Barch, B., Bailey, J. M., Gitelman, Dr. R., Parrish, T. B., and Reber, P.J. (2007). Neural
correlates of sexual arousal in homosexual and heterosexual men. Behavioral Neurosciences, 121 (2): 237248.
8
US Census Bureau for 2010
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
4
Sex and Secularism
!"#$%$&'()"*&+"()",&-$'%(.&'/!"#$%$&01(
U/0;5&>I2;.6;&6I;43XMA&
'#!%&
J;Q;8/0&W.M&=:Q;8C6/&
+#'%&
KE::036/&
+#'%&
U5/01:1V&-0536C.8&
+#'%&
S344.GL.B.8&
+#'%&
T38:E&
+#,%&
N;01Q.0R6&S3/8;66&
+#,%&
P62.<&
+#$%&
O83/.53.8&
+#)%&
L;8/;416/.2&
!#"%&
F15<18&
!#"%&
NE:.36<&
*#*%&
L5;6?M/;53.8&
K.IC6/&>1/0;5A&
J1E/0;58&K.IC6/&
=8B234.8GHI3641I.23.8&
*#)%&
(#!%&
(#,%&
'#+%&
F;/01:36/&
'#'%&
DE/0;5.8&
'#,%&
$#+%&
=B816C4&
)#*%&
>[email protected]&
=/0;36/&
!'#(%&
-0536/#&7189:;81<38&
!'#'%&
!"#$%&
-./01234&
+#+%&
,#+%&
!+#+%&
!,#+%&
*+#+%&
*,#+%&
Figure 7
Current Affiliation
The large majority or participants reported their current affiliation as Atheist or
Agnostic (90.2%). The rest described themselves as humanist, spiritual, secularist or
“other.”
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
5
Sex and Secularism
Current Description
Atheist
11217
(blank)
1210
Agnostic
820
Humanist
535
Other (please
specify)
516
Spiritual
153
Secularist
108
0
2000
4000
6000
8000
10000 12000
Figure 8
International Respondents
Respondents were also from throughout the world. In all, 94 countries were
represented with Canada accounting for 5.1% of the total and the UK just behind at 4.7%
and Australia with 2.7%. No other country accounted for more than .75% and almost all
were far less (see Fig. 9 in Appendix).
While this study was not designed to look at secularism outside the US, the
location of respondents was not controlled. We also found that many of the participants
from other countries were either former residents or students in the US or were connected
to the US Military. The international data shows the group was not as religious to begin
with so it is unlikely to skew the data toward more religiosity. Later we will discuss
issues like guilt in religious upbringing. All these issues score lower in the international
than in the US group. The effects of religion on sexual behavior may actually be muted
by the international data. As can be seen in Fig. 10 (Appendix), 52% of international
respondents rated their childhood home religiosity 1, 2 or 3, very low. While only 31.2%
of US respondents rated their home religiosity as low.
How Long Non-Religious
We were particularly interested in how long people have been non-religious.
Atheism has been cited as one of the fastest growing “religious affiliations” in the US.
Twenty-two percent said they have been non-religious less than 5 years. This is one in
five joining the ranks of the non-religious in the last five years. Within those who have
been non-religious five years or less, 72.3% were 30 or younger (see Fig. 11). This
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
6
Sex and Secularism
parallels other national data showing younger people are more non-religious than the
general population. The decline after 30 is dramatic. Some have suggested that this is
indicative of a generation that grew up with irreligious TV shows like Family Guy, The
Simpsons, and South Park, with the New Atheist books on library shelves and bookstores
as well as vast amounts of new information and videos on YouTube and other internet
sources. These cultural influences came along at the same time as the 20-30 cohort was in
a critical age of intellectual developmental.
Figure 11
Former Religious Affiliation
Where are these new people coming from? We looked at the new secularists
former religious affiliation to get an idea of what religious groups may be feeding into the
movement today.
This might speak to possible target audiences for the secular movement. Two
religious groups are responsible for 46.7% of all new secularists. Of these new
secularists, 43.4 answered 7, 8, 9 or10 (very religious) on the question: “How religious
was your childhood?: The two include Christian Non-Denominational and Catholic. If
both kinds of Baptists are included, it adds another 11.1%, for a total of 57.8% from just
three religions.
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
7
Sex and Secularism
Secular 5 yrs. or Less, Former Relgion
Congregational
Quaker
0.03%
0.1%
Mennonite
0.4%
Church of Christ
0.6%
Unitarian
0.6%
Buddhist
0.7%
Orthodox Christian
0.7%
Seventh Day Adventist
0.8%
Jehovah's Witness
0.8%
Hindu
1.0%
Atheist
2.0%
Islam
2.1%
Judaism
2.3%
Presbyterian
3.1%
Agnostic
3.1%
Mormon
3.2%
Anglican/Episcopalian
3.3%
Pentecostal
3.6%
Other (please specify)
3.9%
Baptist (other)
4.9%
Lutheran
5.0%
5.4%
Methodist
Southern Baptist
5.7%
22.6%
Catholic
24.1%
Christian Non-denominational
0.0%
5.0%
10.0%
15.0%
20.0%
25.0%
30.0%
Figure 12
Of these new secularists, 65.2% were attending church once a week or more
within the last five years. Twenty-five percent were attending two times a week or more.
They were very steeped in religion and have made a significant change in a short time.
The 2008 ARIS survey estimates that 8% of the US population identifies as
Christian Non-Denominational. This group hardly registered in the 1990 survey with an
estimate of only 200,000 people nation wide. In our survey, Non-Denominational
comprises 24.1% of new secularists. This is a huge number and far exceeds the national
population size for this group. It appears that Non-Denominational is a gateway religion
to atheism. More than any other religion, people seem to come into atheism from this
group.
The second largest group are former Catholics who comprise 22.6% of
participants. This is a huge portion of the secular population but about the same as the
proportion of Catholics in the US population (21%). Finally, the third largest group are
former Baptists. Combining former Southern Baptists and Baptist (other) is 11.1%.
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
8
Sex and Secularism
Baptists are about 15.8% of the general population, so former Baptists are somewhat
under represented on the secular side.
It is interesting to note, that the more liberal religions are not contributing as
much as might be expected. Unitarians contributed .7% and Episcopalians 3.3% to our
sample. According to the Pew US Religious Landscape Survey Unitarians are .3% of the
US population and Episcopalians 1.7% which means that they contribute roughly double
their numbers. These may be gateway religions but to a very small degree compared to
the Non-Denominationals.
The pattern seems clear, the more conservative religions are contributing the most
new members to the atheist community. At the same time, these are also the largest in
size. It appears that the leap from fundamentalist or non-denominational to secular is not
as prohibitive as might be expected. This seems counter intuitive until one reads the
thousands of written responses by participants (which we are continuing to analyze).
There are themes of intense searching, bible reading, efforts to conform and find the
promises of their religion, only to fail time and again. Ironically, the intense searching,
bible reading and attempts to understand led many to recognize there were many things
they were not being told and much was hidden or poorly explained. Their reaction was to
read outside sources and find viewpoints that contradicted their religion, which they
viewed as more reasonable.
Secular 6 yrs. of More, Former Religion
Mennonite
0.2%
Quaker
0.2%
Congregational
0.2%
Church of Christ
0.2%
Seventh Day Adventist
0.3%
Buddhist
0.4%
Orthodox Christian
0.4%
Islam
0.4%
Hindu
0.4%
Jehovah's Witness
0.5%
Unitarian
0.9%
Pentecostal
1.5%
Mormon
1.7%
Judaism
2.4%
Baptist (other)
2.9%
Presbyterian
3.0%
Southern Baptist
Other (please specify)
3.3%
3.8%
Methodist
4.7%
Anglican/Episcopalian
4.8%
Lutheran
4.9%
Agnostic
9.0%
13.1%
Christian Non-denominational
19.8%
Atheist
21.1%
Catholic
0.0%
5.0%
10.0%
15.0%
20.0%
25.0%
Figure 13
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
9
Sex and Secularism
While new atheists are important, there are others who have been secular for a
significant length of time. This group appears different in that they are more former
Catholic and far less or them are former Non-Denominational. The mainline religions
contribute a few percent more in this group than in the 5 years or less group. A far larger
portion (28.8%) of this group has been atheist or agnostic their entire lives.
Comparing the 5 years or less group with the 6 years or more group, show that
Christian non-denominational are represented 11% more in the newer group. Catholics
are about the same in both groups (1.5% difference). Baptists have increased in
proportion from 6.2% to 10.6%.
If there is a “gateway religion”, it is non-denominationalism since it is sending
people into secularism faster than any other religion. Catholicism and Baptists are just
behind but might not be considered “gateway” since they are contributing at or less than
their representation in the general population. Nevertheless, these three religions
contribute more than all other religions combined in both the 5 years or less and 6 years
or more groups.
