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Religious people report greater sexual satisfaction. What can we learn from them?

Only have sex with a person you love — a novel concept!
sexual satisfaction
Credit: Vladimir Zadvinskii / Adobe Stock
Key Takeaways
  • Religious people are often stereotyped as having unsatisfying sex lives.
  • However, a new study of more than 10,000 heterosexual adults in the UK finds that religious people generally report more satisfying sex lives than nonreligious people.
  • This could be because religious people have less casual sex and more sex within dedicated, loving relationships.

When psychologists and therapists offer advice to boost sexual satisfaction, they suggest communicating one’s sexual desires, talking dirty, trying new sex positions, embracing novelty, watching porn together, exercising, and introducing sex toys, among numerous other ideas. Unsurprisingly, given cultural stereotypes, something they never recommend is “find religion.”

But considering the results of a study recently published in the Journal of Sex Research, maybe they should. The research suggests that we can learn something from sexually satisfied believers.

Saintly but sexy

Vegard Skirbekk, a professor of population and family health at Columbia University, and Nitzan Peri-Rotem, a social demographer at the University of Exeter, teamed up to analyze survey responses from 10,683 heterosexual adults aged 18 to 60 in the UK collected through the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles. They were specifically curious to see how participants’ self-reported religiosity correlated with their frequency of sex and their overall sexual satisfaction.

“The findings point to a generally higher satisfaction from sex life among those who considered religion as fairly or very important compared to those stating religion was not important at all,” they discovered.

This was despite the fact that religious men and women reported slightly more infrequent sexual activity than their nonreligious peers. The disparity was greatest among religious and non-religious single individuals, but was negligible among cohabitating and married couples. Poring through prior research, the authors found evidence that religious individuals derive more meaning from sex, and tend to put themselves in situations that lead to more enjoyable encounters.

“Previous studies have shown that increased investments in exclusive long-term partnerships and greater time to develop satisfactory trusting relationships can matter for sexual satisfaction, while sex outside a committed relationship is often related to lower sexual satisfaction,” they noted.

Religious individuals are more likely to limit their sexual activity to relationships based on love and devotion. Sexual satisfaction is regularly higher within these sorts of dedicated partnerships.

Secularization leads to worse sex?

Based on the results, the researchers speculate that increasing secularization coupled with delaying marriage in the Western world could diminish overall sexual satisfaction.

“The postponement of union formation is related to less frequent sex, while also increasing the exposure to casual sex among those with weaker religious orientation. Therefore, the decline in religiosity and the rise in the single population are likely to exacerbate these trends, which may potentially result in lower sexual satisfaction,” they wrote.

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As the study was conducted on individuals in the UK, it’s hard to say whether the findings would translate to Americans. Healthy relationship education is mandatory in UK primary schools for kids aged 5 to 11, and comprehensive sex education is compulsory in secondary schools for kids aged 12 to 16. Within the U.S. education system, sex education is often subpar or even absent between elementary and high school, especially in areas where religion is more prominent. This could erase the advantage in sexual satisfaction seen in the current study, or reverse it entirely.

Still, the present study is interesting as it cuts against a common stereotype that religious people have sexless, and generally unarousing, erotic lives. While they might have slightly less sex, it does seem that they perceive the quality to be higher and more fulfilling. Isn’t that what really matters?

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