Stronger religious beliefs linked to higher levels of sexual satisfaction, study finds

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According to a new study, having stronger religious beliefs is linked to higher levels of sexual satisfaction.

Those who say religion is important in their lives have less sex — driven by abstinence among those not living with a partner — but are more satisfied with their sex lives overall, researchers have found.

Research shows that having few or many lifetime sexual partners is linked to lower sexual satisfaction. Higher approval of casual sex or loveless sex was found to be negatively associated with sexual satisfaction for both men and women.

The study, published in The Journal of Sex Researchwas 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.

Dr. Peri-Rotem says that “The relationship between sexual frequency and sexual satisfaction is neither simple nor straightforward; in all types of relationships, too little or too much sex is associated with lower sexual satisfaction, which suggests that an optimum exists in terms of frequency related to higher levels of satisfaction.”

The researchers used data on men and women aged 18 to 59 from the UK’s Third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles.

More religious married women reported higher sexual satisfaction than their less religious peers, although this relationship was not found among married men. Single religious men also reported greater satisfaction with sex life, although this relationship disappeared after researchers included controls for attitudes toward casual sex and loveless sex, or when the sample was restricted to sexually active respondents.

Of those who responded to the survey, 11% of men and 16% of women said that religion and religious beliefs were very important to them. More than two-thirds of respondents said they had never or almost never attended religious services. Half of all respondents were married, a further 17% lived with a partner and a fifth did not have a stable partner.

On average, men reported a higher frequency of sexual occurrences in the past four weeks than women (4.4 vs. 4.0 respectively). About a quarter of women and men said they completely agreed with the statement “I am satisfied with my sex life”, while 14% of women and 17% of men said they were dissatisfied with their sex life. .

Nearly 40% of men reported having had ten or more sexual partners in their lifetime, compared to a quarter of women.

Dr Skirbekk says that “as religious people are less likely to engage in casual sex and are more likely to limit sexual activity to a relationship based on love, this may lead to lower expectations of sexual activity outside of a formal union, as well as increased satisfaction However, religious feelings about the sanctity of marital sex, as well as disapproval of sex outside of marriage, may matter more for sexual satisfaction sexual satisfaction among more religious cohabiting men when all other variables were held constant, whereas no similar relationship was found among cohabiting women.”

The study shows a significant association between educational level and sexual frequency and satisfaction. Highly educated people reported having less frequent sex, as well as reduced satisfaction with sex life compared to less educated people.

Dr Peri-Rotem says their “research suggests that changes in sexual behavior must be understood in the context of changes in religious norms and beliefs and other trends at the societal level. Postponement of union formation is linked to less frequent sex, while increasing exposure to casual sex among people with lower religious orientation.”

“For women, we find that having no sexual partners, as well as having at least ten lifetime sexual partners, is associated with lower satisfaction with 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 loveless sex and casual sex is linked to greater sex life satisfaction in both men and women. While sexual satisfaction initially increases with frequency of intercourse, it decreases again at a higher number of sexual opportunities. Therefore, having ‘too much sex can lead to a lower level of satisfaction with sex life.’

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More information:
Nitzan Peri-Rotem et al, Religiosity, sexual frequency and sexual satisfaction in Britain: evidence from the Third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal), The Journal of Sex Research (2022). DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2022.2108745

Provided by the University of Exeter

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Ruth R. Culp