Religion and Sexual Development
Now for the reason you are actually reading this report. Sexual restriction is very
important to most religions. The reasons for this can be explored in The God Virus: How
Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture and the discussion on “the guilt cycle.”
Consequently, we were most interested in what happens to sex and sexuality when a
person leaves religion.
Guilt, religion and sex
Our first hypotheses is that the more sexually restrictive a religion is the more it
uses guilt. Religions may claim that guilt serves to modulate sexual behavior, but we
hypothesize that it actually serves an entirely different purpose.9 As a result, we predict
that guilt will be higher among conservative religions.
We asked two questions related to guilt. First: “How would you rate what you
were taught: How guilty you felt about sex and its implications on yourself?” As can be
seen below, guilt certainly plays a role in different religions to a greater and lesser
degree. We could have listed more religions in the graph but decided not display any that
did not have at least 15 respondents. The fewest included here are: Buddhist (18), Hindu
(24), Mennonite (25), Church of Christ (31), Seventh Day Adventist (39).
9
That purpose is to keep a person emotionally tied to a given religion. See discussion of “the guilt cycle”
p. 90-91 of The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture, IPC Press, 2009.
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
10
Sex and Secularism
Guilt by Denomination
9.00
7.79
8.00
7.00
6.00
5.33
5.00
4.71
4.48
5.49
5.50
5.67
5.75
5.88
6.18
6.25
6.29
6.34
6.39
6.50
6.68
6.84
6.88
7.87
8.10
8.19
7.13
4.81
4.14
4.00
3.00
2.00
1.00
i
At c
he
Bu ist
n/
Ep ddh
D
is
i
is
co st
O
ci
th
pa
pl
es
er
lia
n
of
(p
le
as Chr
is
e
t
sp
ec
ify
M
)
et
ho
di
st
Lu
Pr the
ra
es
n
by
te
ria
n
Ch
H
ris
in
tia
d
n
(b u
N
la
on
nk
-d
)
en Ca
om tho
l
i
in
c
at
io
na
Ch
l
ur
ch Isla
m
of
Ch
ris
So Me
t
n
ut
he non
ite
rn
Se
Ba
Ba
ve
pt
pt
nt
is
is
h
t
(o t
D
ay
th
Ad er)
ve
nt
P
Je
is
ho ent
ec t
va
os
h'
t
s
W al
itn
es
s
M
or
m
on
m
st
no
An
gl
ic
a
Ag
is
da
Ju
U
ni
ta
ria
n
0.00
Figure 14
As seen in the teachings of the various religions, the more liberal rely less on guilt
than the more conservative. Conservative religions teach guilt and proscribe many
behaviors such as sex before marriage, masturbation, oral sex and sex outside of
marriage, and use religious based approaches to sex education with emphasis on
abstinence only, failing to teach about birth control, condom use and abortion. As a
result, we looked for a measurable difference among the various religions with respect to
guilt.10
The question asked in the survey is focused on teachings before they left religion.
As we can see, there is a difference between religions in their use of guilt. Unitarians are
far less guilt focused than Islam or Catholicism. At the same time, Baptists, Pentecostals,
Jehovah’s Witness and Mormons are the highest in guilt. We debated whether to include
Islam in this graph or in other parts of the report. There were only 107 former Muslims
10
If asked, an informed reader could probably make a list of various types of religions and would be able to
create a graph of liberal religions on the left, moderate religions in the center and conservative religions on
the right. Such a list would most likely resemble the graph above. There is the possibility that it is not just
religion influencing the use of guilt but general tendencies by individuals toward more liberal or
conservative lifestyles and political beliefs, irrespective of religion. Conservatives may be more prone or
attracted to guilt-based messages. We did not test this idea, and further research should be done to see what
influences political tendencies might play in guilt. At the same time, as we will see later in this report,
much of our data closely aligns with all other recent major national studies. These studies did not
specifically look at secularists, but at samples of the general population. This would lead us to believe that
we are seeing direct effects of religion rather than some third variable like conservatism vs liberalism.
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
11
Sex and Secularism
and they were from a number of different countries including Turkey, Lebanon, Sweden,
Morocco, Pakistan, Indonesia, the US and others as well as different branches of Islam.
As a result of geographical and cultural variance, the guilt scores may be less accurate
than those from the range of religions predominantly in the West and US. From the
scores and comments of former Muslims, many were raised more secular although some
were raised in observant homes. We decided to leave them in, but these results should
probably be interpreted with caution.
The second “guilt” related question we asked was, “When you were religious
(assuming you were) did you ever feel guilty about a specific activity or desire.” For this
comparison, we took those who scored their childhood home as a 1, 2 or 3 (less religious)
against those who scored 8, 9 or 10 (most religious). People raised in the least religious
(most liberal homes) answered “Yes” to this question 26.3% of the time, while those
raised in the most religious homes answers “Yes” 79.9%. The difference is quite
dramatic, 53.6% between the two groups. At least in the experience of these participants,
being raised in a religious home shows a high level of sexual guilt compared to those
raised in more a more liberal home.
When Religious, Were You Guilty About a Speci9ic Activity or Desire? 90.0% 80.0% 70.0% 60.0% 50.0% 40.0% 30.0% 20.0% 10.0% 0.0% Yes No Least Religious Home 1, 2 or 3 26.3% 73.7% Most Religious Home 8, 9 or 10 79.9% 20.1% Figure 15
Most and Least Religious
For much of the next section we will be comparing those who reported that they
grew up in very religious homes vs. those who grew up in less religious or secular homes.
We will be looking at those who rated their home as 1, 2 or 3 (low religiosity) on the
question “How religious was your childhood home?” and those who rated 8, 9 or 10 (high
religiosity).
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
12
Sex and Secularism
We looked at church attendance between the two groups. In the most religious
group, 94.6% reported church attendance of once a week or more. Within that group,
40.4% reported 2-3 times a week attendance. Within the least religious group, 10.9%
reported weekly attendance with .3% reporting attendance of 2-3 times a week when they
were children. This is an 84.7% difference between the groups on church attendance.
The most religious group was being exposed to religion far more than the least religious.
Onset of Sexual Behavior – Least and Most Religious
Per our hypothesis, we predicted that levels of guilt would have little or no effect
on actual sexual behavior. Those showing most guilt would exhibit similar sexual
behavior to those who had little if any guilt around sexual activities.
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 test this, we looked at the onset of three sexual behaviors that are clearly
disapproved by most religions – masturbation, oral sex and intercourse before age 18.
For each of these questions we received at or above 3,900 answers on the least religious
side and above 2,100 answers on the most religious side. (Those not included scored
their childhood home as 4, 5, 6 or 7 on religiosity.)
Most conservative religions disapprove of masturbation in or out of marriage.
Some, like James Dobson of Focus on the Family, claim that children will do it and you
can’t really stop them but still disapprove of it. They also say that after marriage, it is
destructive. Both Islam and Catholicism have explicit teachings against it, citing the story
of Onan or St. Jerome or Mohammed’s instructions in the Koran.11,12 If religious guilt
methods are working, we should see unambiguous differences between those raised in the
most religious homes and those who were raised in less religious or secular
environments. We found that 86.7% of the more secular were masturbating by age15 and
92.8% by age 18. The most religious were engaging in masturbation 83% by age 15 and
11
Genesis Chapter 38, Onan was ordered to have sex with his deceased brother’s wife in line with his duty
to keep his brother’s bloodline going. He did not want to have children with her so he used coitus
interuptus when he had intercourse, spilling his seed. For this he was sentenced to death by Yahweh. Or
Jerome, Against Jovinian 1:19, (AD 393) “…or Onan, who was slain because he grudged his brother his
seed. Does he imagine that we approve of any sexual intercourse except for the procreation of children?"
12
The Qur'an, chapter 23 (Al-Muminun), verse 5 to 7:
“And who guard their private parts, Except before their mates or those whom their right hands
possess, for they surely are not blamable, But whoever seeks to go beyond that, these are they that
exceed the limits.”
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
13
Sex and Secularism
90% by age 18, a meager 2.8% difference for all the energy expended on guilt. It appears
that guilt has little effect on masturbatory behavior.
To better understand how participants were treated regarding masturbatory
activity, we wanted to see if shame or other emotionally coercive methods were used by
parents. We asked, “Were you shamed or ridiculed by a parent or guardian for
masturbatory activities?” The least religious answered “Yes” 5.5% of the time. The
most religious said “Yes” 22.5%. An examination of the open-ended answers to this
question revealed the great difficulty these people had as children dealing with the
religious teachings and their natural urges. Here is a sample of responses from the most
religious group.
I still did it, but was extremely embarrassed and felt that I was sinning. I constantly felt
like I was a bad person for having those feelings and desires.
