Sunday, September 24, 2006

Does Religion Influence Sexual Behavior?

Does religious belief influence sexual attitudes and behavior? Most would call the question a no brainer--of course it does! But human nature being what it is, religious belief has less influence on behavior than on attitudes.

This becomes clear in an examination of the National Survey of Family Growth, a survey taken every few years by the National Center for Health Statistics. The NSFG probes the attitudes and behavior of a representative sample of Americans aged 15 to 44 toward sexuality and reproduction. An examination of the results suggests that religious belief affects the talk much more than the walk.

Religious belief shapes attitudes toward premarital sex:
The percentage of women who think it is all right for unmarried 18-year-olds to have sexual relations if they have strong affection for one another ranges from a high of 74 percent among women with no religion to a low of 29 percent for fundamentalist Protestant women. Among Catholic women, the 54 percent majority thinks premarital sex is OK.

But it delays first sexual intercourse by only a few months:
Among women aged 15 to 44 with no religion, average age at first sexual intercourse was 16.4 years. Fundamentalist Protestants held off for several more months, with an average age of 16.9 years at first sexual intercourse. Catholics just said no for nearly one year longer, with an average age at first sexual intercourse of 17.7 years.

And it has little impact on "saving oneself" for marriage:
Among women with no religion, only 12 percent waited until marriage before having sex. The proportion was a slightly higher 15 percent among Catholics and 17 percent among fundamentalist Protestants.

Religious belief drives attitudes toward out-of-wedlock childbearing:
Among women with no religion, fully 86 percent think it is OK for an unmarried woman to have a child. A 49 percent minority of fundamentalist Protestants agree. (Among fundamentalist Protestant men, the figure is an even smaller 37 percent.). A surprisingly large 72 percent of Catholic women think out-of-wedlock childbearing is OK.

But it has almost no effect on out-of-wedlock childbearing itself:
Among women aged 15 to 44 with children, the percentage who have ever had a child out-of-wedlock is similar regardless of religion. Among women with no religion, 49 percent have had a child out of wedlock. The proportion is 47 percent among fundamentalist Protestants and a slightly smaller 40 percent among Catholics.

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