Does Having More Sex Result in a Stronger Religious Inclination?

Here may be why religious states have a higher consumption of pornography. 


Hormones may have us screaming out the almighty’s name in the bedroom, but in a house of worship as well? Ask people the connection among religious beliefs, frequent sex, and our hormones, and you’ll probably receive befuddled stares, and some embarrassed looks as well. But according to researchers at Duke University, oxytocin or the “love hormone,” not only bonds lovers, and mother to child, but can increase religious feelings as well.  

Oxytocin is said to illicit the opposite effect of adrenaline. Instead of “fight or flight,” it helps romantic partners get closer, through the “calm and cuddle” response. Oxytocin also plays an important role in childbirth and breast feeding as well. The hormone, which is also a neurotransmitter, builds feelings of trust, empathy, and even sexual pleasure. Researchers at Duke were curious about what other connections it had in human life.

“We were interested in understanding biological factors that may enhance those spiritual experiences,” said Patty Van Cappallen, the study’s lead author. She is a social psychologist at the university. “Oxytocin appears to be part of the way our bodies support spiritual beliefs,” she said.

Oxytocin initiates the “calm and cuddle” response, bonding couples to one another.

To conduct their study, Van Cappallen and colleagues recruited 83 middle-aged men. Participants were randomly selected to be a part of one of two groups. One was given an oxytocin-laden nasal spray, while the other received a placebo. Just one week later, two self-assessments were given to the men. Researchers were surprised to find that those who received oxytocin, experienced stronger feelings of spirituality than those who took the placebo. Spirituality was defined as, “One’s personal affirmation of and relationship to a higher power or to the sacred.”

Those who received oxytocin were more likely to say that spirituality gave them meaning and purpose to their lives, regardless of whether or not they adhered to any organized religion, beforehand. Oxytocin, produced in the hypothalamus of the brain, plays a central role in not only bonding, but even altruism. During guided meditation, oxytocin recipients reported experiencing more positive feelings, such as inspiration, love, hope, awe, gratitude, and serenity.

Some participants in the oxytocin group were more susceptible to its effects than others, researchers found. Genetic testing was carried out on each of them. Those who contained a particular gene variant, known as CD38, were found to have a stronger link between oxytocin and spirituality. This gene is known to regulate the hormone’s production within the hypothalamus.

Model of the hypothalamus. Image are generated by Life Science Databases(LSDB). [CC BY-SA 2.1 jp (], via Wikimedia Commons

Researchers also found stronger feelings of connection between the self and other humans, among the oxytocin group. They tended to identify more with statements like, “there is a higher plane of consciousness or spirituality that binds all people,” and “all life is interconnected.” This is the first study to provide evidence that spirituality has a biological, and even a hormonal component.

So if it necessary for sexual pleasure, do religious people have better sex, as a result of higher levels of oxytocin? That remains to be investigated. No specific research has touched on the hormone’s role in the sex lives of the devout, yet. The interaction between sex and religion seems downright antithetical, since many religions have strict rules against provocative dress and acting in a sexual manner, and taboos against extramarital or premarital sex.

Yet, studies have shown that those who self-identify as religious are actually more sexually driven. For instance, more pornography is consumed in so-called religious states in the US, than non-religious ones. Unwanted teen pregnancy is also higher in more religious states than those more secular.

Do Catholics have a better sex life than atheists?

In a 1992 "National Health and Social Life Survey," 88% of Conservative Catholics said they had a satisfying sex life. Those who attended services the least frequently however, reported the lowest sexual satisfaction. A 1994 study released by Catholic sociologist and priest Andrew Greeley, found that 68% of Catholics have sex at least once per week, over 56% of non-Catholics. Another study out of the University of Chicago, considered the most comprehensive on American’s sex lives to date, discovered that, “having a religious affiliation was associated with higher rates of orgasm for women.”

Not all of the research agrees. A 2011 study, containing 14,500 participants, found that atheists had the best sex lives. Psychologists Darrel Ray and Amanda Brown at Kansas University, found that atheists were more willing to share their interests and fantasies, and were less inclined to be racked with guilt after a sexual encounter. In this study, both the religious and the secular lost their virginity around similar ages, and had about the same frequency of sex per week. Mormons were found to have the most guilt associated with sex, followed by Jehovah's Witnesses, Pentecostals, Seventh Day Adventists, and Baptists. Ray and Brown found that the stronger their religious beliefs, the more guilt there was associated with sex.

Mormons were the most guilty when it came to sex, one study found.

More research will be needed to get a better sense of this phenomenon, what role the hormonal component plays, and how it interacts with our sexual and spiritual lives. As for the Duke study, the question remains, do women feel stronger spirituality in response to oxytocin? Previous studies have shown that the hormone acts differently in each sex, and this study only used men.

Prof. Van Cappellen did say however that we shouldn’t base the entirety of religiosity, and perhaps sexual gratification, on a single hormone. Rather she said, “Spirituality is complex and affected by many factors." Even so, “Oxytocin does seem to affect how we perceive the world and what we believe."

To learn why we have sex to begin with click here: 

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  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
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The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

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