It was embarrassing. I felt like something was wrong with me.
…being caught masturbating caused me to be beaten until I couldn't stand up.
After masturbating I would feel heavy guilt. I wouldn't dare tell anyone what I was doing
but the guilt drove me to beg for forgiveness and to make deals with god if I did it again.
Of course I always did it again. The shame I would feel was overwhelming, felt as if I was
intentionally hurting god. It took years to get away from that feeling.
I used to masturbate and then perform the Islamic ritual cleansing and beg Allah for
forgiveness. I tried to stop but my sexual desire was worse when I didn't than when I did.
I worried not only about sin, but also about the fact that my mother told me that if I
masturbated, I'd have problems with my future husband.
One measure of the problems this created is seen in the sheer number of comments and
stories people put in the survey. Of the most religious group, 28.3% wrote some kind of
text response, virtually all recounted problems with guilt, shame, punishment, etc. Of the
least religious 8.5% left written comments, many were qualitatively different and
sometimes humorous:
Not shamed exactly, but scolded for absconding with Dad's Playboys/Penthouses.
It never came up, but it was not an issue because the sex talk included the fact that
masturbation was completely normal.
They didn't know; or if they did, they never brought it up. However, I still felt like I was
doing something wrong.
Not really, but my mom found my porn at one point. She informed me she didn't approve,
and kindly asked me to remove it from her hard-drive (and put it on my own, portable, if I
felt the need to).
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
14
Sex and Secularism
My older sisters and their boyfriends would constantly ask, "Do you play with yourself?"
Heck, yeah! Every chance I had.
Masturbation is easily hidden and needs no partner, so we asked two questions
about behavior that involves others and is disapproved by conservative religions but falls
short of actual intercourse. “How old were you when you became sexually active? (eg.
Kissing, touching, rubbing, etc.)” - also called petting, and “How old were you when you
had your first oral sex interaction (Oral Sex: mouth to genital contact with or without
climax/orgasm).”
Those least religious started petting by age 15, 47.9% of the time, and 84.4% by
age 18. The most religious were petting 43.8% at age 15 and 81.1 by 18. A difference of
3.3% between these two groups at age 18.
With respect to oral sex, 20% of the least religious had experienced oral sex by
age 15 and 62.5% by age 18. The most religious had oral sex by age 15, 18.6% of the
time and by age 18, 55.1%, 7.4% difference. This difference might be attributable to
religious training. Guilt may play a small part in the slightly later onset. At the same time
well over half of religiously raised children are not following the training of their religion
– they are having oral sex anyway.
The third question dealt with sex outside of marriage, “Was sex outside of
marriage considered ‘sinful’ or ‘immoral’ by your family of origin?” Those from more
secular homes said, “yes” 13.0% while those from the most religious homes said “yes.
88.7%, a dramatic difference of 75.7%. Undoubtedly, the most religious children were
getting the message but did it impact their behavior?
The biggest taboo for most religions is sex before marriage, so we asked, “How
old were you when you had genital-to-genital intercourse” (e.g.: vagina-penis
penetration, anal-penis penetration, vagina-vulva rubbing…” 17.8% of those from the
least religious homes had had intercourse by age 15 and 62.1 by age 18. The most
religious said 16.1% by age 15 and 53.1% at age 18. A 9% difference between those
most and least religious. By age 21 the least religious had engaged in intercourse 87.9%
and the most religious 84%. The religious groups falls behind by 9% at age 18 but has
virtually caught up by age 21.
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
15
Sex and Secularism
Progressive Sexual Activity by Age and Religiosity
100
90
80
70
Percent
60
50
40
30
20
10
0
Religious 15
Non-religious
Non-religious
Non-religious
Relgious 18
Relgious 21
15
18
21
83
86.7
90
92.8
94.1
96.1
Petting
43.8
47.97
81.1
84.4
94.2
95.3
Oral Sex
18.6
20
55.1
62.5
82.3
86.1
Intercourse
16.1
17.8
53.1
62.1
84
87.9
Masturbation
Figure 16
To summarize, we see a 2.8% difference in masturbation, a 3.3% difference in
petting, a 7.4% difference in oral sex and a 9% difference in intercourse at age 18. All of
these differences are very small or non-existent by age 21. Religiosity seems to have a
small relationship with the delay of these sexual behaviors. We see the greatest
difference in the age 18 category, where the intercourse difference is 9% but the religious
group has almost caught up by age 21 with a 3.9% difference. In both groups, the
number of adolescents having intercourse is remarkably high. If religiosity and guilt
inhibits behavior, it is marginal at best. Religious children get the message that sex
outside of marriage is wrong but they do it anyway. They just feel guilty about it.
The following two graphs (Fig. 17, 18) are a comparison of age of intercourse
between least and most religious in all age groups. It is a more comprehensive look at the
most religiously prohibited behavior. Were religion an important factor in sexual
behavior, we would expect to see an unambiguous difference between these two graphs.
Just as the abstinence only research has shown, religion delays the beginning of
intercourse by months at best, or not at all, but does increase the incidence of unprotected
and risky sex by teenagers when they do begin sexual activity.13 14
13
“Not only is there no credible evidence that these millions of dollars have any positive effect, there is
reason to be concerned that young people who receive the abstinence-only curricula in school will not have
the tools to protect themselves in sexual situations.” Abstinence Only vs.Comprehensive Sex Education:
What are the arguments? What is the evidence? Chris Collins, M.P.P., Priya Alagiri, J.D., Todd Summers,
AIDS Policy Research Center & Center for AIDS Prevention Studies AIDS Research Institute University of
California, San Francisco Policy Monograph Series – March 2002
14
“Findings indicate that, despite the effects seen after the first year, programs had no
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
16
Sex and Secularism
Figure 17
Figure 18
statistically significant impact on eventual behavior. Based on data from the final follow-up
survey, youth in the program group were no more likely to abstain from sex than their
control group counterparts; among those who reported having had sex, program and control
group youth had similar numbers of sexual partners and had initiated sex at the same mean
age.” Impacts of Four Title V, Section 510 Abstinence Education Programs Final Report April 2007
Christopher Trenholm, et. Al.
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
17
Sex and Secularism
Our data are virtually identical to those of other national surveys regarding
adolescent onset of sexual activity but we bring the additional dimension of guilt and its
impact or lack thereof on behavior. Biology seems to trump religion despite the millions
of dollars and hours devoted to teaching religious children how to behave within their
religious restrictions. By age 21, the gap between most and least religious having
intercourse has narrowed to 89.1 vs. 85.5 a 3.6% difference. Other general studies of
sexuality show that 95% all adults have had premarital sex by the time they marry
including, we believe, most ministers who tout abstinence only.15
We were concerned that our sample is different than other national surveys since
most who participated are now secular. As we can see from the above data, those who
participated in our survey look like normal teenagers when they were adolescents based
on the age of onset reported in other studies.16 In the written comments from
respondents, we saw that those from the most religious homes were genuinely sincere
about their religious beliefs when they were younger. For most, their change to a secular
view of the world came after their adolescent sexual experiences. While we can’t rule
out that they are somehow different, it appears that the only difference is that they are
probably more intelligent since their level of education is significantly higher than the
general population.
Sex Education
Conservative religions give guilt messages, teach abstinence and fail to teach
basic lessons in safe sex, relationship negotiation, abortion, and the biology of sex. At
least that appears to be the case in the programs analyzed by the Mathematica Policy
Research study of federally funded abstinence only programs (2007).17 To better
understand the sexual education level of our participants, we looked at how the two
groups evaluated their sex education and found some remarkable differences.
First, we asked, “Did at least one parent talk to you about sex?” The least
religious answered “Yes” 61.8% of the time. The most religious answered “Yes” 50.2%
of the time. Religious groups are most adamant that the parents or churches should
decide and conduct sex education not schools or other entities. It is somewhat ironic that
the parents of the least religious seemed to communicate with their children better.
Neither group is particularly high, but non-religious parents fare better by 11.6%.
Next, we asked participants to rate, “The quality of the education you received
regarding sex?” The least religious most secular rated their childhood sex education a 3.2
on a five point scale. The most religious group gave a 2.4 score. This is a 0.8 (16%)
difference between the groups. From this answer, it appears that the more secular were
given better sex education than the more religious.
15
Guttmacher Institute, Dec. 19. 2006, Premarital Sex is Nearly Universal Among Americans, And Has
Been for Decades, http://www.guttmacher.org/media/nr/2006/12/19/index.html
16
Trends in Premarital Sex in the United States, 1954-2003, Lawrence B. Finer, Ph.D. Public Health
Reports, Jan-Feb 2007, Vol. 122
17
Impacts of Four Title V, Section 510 Abstinence Education Programs Final Report April 2007
Christopher Trenholm, et. al.
