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Faith linked to higher sexual satisfaction

05 September 2022

‘Disapproval of sex without love and of casual sex is linked with higher satisfaction’

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RELIGIOUS belief is linked to higher levels of sexual satisfaction, a new study by the University of Exeter has found.

Researchers found that people who report religion as “important” in their lives have less sex on average than their non-religious counterparts, mainly because they were significantly less likely to have sex outside a cohabiting relationship. But at the same time, being religious was linked with overall higher levels of satisfaction in their sex lives.

The research found that having no or many sexual partners is linked to lower sexual satisfaction. Higher approval of casual sex was found to be negatively associated with sexual satisfaction, for both men and women.

The study, “Religiosity, Sex Frequency, and Sexual Satisfaction in Britain: Evidence from the Third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles,” published last month in The Journal of Sex Research, was conducted by Dr Nitzan Peri-Rotem from the University of Exeter and Dr Vegard Skirbekk from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and Columbia University.

Researchers used data on men and women aged 18 to 59. Among those who completed the survey, 11 per cent of men and 16 per cent of women said that religion and religious beliefs were very important to them, while more than two-thirds of respondents reported that they had never or almost never attended religious services. Half of all respondents were married, 17 per cent were living with a partner, and one fifth had no stable partner.

On average, men reported higher frequency of having sex in the past four weeks compared with women. Around one quarter of women and men expressed strong agreement with the statement: “I feel satisfied with my sex life,” while 14 per cent of women and 17 per cent of men reported being dissatisfied with their sex life. The more religious married women reported higher sexual satisfaction than their less religious peers, though this was not the case for married men.

Nearly 40 per cent of men in the overall survey reported having ten or more sexual partners in their lifetime compared with one quarter of women.

Dr Skirbekk said: “As religious individuals are less likely to engage in casual sex and are more likely to limit sexual activity to a relationship based on love, this can lead to lower expectations of sexual activity outside a formal union, as well as increased satisfaction from sex life in general.

“However, it is possible that religious sentiments about the sanctity of marital sex, as well as disapproval of sex outside marriage, matter more for women’s than for men’s sexual satisfaction. This is also evident by the relatively higher levels of sexual satisfaction among more religious cohabiting men when all other variables were held constant, while no similar relationship was found among cohabiting women.”

The study shows a significant association between educational attainment and both sexual frequency and satisfaction. Highly educated individuals reported having less frequent sex, as well as reduced satisfaction from their sex life, when compared to those with lower qualifications.

Dr Peri-Rotem said that the research showed that changes in sexual behaviour needed to be understood in a context of changes in religious norms and beliefs and other societal level trends. She said: “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.

“For women, it is found that having no sexual partners, as well as having ten or more lifetime sexual partners is associated with lower satisfaction from sex life. Among men on the other hand, no relationship is found between the number of lifetime sexual partners and sexual satisfaction.

“However, disapproval of sex without love and of casual sex is linked with higher satisfaction from sex life among both men and women. While sexual satisfaction initially increases with sex frequency, it declines again at a higher number of sex occasions. Therefore, having ‘too much’ sex may lead to lower level of satisfaction from sex life.”

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