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Do religious Jews have better sex?

Deeply religious people might seem less likely to have frequent sex, and this is somewhat true - but people who are closer to religion also tend to be far more satisfied with their sex lives, according to a new study. The findings of this study, conducted by the University of Exeter's Dr. Nitzan Peri-Rotem and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health's Dr. Vegard Skirbekk, was published in the peer-reviewed academic periodical The Journal of Sex Research.

This research sheds light on the association of one's religious faith with the level of satisfaction in one's sex life, as well as the optimal number of sexual partners.

Background: How have views on sex and religion changed in the West?

Religious faiths have often had restrictive views towards sexuality. Some shunned it altogether and others viewed it as something that should simply be done for the sake of procreation rather than enjoyment. This, in turn, was associated with a strong degree of stigma attached to sexuality, particularly anything that deviated from the established societal norm of a cohabiting married heterosexual couple.

Over time, this has changed. Many religious streams are far more accepting of sex and sexuality and reject sexual repression, which itself is also associated with the increasing trend of secularization throughout the West.

Sex has become perceived as something that can be enjoyed rather than something solely for the sake of having children. Premarital sex became more normalized, as did sexualities outside traditional heteronormative societal expectations.

Consequently, it can be inferred that more liberal attitudes towards sex are themselves associated with secularization.

But there are other factors to consider as well.

Marriages are now associated with older age demographics as younger people are less eager to rush into matrimony and start a family. While secularization is a factor in this trend, it isn't everything. Other factors include rising prices and the high cost of raising children as well as longer education and later entry into the workforce. 

Marriages themselves are often at least in part motivated by the desire to start a family. As such, they are inherently linked to sex. As such, postponing marriage can also mean the frequency with which one has sex might also be impacted.

In other words, married people often have sex more frequently than non-married people, so getting married later may also mean having sex less often. Now, how does this all tie into religion? And more importantly, how is all of this linked to sexual satisfaction?

There are some links that are already evident.

Religious upbringings are known to impact one's sex life, due to religious expectations and rules regarding sexual activity. This includes discouraging premarital and non-monogamous sex and seemingly being associated with guilt. 

Guilt in particular is a factor that could make sex less enjoyable. Further, religious teachings and rules about sex can also change the expectations one will have about sex, further influencing the level of enjoyment.

But that isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, prior studies have indicated that these different expectations might make religious people have a far greater level of satisfaction from sex.

It is also true that religious people often have sex far less frequently than secular people, specifically premarital sex, something researchers note is largely by choice. 

So how does this all tie together?

This is what the study sought to answer.

Do religious people have better sex?

To understand this, the researchers utilized data of both male and female participants aged 18-59 from the third British National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles. In terms of sexuality, though, the study primarily excluded those who were either exclusively or mostly attracted to the same gender. This was done in order to reduce heterogeneity bias.

The study looked at three main variables: How often someone has sex - regardless of oral sex, anal sex or vaginal sex - the level of sexual satisfaction and level of religiosity. 

For sex frequency, the study asked how many times someone had sex in the previous months, and people who never had sex were valued at zero. For sex satisfaction, the study used a five-point scale to determine how satisfied one was with their sex life - even if they had no sexual experience at all. Also included for both was the number of lifetime sexual partners, regardless of gender, and views on casual sex.

For religiosity, the study examined how important and prevalent religious beliefs, practices and rituals are in one's life. This also included measuring the frequency of how often one attends religious services. The religions accounted for in the study included Protestant Christians (specifically Anglicans), Catholics, other Christians and non-Christians.

Other factors measured included any number of socio-demographic factors like children, education, ethnicity and so on. But the most important one was relationship status, which includes unpartnered; which means either never had a partner, didn't currently have one or had casual sex partners; a steady relationship but one where the partners don't live together; and marriage.

In the end, the study found some interesting information. Overall, men tended to have more sex partners in their lifetime than women. However, across the board, religious people had sex less often than non-religious people. But at the same time, religious people also had higher satisfaction in their sex lives compared to secular people.

But among women, a noticeable trend emerged regarding sexual satisfaction. And that trend has to do with the number of partners.

"Having 'too much' sex may lead to lower level of satisfaction from sex life." (Dr. Nitzan Peri-Rotem)

Is there such a thing as too many sex partners?

One thing noticed about religious people is that they tend to limit sex to committed relationships based on love. This, in turn, seems to be related to how expectations for sex are different, with religious people not expecting sex outside of their committed relationship and therefore enjoying sex more. 

By contrast, women who have sex with many partners in their lifetime, or none at all, have less sexual satisfaction. In other words, this implies that there is perhaps an optimal number of sexual partners one should have in order to enjoy sex more, with Peri-Rotem explaining in a statement that "having 'too much' sex may lead to lower level of satisfaction from sex life."

But there are other factors to consider, too, such as education. People with higher education have sex less frequently and they show lower levels of sexual satisfaction. Why this is the case, however, is something the researchers are unclear about. But overall, the conclusion the study reached was as follows: Postponing marriage longer and being less religious can result in sex being less enjoyable.

Aaron Reich