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
18
Sex and Secularism
Suspecting that most children do not get their sexual information from parents, we
asked a broader question “Who could you talk to about sex?” They could choose up to
three main sources. The graphs below show remarkable differences between the groups.
While neither group put parents at the top of their list, the non-religious said they
could talk to their parents 38.2% while religious children said only 13.5%. So where did
these children get their sex education? Both say friends and peers are the greatest source
of information (75% and 70%) but the next areas get very interesting. Both groups say
personal experience is the second highest but the religious group puts it at 50.2% whereas
the less religious say 42.4%. In other words, the religious kids were learning from sexual
experience more than the less religious! Even more interesting is the next highest source
of information. Pornography is 33% for the religious group and 25.2% for the nonreligious. Most religions preach incessantly against pornography, yet it is the religious
children in this sample that used it more. Finally, the internet is a key source of
information for the religious kids 31.4% vs. 27.1% for the less religious.
It appears that the things religions preach against most - sexual experimentation,
pornography and the internet - are what religious kids may use the most, while failing to
talk to their parents. Non-religious kids seem to be following the religious proscriptions
better than the religious ones.
Figure 19
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
19
Sex and Secularism
Figure 20
Sex When Still Religious
We wanted to look at how people felt about sex after they became sexually active
but before they left religion. One area that is discouraged by religions of all kinds is
fantasizing about someone else while having sex with your spouse or partner. We asked
if they had fantasized about others when they were still religious and if they felt it was
wrong. The least religious said they had fantasized about others 13.4% of the time while
the 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.
According to some sex experts, the ability to openly share sexual fantasies with a
partner is a proxy for less inhibition and guilt between a couple.18 We asked “Before you
left religion, did you believe that it was wrong to discuss or act out fantasies with your
partner?” The less religious said “yes” 3.9% while the more religious said “Yes” 40%.
Many religions teach that sexual fantasies are dangerous even in marriage. Jesus said
"But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed
adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:28 NKJV).19 For this reason sharing fantasies
18
The Intimate Couple, http://www.the-intimate-couple.com/sharing-sexual-fantasies.html, The Art of
Lovemaking, http://www.no-problem-marriage-counseling.com/love-making.html
19
Many religionists think masturbating is sinful because it often involves fantasizing. Reference the US
Senate candidate and conservative religionist from Connecticut, Christine O’Donnell, and her famous
comment that masturbation is sinful because it involves fantasy.
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
20
Sex and Secularism
would not only be a sin on the part of the person having the fantasy but a sin on the part
of the partner for participating in such a sinful act.
Sex After Religion
We were interested in how people adjusted sexually after leaving religion. 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 .
We were interested in how former religious guilt and trauma may be acted out or
channeled after leaving religion. Many sexual fetishes have religious overtones so we
asked, “Do you have a fetish? A fetish is a form of sexual desire in which gratification
depends on some object, item of clothing, and/or part of the body.” About 27.1% of the
respondents reported having a fetish, some in very graphic terms, but there was no
difference between the least (26.7%) and most religious groups (28.1%). It seems that, at
least in this area, there are no residual effects of religion. Interestingly, we got over 1,700
written comments to the fetish question. We will come back to analyze those later in this
report.
For an estimate of how much religion affected sexuality and sex life before and
after they left religion we asked on a scale of 1-10, “When you were religious what was
the amount of influence religion had on your sexuality?” and “When you were religious
what was the amount of influence religion had on your sex life?” For the least religious,
they said religion had little or no effect on their sexuality or sex life 1.87 for both
questions. The most religious answered 5.68 and 6.27. The most religious also rated the
sex life question 8, 9 or 10 - 47.8%! Their sex life was extremely affected by religion.
We wondered how sex had changed since leaving religion so we asked, “On a
scale of 1-10 with 1 much worse and 10 greatly improved, ‘Now that you are nonreligious, how has your sex life changed?’” 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.
Looking at the entire sample with 9414 people answering the question, ‘Now that
you are non-religious, how has your sex life changed? In Figure 21 we can see two major
clusters with 29.6% seeing no change, and 54.6% of participants scoring their sex life 8,
9, or 10 -very improved. Only 2.2% of participants felt it was worse. At least within our
sample, sex life improved significantly after religion.
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
21
Sex and Secularism
How Has Your Sex Life Changed? 40.0% 35.0% 30.0% 25.0% 20.0% 15.0% 10.0% 5.0% 0.0% Figure 21
We correlated responses to two of the above mentioned questions, “When you
were religious what was the amount of influence religion had on your sex life?” and
“Now that you are non-religious, how has your sex life changed?” Both were on a 1-10
scale. These correlated r = .46220 or about 21% of the variance (N=4857), more evidence
pointing to an improvement after leaving religion.
We also compared women to men, to see if there was any difference in sexual
satisfaction after leaving religion. There was no difference between the sexes in the
amount of change they experienced since leaving religion. Both rated the improvement
in their sex life at 6.5, clearly improved since leaving religion.
To assess the amount of adjustment people made after religion we asked, “Now
that you are non-religious, have you changed or adjusted your sexuality? e.g. become
openly gay, became polyamorous, experimented with bisexuality, etc.?” The least
religious said “Yes” or “Somewhat” 19.1% where the most religious said “Yes” and
“Somewhat” 47%. Those who were most religious seem to have changed their sexual
behavior the most since leaving religion – by 27.9%.
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.
20
Pearson product moment correlation coefficient
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
22
Sex and Secularism
Earlier we discussed the distinct difference in the use of guilt by denomination
(Fig. 14), we hypothesized that leaving religion would lead to a measurable improvement
in sexual satisfaction and a decrease in the amount of guilt. Those from the most guiltbased religions would show the greatest drop in guilt and biggest increase in sexual
satisfaction. Sorting the responses by denomination/religion and using the entire sample,
we found a clear pattern of improvement in sexual satisfaction. Those leaving the least
guilt-based churches saw little or no improvement, while those escaping high guilt based
religions saw significant improvement. Keeping in mind that a score of 5.0 meant “no
change”, we can see that every religion, except Unitarian, shows an improvement. At
least according to this data, every religion, except Unitarian, has a negative effect on
sexual satisfaction. We also left lifelong atheists and agnostics in the analysis if they
answered the question. Their sexual satisfaction did not change even though many of
them grew up in a religious atmosphere. The guilt training did not take with them.
Residual Effects
We hypothesized that a strongly guilt based religious upbringing would have a
lasting or residual effect on people after leaving religion. 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. At the same time, there
was a difference between the most and least religious groups in terms of anger they still
feel about their religious training. In response to the question: How much anger do you
experience towards religion because of how it affected your sexuality? The average rating
among the most religious was 4.20 (10 being highest) while those from the least religious
background scored 1.83. Among the most religious, 23% scored their anger at 8, 9 or 10
while only 4.3% experience high anger among the least religious. This shows a difference
in how they view past training but does not seem to impact their current level of
satisfaction.
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
23
Sex and Secularism
Now That You are Non-Religious,
How Has our Sex Life Changed?
Atheist
5.2
Agnostic
5.2
Unitarian
5.2
Hindu
5.5
Judaism
5.5
Buddhist
5.9
Wicca/Pagan
5.9
Quaker
6.0
Anglican/Episcopalian
6.1
Congregational
6.3
Presbyterian
6.4
Other (please specify)
6.5
Lutheran
6.5
Methodist
6.6
United Church of Christ
6.7
Christian Science
6.7
Catholic
6.7
(blank)
6.8
Islam
6.8
New-Age
6.9
Christian Non-
6.9
Orthodox Christian
7.0
Southern Baptist
7.3
Nazarene
7.4
Baptist (other)
7.5
Church of Christ
7.6
Pentecostal
8.0
Seventh Day Adventist
8.1
Mormon
8.2
Mennonite
8.3
Jehovah's Witness
1.0
8.4
3.0
5.0
7.0
9.0
1= Worse, 5=No Change, 10-Greatly
Improved
Figure 22
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
24
Sex and Secularism
Out of 7,709 participants who answered the “sex life change” question, the
average score was 6.51. A majority, 51.5% felt their sex life had improved after leaving
religion, 38,6% said it was about the same and 10% felt their sex life had gotten worse.
An examination of the written responses of those who said their sex life was
worse, showed that becoming non-religious often led to a decrease in sex with their
spouse or made it more difficult to find a compatible partner but no other patterns were
apparent.
“Since leaving religion, I have not had a physical or emotional relationship with my
wife.”
“Since becoming an atheist I have not met anyone who does not have some religious or
'spiritual' belief system. As a result, life is very lonely. I am proactively meeting new
single members of the opposite sex, in an effort to find someone who does not believe in
the supernatural.”
Relationship’s Impact on Sex Life
About 67.1% of respondents said they are currently in a long-term relationship.
