Faith and sexuality: young face dilemma

02 March 2011

by a staff reporter

YOUNG adults of faith in the UK have concerns about the stigmatisation of religion and the increasingly sexualised culture in British society today, a new study has suggested.

Religion, Youth and Sexuality: A multi-faith exploration was carried out by academics in Nottingham, and is the first detailed study of the issues. During the two-year project, they canvassed the views of nearly 700 people, aged from 18 to 25, from six religions: Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Sikhism. Heterosexual, gay, bisexual, and transgendered young adults took part.

Religious faith was, overwhelmingly, the source of information for their sexual values, attitudes, and practices. Most of them thought that the expression of sexuality was desirable, although participants were evenly split on whether sex should occur only in marriage. All of those questioned valued monogamy in a committed relationship.

Dr Andrew Yip, who carried out the research with colleagues Dr Sarah-Jane Page and Dr Michael Keenan, said that many young adults drew from “a variety of resources such as religious faith, youth culture, the media, and friendship networks. They are creating sexual ethics that are informed by their religious faith.”

A majority of them, Dr Yip said, “believe religious leaders do not know enough about sexuality — particularly youth sexuality. Others consider institutional religion a social control mechanism that excessively regulates gender and sexual behaviour, without sufficient engagement with young people themselves.”

Two-thirds of those surveyed believed that there was too much focus on sex in mainstream society. They said that a sexualised culture and promiscuity were significant issues for young people of faith.

James, a Buddhist, said: “The idea that you can talk about sex and it’s OK to experiment with things — that’s all fantastic, but the culture that’s come with that, of more casual sex, and sex as losing any deeper meaning, is obviously its negative side.”

The experiences of young adults in connecting their religious faith and sexuality showed that some had experienced tension and conflict, while others compartmentalised their faith and sexuality.

“The study also shows that the negotiation of religion and sexuality can be difficult, and that there is a real diversity of experience among young religious adults,” Dr Keenan said. “We hope the research findings will lead to greater discussion of these important issues.”

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