We were interested in how religious or non-religious spouses affect sex life. We asked,
“How religious is your spouse/partner?” The answer was surprising. The average spouse
was rated a 2.15 on religiosity (on a 10 pt. scale). It seems that our sample, whether
formerly religious or not, has managed to find partners who are low in religiosity.
We asked the religious affiliation of their spouse and found that 67.6% were
partnered with agnostics or atheists. Next were Christian Non-Denominational (11.1%)
and Catholic spouses (8.6%). We asked, “How much does your spouse/partner’s
religiosity affect your sex life?” The average was 1.68 or “doesn’t affect.” One-hundred
and two people out of 2,789 (3.65%), said that their spouse’s religion seriously affects
their sex life 9 or 10. With so few respondents married to highly religious people, there
is less possibility of religion interfering in the first place but for these people, it is a
serious problem.
We received 1496 written responses to this question. Most were positive or
neutral, but there were many that described current or past problems related to religious
training.
“My wife was Muslim when we began dating. Her family suppressed any knowledge of
sex, and I had to teach her nearly everything. She is still somewhat ashamed of her body,
and sometimes gets embarrassed by lewd language in talking about sex.”
“We came to nonbelief together, so we cooperated in adjusting our beliefs about when
sex is appropriate. My girlfriend is more open to sex than I was, but I've been more open
to enjoying sex over the past couple of months. I don't feel like she pressured me into
having sex, but without talking about sex with her, I probably wouldn't have initiated sex
myself.”
“It's a positive affect. If he wasn't an atheist, I would never have felt comfortable
exploring BDSM. I would never have taken sexuality into account when choosing a
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
25
Sex and Secularism
relationship. Without his complete lack of religion, I would never have shown this side of
my sexuality to anyone.”
“Partner's past religiosity can still prevent her from fully opening up and appreciating
her sexuality/sex life.”
“Religious upbringing still influences my now atheist partner in a negative way.”
Sexual entertainment
Religions certainly disapprove of pornography, so we were curious how much
people used it, especially when they were still religious. As we saw earlier, teens are
using porn by age 18 no matter how religious their parents are. We asked several
questions about porn use and when they started using it. Over all, 88% of respondents
used pornography but there were differences between men and women. Men said they
used pornography 93.7% while women said 76%. There were distinct differences
between the sexes. Women preferred erotic novels (43.4%) and videos with plot lines
(40%) followed by internet shorts (36.5%). Men preferred internet shorts (71.1%)
followed by pictures (69.3%) and videos with plot line (61%). The following graphs
show the distribution of porn use by gender.
Figure 23
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
26
Sex and Secularism
Figure 24
We asked, “When did you start partaking in pornography?” 62.3% were using
porn by 15 and 79.4% by age 18. When we looked at the least religious 65.4% were
using by 15 and 82.1% by age 18 and 90.4% by 21. The most religious were using porn
58.7% of the time by 15 and 76.2% by age 18 and by 21, they were up to 87.7%. It looks
like the religious started using porn a little later than the non-religious, but they caught up
rapidly and were virtually equal by age 25 (94.9 vs 94%). If porn is as bad as religions
say it is, they aren’t doing a very good job of keeping it out of the hands of children and
adolescents, 20% or more of both groups said they were using porn by 12 years old. For
all the billboards and sermons against porn, there seems to be little return on the
investment.
There was also a gender difference in the age when people started using porn.
While 76% of women said they used porn, they started later. The median for males was
13-15 years (40.9%) and the median for females was 16-18 years (22.8%). By age 30,
95% of females that eventually use porn were using it. Males reached the 90% level by
21. Women start two or more years later than men and use it 17.7% less.
As we noted earlier, porn as a source of sexual information was surprisingly high
among the most religious groups. We decided to look at the most and least religious
groups and see when they started using porn. As you can see in this next chart, the most
religious start a little later but they catch up by age 30.
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
27
Sex and Secularism
First Pornography Use by Gender
45.0%
40.0%
35.0%
30.0%
25.0%
20.0%
15.0%
10.0%
5.0%
0.0%
0-5
6-8
9-12
13-15
16-18
19-21
22-25
26-30
31-35
36-40
41-45
46+
Female
0.7%
2.0%
12.2%
19.8%
22.8%
20.0%
11.8%
5.7%
2.3%
1.7%
0.6%
0.5%
Male
0.6%
3.4%
25.5%
40.9%
17.4%
5.8%
2.8%
1.5%
0.8%
0.4%
0.3%
0.5%
Figure 25
First Porn Use by Religiosity
40.0%
35.0%
30.0%
25.0%
20.0%
15.0%
10.0%
5.0%
0.0%
0-5
6-8
9-12
13-15
16-18
19-21
22-25
26-30
31-35
36-40
41-45
46+
Least Religious
0.8%
3.6%
22.9%
34.9%
18.6%
9.4%
4.8%
2.0%
1.2%
0.8%
0.4%
0.6%
Most Religious
0.8%
2.6%
18.5%
32.7%
20.0%
11.5%
6.6%
4.2%
1.7%
0.8%
0.4%
0.3%
Figure 26
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
28
Sex and Secularism
We were most interested in religion’s effect on porn use. If religion’s
proscriptions are effective, we should see a clear difference between those who are most
and least religious in the teen years when they are getting strong messages from their
religion about sex. Looking only at men, we can see in the next chart, that there is very
little difference between the groups. By age 18, 3.5% separates the two groups and by
age 21, 1.5%. While religious kids seem to use porn slightly less, they are still very close
to the least religious. This suggests that the effect of religion is negligible for men.
First Porn Use Male Only
45.0%
40.0%
35.0%
30.0%
25.0%
20.0%
15.0%
10.0%
5.0%
0.0%
0-5
6-8
9-12
13-15
16-18
19-21
22-25
26-30
31-35
36-40
41-45
46+
Least Religious
0.9%
4.2%
26.2%
39.9%
17.2%
5.5%
2.7%
1.1%
0.9%
0.4%
0.3%
0.6%
Most Religious
0.6%
3.1%
22.7%
39.9%
19.1%
7.0%
3.1%
2.3%
1.0%
0.5%
0.4%
0.3%
Least Religious
Most Religious
Figure 27
Because women begin to view pornography two or more years later than men, it
is complicated to see the effects of religion on porn use. By the time women are 23 or
older, many have lost their religion and may not be susceptible to religious guilt and
shame any longer. While we would guess that religion has little or no effect on women’s
porn use, the smaller group size and older age of onset made it problematic to test that
hypothesis for women.
One of the criticisms of our research will undoubtedly be that the people in our
sample “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.21 In addition, other research has
21
Ogas, Ogi and Gaddam, Sal, A Billion Wicket Thoughts: What the Worlds Largest Experiment Reveals
about Human Desire, Dutton 2011
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
29
Sex and Secularism
consistently shown that the most religious states and locations have higher internet porn
use with Utah and Mississippi leading the way. This research also found that states with
the most restrictive sexual legislation also have the highest porn use. They site states
with Defense of Marriage legislation as having 11% higher porn use.22 No matter where
one looks, the use of porn seems as high or higher among the religious. This leads us to
believe that the formerly religious in our sample were probably typical in many ways
before they left religion.
Current Sexual Functioning
Looking at sexual activity, intercourse or masturbation, we found that 52.7% of
women engage in some kind of sexual activity at least 2-3 times a week and 12.2% daily.
76.5% of men engage 2-3 times a week and 29.7% daily.
The level of sexual activity is at or around that of other studies. In our sample
68.6% engaged in some kind of sexual activity two times a week to more than once a
day. A total of 86.6% engage in some sexual activity weekly or more often. The
comments from this question showed that many people were very active but also found
that life gets in the way.
“Right now? Once a month, maybe? But it's not really by choice. I started law school six
months ago. If you've been to law school, you'd understand. I spend my 5 hours of
freedom every night dead asleep. I am too tired to masturbate. (Never go to law school.)”
Only about 50 people in our entire sample said they never engaged in any kind of
sexual activity. Those who were sexless sited lack of desire or medical reasons and a few
felt they were asexual.
Fantasy Life
Fantasizing is an important activity for many people. With or without a partner,
people still fantasize. We asked how often they fantasized and found that men fantasize
daily 53.3% and 90.4 fantasize once a week or more. Women fantasize daily 27.7% and
weekly or more 76.8%.
Sharing sexual fantasies is one possible indicator of sexual comfort between
partners. We asked, “Are there fantasies that you would be afraid to tell your partner for
fear of rejection?” Among women, 25% were afraid to share and 33.6% of men said they
would be afraid. The good news is that 75% of women and 66.4% men are not afraid to
share their fantasies with their partner. When we looked at the most and least formerly
religious, there was only a slight difference between the two groups. In the “least” group,
29.9% said there were fantasies they were afraid to share. In the “most” group, 33.2%
had some fear.
Sharing fantasies was a hot spot for many of our respondents. Among women,
21.7% left comments and 26.4% of men commented. A majority of comments were
related to being seen as perverted or unnatural:
22
http://www.deseretnews.com/article/705288350/Utah-No-1-in-online-porn-subscriptions-reportsays.html
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
30
Sex and Secularism
Some men’s comments:
That she would reject me for being perverted.
I fear that they'd think I was a freak.
Partner might question my morality or even leave me.
Some women’s comments:
Afraid he might be put off by desire for other men.
That they would find it strange or ridiculous.
I feel that he would be uncomfortable with them and lose some trust in me.
I still feel residual guilt about sex and so, whenever I have a fetish, I fear sharing it.
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. Moving from
fantasy to action, we asked, “have you ever fulfilled a sexual fantasy?” Out of 9,821
answers, 79.7% said, “Yes.” We asked, “If not, explain why not?” Many of the answers
dealt with shyness, legality, lack of opportunity or having a partner that will not
participate. Lack of a willing partner was one of the most common reasons for not
fulfilling fantasies. Another common reason was that fantasies “should not be acted out”
or they “never turn out the way you expect.”
On the other hand, many people not only seem to have an active fantasy life but
also like to act out their fantasies. Out of 7,252 who answered this question, 26.6% fulfill
fantasies at least once a month and 62.8% fulfill them several times a year. It appears
that fantasy fulfillment is an important activity for a majority of the respondents. Some
of the comments were interesting and humorous.
“Always, if I have one I go to my husband.”
“It varies. It depends on the fantasy and whether my wife shares it, or is willing to play
along - she generally is.”
“It has been several years now, but it used to be much more common. It created marital
tension, so I've abandoned hope here.”
“Every time (I used to fantasize about my current sexual partner before I scored him for
good)”
“Every few years - it's expensive.”
“I am probably the least kinky person ever. I think my early religious training made me
so scared of sex early on that just plane-jane-vanilla sex is my crazy fantasy. I guess we
have tried some toys, but end up deciding they are too much bother.”
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
31
Sex and Secularism
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.
Spouse and sexual satisfaction
We have heard many anecdotal stories about religious spouses refusing or
inhibiting sexual satisfaction. To see how much spousal religiosity affected sexual
satisfaction, we asked, “How religious is your partner?” The average for the entire
sample was 2.18 indicating that most have partners or spouses now that are not very
religious.
We asked, “How much does your spouse’s or partner’s religiosity affect your sex
life?” The average for the entire sample was 1.59 – very low. It appears that spousal
religiosity is not a big factor in sexual satisfaction. This is largely because they are not
partnered to religious people in the first place but that does not mean it has no effect. The
effect seems to be clustered around a few people who are married to very religious
people. We did a correlation on the entire sample and found that spousal religiosity is
correlated .465 (N=6985) with spouse inhibiting sex life. The correlation accounts for
about 22% of the variance, which indicates that spousal religiosity has some effect on
sexual satisfaction.
Anecdotal information based on the many comments people made shows that
spousal religiosity has a huge effect on a few people and much less on most. Only 2.6%
said they had a very religious spouse or partner that inhibited their sex life (rating 8, 9 out
of 10). We dug deeper, 1,556 out of 9,534 (16.3%) people said their spouse was religious
but only 247 (2.6%) said their spouse was highly religious. Looking only at these, we
found that 187 (75.7%) said their spouse’s religiosity inhibited their sex life. It appears
that having a very religious spouse increases the chances of an unhappy sex life much
more than a moderately or non-religious spouse.
Anecdotal information based on the hundreds of comments in response to this
question shows that spousal religiosity affects some people a lot.
“Once, my wife came home from Church and announced that there will be no more oral
sex because the priest said oral sex was a sodomy and she should not practice it.”
“His religiosity prevents us from having honest discussion. I feel like there is an unseen
wall between us now. While sex is better because I am more open, it doesn't feel real any
more.”
“She has very conservative ideas about sex and a great deal of sex shame and body
shame due to her religious childhood (Jehovah's Witnesses). She has been nonreligious
for almost ten years now, but here the effects linger.”
“Wife states, ‘How can I be intimate with someone who doesn't share my faith?”
“He was raised JW and some times it snags him back. Very frustrating for me, and him
really.”
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
32
Sex and Secularism
“Wife's parents are fundamentalist Christians. Wife still struggles with feelings of guilt
and shame that sex is sinful (even though we are married).”
The moral of this story, if you want a good sex life, don’t get involved with a highly
religious person. Many in our sample seem to have taken that path. Of those that do have
highly religious spouses, the majority have sexual problems in the relationship. Contrast
this with those who said their spouse was only slightly religious (1, 2 or 3). Only 2.5%
said religion inhibited their sex life. High religiosity in a spouse or partner seems to
makes a big difference in sexual satisfaction 75.7% vs. 2.5% for low religiosity.
Residual Effects of Religion on Sex
To determine how much effect religion continues to have after leaving religion we
asked two questions. For the first, “How much anger do you experience towards religion
because of how it affected your sexuality?” the score was on 2.72. For the second, “How
much anger do you experience towards religion because of how it affected your sex life?”
the score was 3.03. Most people do not continue to feel anger about their religious
training. We received 4,902 comments on this question out of 9,318 responses among
the highest written response rates in the entire survey. 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:
“Despite my excellent sex education by my parents and the school district, there would
be other relatives and/or societal messaging that would insist that premarital sex is
wrong, that I would burn in Hell for masturbating, that I was disgusting for being
interested in both girls and boys from a young age. I've had previous sexual relationships
ruined from religious guilt and had to change doctors when a life-threatening pregnancy
had to be terminated and she disapproved openly on a religious basis.”
“The affect of religion on my sex life is almost entirely secondary in nature since I was
not raised in a religious family. My anger toward religion therefore arises from
subjective moralism instilled in my significant others. I felt limited in who I could
approach for a relationship if they were a part of a particularly unwelcoming religion.”
“I was made to feel sex was only for procreation and for the enjoyment of men. The
unfairness and the belittling of women as if we are not allowed to experience pleasure.”
“There are no specific instances that damaged me, rather it is the entire culture I grew
up in (Bible Belt, USA) that stagnates sexual expression. It insists women are unsexual
while men are oversexual. It ruins an important part of life, but sex is not the only part of
life it ruins, so I am not sure whether it is an aspect of, or the genesis of, the emotional
and intellectual repression that also comes with a religious upbringing.”
“I was taught that being gay is a sin even though I have no control over it. When I came
out to my mother, she tried to pray the gay demons out of me and sprinkled holy water on
me. She told my cousin that I was gay, and he later told me that I would experience a
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
33
Sex and Secularism
"great fall" if I "decided" to live the gay "lifestyle". I have heard my dad say bad things
about gay people so I haven't told him yet. My brother is one of my greatest allies, and
reacted very well when I told him I was gay. Every single friend that I have told (many
people) has been OK with the fact that I am gay.”
“I'm a bit upset about the amount of guilt I felt, growing up, every time I masturbated.”
“My resentment towards religion concerning my sex life had more to do with my ex-wife
and how her religious upbringing affected/degraded our sex life.”
“I watched my grandmother, also a lesbian, have her identity erased after her death, and
her long-time partner pushed aside... very angering, especially since the same could be
done with me.”
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.
Religion often teaches people to refuse sex, even when it would be perfectly
appropriate. Abstinence only programs and Promise Keepers all work to teach teens how
to stay “pure” until they are married. We wanted to see how often refusals actually
happened. We looked at the most and least religious to see the difference as an indicator
of the religious message being activated. We asked, “When you were religious have you
ever refused to have sex with someone for religious purposes? (ex: you were fasting,
Jesus said not to fornicate, sex only in marriage, etc.)” Those from the most religious
childhood homes, 40.3% said “Yes.” Those from the least religious homes, 5.6% said
“Yes.” The average for the entire sample of 9,237 answers was 18%.
We also asked the reverse question, “Has anyone ever refused to have sex with
you for religious reasons?” Those from the most religious childhood homes said “Yes”
32.8% while the least religious were 22.8%. The over all sample of 9,475 answers on
this question was 27% “yes.”
To assess how much guilt was being expressed from the religious training we
asked, “Have you ever experienced religious guilt about pre-marital sex or while having
sex with someone you are not married to?” The most religious felt guilt 32.8% while the
least said 6.3%. Such a large difference shows a significant amount of guilt. The rate for
the entire sample was 20.2%. To the question,” Have you ever had religiously based
thoughts that made you feel guilty or shameful during sex?” The most religious answered
36.7% while the least said 5.9% and the total sample was 17.6%.
We wanted to know if a person’s religious experience had any direct effect on the
sex partners they choose. We asked, “Now that you are non-religious, do you avoid sex
with religious people?” Those who were raised in the most religious homes said “Yes”
36.7% while the least 18.9%. It seems that people raised in a strict religious environment
are motivated to avoid religious partners more than those not raised in that environment.
The rate for the entire sample was 20.4%.
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
34
Sex and Secularism
Clergy and Sex
Clergy sex abuse has been in the news for many years. We thought it important
to find out how many of our respondents were inappropriately approached by a member
of the clergy. Out of 9,304 responses to this question, 3.5% (337) indicated that they had
been inappropriately approached. Of those, 317 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. While the focus has been on abuse in the Catholic church,
there is ample evidence that protestant clergy are just as involved in abuse, as one can see
from the Freedom From Religion Newsletter’s black collar page on any given month. Our
respondents comments were from protestant as well as Catholic backgrounds. No strong
patterns were evident in the comments. We should remember that our sample was more
secular than the generally population from childhood on. Only 36.6% were from very
religious homes. If you are not going to church or going infrequently, it decreases the
likelihood of contact with clergy in the first place. This is somewhat confirmed with the
fact that the least religious reported 2.7% while the most religious reported 6.3% clergy
misbehavior - over two times the rate. A few people were seriously affected, here are
some quotes from the survey:
“Years of self hate.”
“It was very confusing, on one hand being told how bad sex is and then being
encouraged and made to do sexual things with him caused me to have a lot of mixed up
thoughts and feelings. I was terrified of going to hell and he used that fear to control
me.”
“Some of my earliest sexual experiences were forced by clergy and religious leaders. I
was not only intimidated by them because of sexual power, but they had control of
damning my body and soul. I felt that I was completely beyond any love, acceptance or
forgiveness of god because I was forced to have sexual experiences.”
But these were rare comments. Most said they simply rejected the advance and moved
on. Others said it confirmed their belief about religion and clergy and helped them leave
religion.
“It reaffirmed my belief that most religions engage in pervasive sexual repression.”
“More negative/cynical views of religious people.”
“I was a young man and the advance wasn't going anywhere, but it did solidify my
opinion of the clergy/church.”
“I had several preachers and military Chaplains proposition me for sex over the years. I
did with several. It only solidified my rejection of religion as hypocritical nonsense.”
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
35
Sex and Secularism
“I don't think it affected my sexuality. However, it did make me feel anger toward
preachers. It also made me not trust them.”
It appears that clergy sexual misbehavior helps many people leave religion altogether,
even when it has no lasting harmful effects.
Sex Life Changed
Our final question asked, “Has your sex life changed since you became nonreligious? Please explain.” The overall sample said “Yes” 31.9% but the most religious
said 58.9% and the least 12.3%. We received over 2,000 written responses to this
question.
The main benefit that people express is the ability to just enjoy sex without guilt.
Over and over people said, they are much happier and fulfilled not only in their sex life,
but in the rest of their life as well since leaving religion.
“I stopped feeling guilty about having sex outside of marriage. And I owned and explored
my sexuality, which is something I never felt comfortable doing while I was religious.”
“I have learned more about my own body and am more open to different sexualities
portrayed by different people. Also, I am more open to sexual exploration while in a
relationship.”
“I don't feel bad for anything that makes my hubby feel good!”
“It became very vivid and open, whereas before it was restrained an inhibited.”
“I am open to more ideas like being in an open relationship. While religious, I would
have never entertained the idea of being in an open relationship but now I am
comfortable with the idea if it is something my partner and I feel is necessary.”
“I'm not afraid to have sex now... I don't feel guilty about masturbating... and I don't feel
bad anymore about having sucked my friend's cock... (on a side note, I would like to
mention he was the preacher's son at the church I was attending.)”
“There was a large space of time between becoming sexually active and becoming non
religious. During that time, I put myself at unnecessary risk of disease and pregnancy.
While I was religious, guilt kept me from taking basic precautions like birth control or
condom use. To me using any sort of contraceptive was tantamount to admitting that I
was planning for, and indeed, desirous of sexual activities. Deciding to not use
contraception allowed me to convince myself that my pleasure was a side effect of
fulfilling my boyfriend's desire for sexual activity. Additionally I believe my guilt caused
my partner anxiety because I would willingly consent and then experience guilt during
our following sexual activities. I experienced a lot of body shame which prevented me
from taking steps to discover my own personal preferences.”
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
36
Sex and Secularism
We wish we could put many more of the comments we received from this
question and from the entire survey. The comments and stories people told say far more
than percentages and numbers. As we finish the analysis, we may find a way to put up
more, if not all of the comments on-line. It makes for very interesting reading, but more
important, you may find that your guilt or concerns are shared by many other people.
Conclusions
The results of this survey show that there are clear differences in the use of guilt
among various religions. At the same time, such guilt messages have remarkably little
measurable effect on actual behavior. As in other surveys, our results show that religion
has a slight effect in delaying the onset of sexual activity. Religious parents are perceived
to be poorer at sex education compared to less religious parents, though neither are
particularly good at it. Children from highly religious homes feel their sex education is
inferior to those from less religious homes. Finally, we found dramatic improvement in
sexual satisfaction once people left religion with surprisingly few residual effects.
Much of what we found is in line with other surveys, such as the Pew and ARIS
religion surveys but this survey goes a step further to look only a secularists and the
effect of religion before and after religion.
Editorial Comment
This has been an exploration of religion’s impact on sex and sexuality. We felt
that this area had not been explored directly and effectively in the literature. Indeed, we
think sex researchers have been reluctant to look directly at religion as one important
cause of sexual dysfunction, guilt and inappropriate behavior. Had this just been a study
of sexual behavior after leaving a cult like Scientology, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witness
or Jim Jones, most people could easily understand positive change in those who escaped.
This study went a step further to demonstrate that almost all religions suppress and distort
sexuality in measureable increments. While most religions do not have as powerful an
impact as a cult, they still have a negative impact in terms of guilt.
Behavioral role models and teachings from religious parents, clergy, and teachers
can implant ideas of guilt and shame around normal human drives and behavior with
dramatic consequences throughout the life cycle. Rather than using a rational approach to
sexuality, religion simply ignores biology and creates psychological states that interfere
with appropriate sexual expression and development. Teaching guilt and shame around
things that are perfectly natural. Religion impacts how people see their bodies and
express their sexuality whether gay, lesbian or straight. Religions have nothing to say
about our biology. They are in large measure clueless about hormones, brain
development, attraction factors, body image formation and many other things. Ministers
do not take biology classes. Sunday school teachers don’t teach lessons in the effects of
oxytocin on emotional attachment. Priests and nuns (supposedly) have no experience
with sex so what can they possibly add to the discussion. Closeted gay ministers are the
last ones anyone should seek advice from. How can the “happily married” mega church
minister preach “abstinence only” when he had several sex partners in bible college and
probably has a lover or two in his or her current congregation. Is it even credible to
believe that with 95% of all Americans having sex before marriage, that all the ministers
of Baptist Church are from the 5% who didn’t?
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
37
Sex and Secularism
Much of our data is in close agreement with other large-scale surveys and studies.
Biology will happen and all the church teachings and abstinence only programs may only
slow it slightly while withholding valuable information adolescents could use to make
good decisions. Surveys of all kinds show that adolescents will have sex. The question
is not, “How can we stop them?” But “How can we educate them to make rational
choices.” The sex drive is something to be celebrated and enjoyed. It has risks and
dangers just as learning to drive a car. We do far better teaching kids how to drive car
than in how to drive their sex. If parents and schools spent as much time teaching kids
about safe and enjoyable sex as they do teaching about safe driving, there would be fewer
unwanted pregnancies, less disease, fewer abortions and far less guilt and shame that lead
people to make poor decisions about partners and behavior.
In this study, our ability to contrast formerly religious with the less religious gives
valuable insight into the effects of religion on many aspects of sex and sexuality. We can
see from the sex education part of our discussion that religious parents fail miserably in
their job as sex educators. As a result, their children are experimenting with sex and
using pornography and the internet for sex information at higher levels than the children
of more secular parents.
Early in our discussion we stated that religious guilt does not actually stop
behavior. At best, guilt slows down the onset of some sexual behavior by a few months.
So what is the purpose of guilt and shame? The purpose is to ensure that the religious
adherent comes back to his or her religion to obtain forgiveness for the disease that
religion gave him or her in the first place. This “guilt cycle” is the most effective way of
keeping people infected with religious ideas and behaving in ways that perpetuate the
religion to the next generation. Religion is a sexually transmitted disease. Eliminate guilt
and shame around sex, and religions have very little to work with.
While this study does not prove this hypothesis, it certainly puts another hole in
the religious wall. Religions cannot claim that their ideas and principles actually impact
behavior or make people happier. From this data, we can say that secular parents seem to
do a better job of educating their children about sex. We can also see that religious
children in their search for information and guidance cannot and do not get it from their
religion or their parents.
We can also see that religion creates guilt and shame around the most basic sexual
act, masturbation, but has no effect on its practice. What is the purpose in making
people feel so miserable about something they cannot possibly stop or prevent?
Condemning children for masturbating, telling them they will go to hell or suffer in this
life for doing it, is child abuse pure and simple. Children of non-religious parents, the
world over, do just fine in learning and negotiating their sex lives. Religion is not
required and has nothing unique to say about what one does with his or her own body.
Whether Muslim or Christian, Hindu or Buddhist, the evidence in this survey
indicates that all religions have a negative impact on sexuality. From the pedophilia of
Mohammed to that of Catholic priests, from the polygamy of Joseph Smith and Brigham
Young to the sexcapades of Ted Haggard or Earl Paulk, to the local minister who has a
secret affair with the choir director, many, if not all the leaders of all religions have
practiced sexual hypocrisy. One would think that those most concerned with sexual
control, would be best at practicing it. As Marshall Bass, podcaster and former Catholic
seminarian once said, “If you make sexual abnormality a requirement for the job, is it any
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
38
Sex and Secularism
surprise that sexually abnormal people apply for the job?” Religion uses sex for purposes
of propagation not the happiness of its adherents.
There is ample evidence in this survey, that one of the best things one can do to
improve your sex life is leave religion, especially if you were in a conservative religion.
The more liberal religions seem to have less effect on sex but all appear to have some
negative effect, with the sole exception on Unitarianism. Unitarians seem to avoid the
guilt cycle better than any. Unfortunately, without guilt, it is hard to gain and keep
adherents. That may be why Baptists have far more members than Unitarians.
Strategic Directions
We can see by the data and that of other surveys that younger groups are the least
religious. This is a great opportunity to connect. The secular community needs to
connect with people before they turn 30 or have children. Child rearing is the single
biggest factor in pushing people back into religion. How do we connect with them? Use
their media. They get all kinds of information from church and parents that is patently
false. Even they know it, but they need a source of information that makes alternative
views more normal. They hear constantly how evil sex is or how gays are condemned to
hell. We can counter those with targeted ideas focused on adolescents and college age
people. Secularists are far more sex positive and sex friendly than most religionists. This
is a message yet to be explored from our community.
For example, what is prohibited is much more interesting to teens and college age
people. Simple questions like, “Why doesn’t your minister mention the joy of
masturbation? Do you think he doesn’t do it?” or “When you took the abstinence only
class, did they tell you how to give yourself an orgasm?”
“Did your minister use condoms with his two girlfriends in college?”
“Did your minister’s wife have sex before she was married? No! Do you really believe
that?”
“Have you noticed that ministers say you should not have sex before marriage, yet so
many of them have difficulty controlling themselves?”
“Wouldn’t you think those most religiously trained would also be the best at controlling
themselves?”
“Look at this website for a list of the hundreds of ministers who were caught in illegal
sexual activity and remember, this does not count the thousands of minister and priests
who had perfectly legal but “immoral” sex with someone they were not married to.”
Such direct questioning has not been tried. Just as religionists do not like to have their
gods questioned, they do not like their sexual ideas and taboos questioned. Taboos
against talking about sex are very important to religionists. Only by keeping sexual
information away from youth, can they infect them and keep them infected with a
religion’s primitive ideas about sexuality. Through simple questions, posters, on line
discussions, etc. we can raise questions that are not allowed. We need do nothing else.
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
39
Sex and Secularism
Any curious adolescent will be motivated to dig deeper. We already see that in the high
pornography use by religious teens. We just need to extend the questioning more into
areas that are not discussed.
Sources of New Secularists
We think the data contained in this survey point to three key sources of new
secularists. First Non-Denominationalism, this group is contributing far out of proportion
to its numbers in the general population. Non-Denominationalism is the most
decentralized and most like a personality cult. Unlike Catholics, Mormons or other more
organized religions, it does not provide a consistent message to its followers. As a result,
there can be huge differences from one church to the next. In addition, the behavior of
the leaders in these churches is much more cult like. This presents youth with
opportunities to question and explore alternative interpretations of reality.
Secularists, at least in the US, on the whole, are more intelligent and better
educated than the more religious parts of the population. College bound students in high
schools are potentially the most receptive to secular ideas and skepticism. Many
intelligent students can see the reluctance in their Sunday school teacher’s eyes when
they ask questions about evolution, sex or religion. They know they are not getting the
whole story. They also can do a simple internet search and find answers that were
unavailable to even a few years ago. To the degree that secular organizations challenge
the sacred cows of sex and religion in the marketplace of ideas, it will allow students to
examine the religious and sexual dogma of their parents, teachers, ministers and priests.
Recently a number of secular organizations have been using billboards to
challenge the religious culture in the US and the UK among other places. While these
have caused controversy and have led to increased membership and sympathy for the role
of secularists in society, it is our contention that another big challenge to religion is found
in sex. We have seen in this research that secularists are far more open about their
sexuality and enjoy themselves much more than they ever did while religious. We have
seen that stigmas, shame and guilt do not work in preventing or stopping behavior, but
they do make people feel sexually miserable. There is no rational reason for such misery.
While our research cannot tell how many cases of depression, sexual dysfunction, abuse
or even suicide have occurred from the sexual shame and guilt taught by religions; The
many thousands of heart rending stories we received in the survey, tell us emotional and
psychological problems are very common among those infected by religion.
While we fully support the billboard and bus campaigns, we think there are real
opportunities to challenge religion in strong and yet subtle ways. For example, many
teens are smart enough to see the obvious disconnect between parental words and their
behavior. They can hear the preachers tell parents to talk to their children, yet they do
not talk or they give information that any 12 year old knows is incorrect. Teens can see
the disconnect between their parent’s demonization of pornography even as their parents
use it. Simple messages might have an interesting effect:
Have you talked with your parents about sex? Most religious kids can’t or won’t.
Does your religion make you feel guilty about sex? Most do.
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
40
Sex and Secularism
Why would your god make masturbation such a powerful urge, then tell you its wrong?
95% of Americans have sex before marriage. Did your minister have sex before he got
married?
The Virgin Mary was actually a sexually active adolescent. She made up a pretty good
story and the adults bought it.
95% of Americans have sex before marriage. Your minister probably had sex before
marriage but he tells you not to. Protect yourself, use a condom.
Are there souls in zygotes? Which zygotes get souls? For every live birth, a woman has
several zygotes that never implant and grow. Did they have souls?
Any or all of these ideas could be used by the student leaders as discussion primers. Kids
are going to talk about sex, so lets give them something to talk about that helps them
distinguish reality from religious fantasy. Help them challenge myths like “Ministers do
not have premarital sex.” or “Priests don’t masturbate.” or “Good girls stay pure until
marriage. You will burn in hell for having sex with your boyfriend.” Even the most
religious do not believe these ideas, as their behavior shows.
These are just some of the ideas that might be used to create new ways of thinking
for potential skeptics in high schools and colleges. We are sure that there are many more
strategic approaches but sex and sexuality are primary concerns with maturing young
people, a key target group. Adolescents and young adults are in a critical time trying to
establish their sexual identity. Religion intentionally plays upon the doubts and fears of
youth to infect them with medieval ideas of sexuality. These ideas are so primitive that
they can be easily challenged in simple ways.
It has been an unwritten rule within secularism that we cannot talk publically
about the religion’s destructive role in sexual development for fear of bringing the wrath
of the religious world. Just as we have begun to openly challenge the myths and scams of
religion, we need to challenge the sexuality of religion as well; for it is in sex that religion
holds the most important key. Whether Hindu or Muslim, Christian or Mormon, all are
strongly dependent upon sexual oppression and fear to maintain control and infect the
next generation.
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
41
Sex and Secularism
Appendix
Figure 1
Figure 2
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
42
Sex and Secularism
Figure 3
Figure 4
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
43
Sex and Secularism
Figure 5
Figure 6
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
44
Sex and Secularism
International Distribution of Respondents
USA
Canada
UK
Australia
Germany
Netherlands
Sweden
Ireland
New Zealand
11655
739
681
387
106
83
79
75
68
80.0%
5.1%
4.7%
2.7%
0.7%
0.6%
0.5%
0.5%
0.5%
Figure 9
How Religious Was Your Childhood
Home?
25.0%
20.0%
15.0%
10.0%
5.0%
el
y
9
em
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
10
=
1=
Ex
tr
Ve
ry
Li
tt
le
0.0%
US
International
Figure 10
Darrel Ray, Ed.D. and Amanda Brown
45

Similar documents