Do Atheists and Agnostics have better sex than religious people?

A new study recently published has supposedly revealed that Atheists have far better sex lives than religious people (I will explain why I use the word supposedly later on in the article). The findings emerged in the Sex and Secularism survey of more than 14500 people carried out by psychologist Darrel Ray and Amanda Brown from Kansas University.

The study, which has taken a broad mix of religious and non religious individuals has foundthat those who are not associated with a religious group are more likely to talk about sexual fantasies and experiences without feeling any form of guilt, therefore feeling happier with their sex lives and enjoying it more.

Both groups that were surveyed had admitted that they carried out the same activities such as masturbation, watching pornography, having oral sex and pursuing affairs.

The results of the study showed that those that held to a religion did not enjoy the experiences as much due to the stigma created by their belief systems. It left them with intense feelings of regret after they had climaxed.

All of the people questioned were found to have sex around the same number of times a week. They also became sexually active at similar ages.

The study revealed some stark stats:

  • Strict religions such as Mormons ranked highest on the scale of sexual guilt. Their average score was 8.19 out of 10.
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostals, Seventh Day Adventists and Baptists. Catholics rated their levels of guilt at 6.34
  • Lutherans had a score of 5.88
  • Atheists and agnostics ranked 4.71 and 4.81
  • Of people raised in very religious homes, 22.5 percent said they were shamed or ridiculed for masturbating compared with only 5.5 percent of people brought up in the least religious homes.
  • About 79.9 percent of people raised in very religious homes said they felt guilty about a specific sexual activity or desire
  • 26.3 percent of those raised in secular homes felt guilty about a specific sexual activity or desire
  • Children raised in strongly religious homes were more likely to get their sex education from pornography, as they were not confident enough to talk with their parents.

Comments were also made that sexual experience had improved after a person had left a religion.

Psychologist Darrel Ray concluded the study with these remarks;

We did think that religion would have residual effects in people after they left but our data did not show this. That was a very pleasant surprise. The vast majority seem to shake it off and get on with their sexual lives pretty well. Our data shows that people feel very guilty about their sexual behaviour when they are religious, but that does not stop them. Of course, they have to return to their religion to get forgiveness. It’s like the church gives you the disease, then offers you a fake cure.

So, as a Christian and from a Christian perspective, what do I think about the whole thing? Well I can safely say that I believe the results of the study definitely don’t prove that Atheists and Agnostics have better sex than religious people.

Why would I say this? The clue is all in the word “guilt”. One must remember that Christians believe in a God who is creator. Since he created everything to do with humans, then sex must have been thrown in there too. And God made it to feel good. Would God really be angry at someone finding pleasure in sex that he created to be good? I don’t think so.

Now, I have to say here that probably most, if not all religions, especially Christianity make it clear that sex is to be enjoyed within the confines of marriage. This doesn’t make sex any less appealing or fun. If anything, I would imagine that it makes it even better, more intimate and more enjoyable.

Back to the ‘guilt’ thing. The problem that I think the study has is that it has surveyed people who seem to have a religious life sorted out for them, rather than a Christ life installed within them. Jesus is not a God of guilt. However, I think churches and religious institutions and organisations have a lot to answer for when it comes to sexual education and the pastoral handling of sexual issues.

One of the most striking findings of the study was that ‘religious’ Children are finding their sexual education from pornography rather than their parents, and I guess the church too. Now, this is horrific. If there’s any safe person to talk to about sex, it should be the parents, and for a Christian, the church. This talk should NOT involve guilt, pressure, or belittling. Indeed, it should focus on the value of sex, the fun of it, and the advantages that sex brings as well as the adventure that it entails.

I’m not saying that children should be educated to “have sex as long as you wear protection”. This is exactly the attitude that causes many of today’s problems in society. What I am saying is that there is a certain way to educate.

Because the people who have been surveyed have clearly been misled and have been made to feel guilty by sex, it has carried through into their adulthood and therefore their sexual desires and experiences have been tarred and suppressed.

I’m pretty sure that Christians who have been taught properly about sex and have stuck to ‘God’s rules’ about it have the same sexual experience as those who aren’t religious. There is no guilt attached.

Therefore, whilst I wouldn’t agree with the study concluding that in order to have better sex you need to ditch God, I would say that the survey has highlighted  a deep problem within the Church which needs to be addressed properly… and quickly.

If it isn’t, then we, as a Christian family will head towards a very bad crisis. It is time to stop the guilt tripping, and to start educating our younger generations on the fun, value, and adventure of sex, which is a vital part of a good, healthy, loving relationship. It’s simply unbiblical to present Eros Love in a negative way which ultimately attaches the stigma that was revealed in the survey. In turn, this drives people into being sexually oppressed when there is no need to be.

Does anyone have any thoughts, experiences or opinions on this?

Dean Roberts

Dean is a Minister in the Anglican Church. Currently he is Curate in the parishes of Bedwas, Machen, Michaelston-y-Fedw and Rudry in South Wales. He was born and bred in Wales, is married to Megan, and has two dogs called Taliesin and Melyn, and two cats named Sinsir and Hâf. He graduated from Cardiff University with a BA Hons. in Theology & Religious Studies, and has studied for an MA in Theology, Ministry & Mission at Trinity College Bristol. He also holds a Cert.RSCM from the Royal School of Church Music. He loves playing music, walking, reading, blogging and horse riding as well as going to the cinema and theatre. Read More @

  • nan and taid

    A very interesting article.I think sex education in schools is all about the mechanics of the sex act without addressing the emotional aspects of such a relationship.We as Christians should pray and think very deeply about this issue that is not going away.

  • I think your approach is a very sound one.

    • Thanks nothingprofound 🙂

  • Dean: Thanks for a balanced article. I am one of the authors of the survey and have been appalled at the factual errors many bloggers and journalists have made about our study. As you know, I am an atheist, but good science is important no matter what your persuasion, when it comes to our children. We were quite surprised to see that religious children were getting more of their information about sex from experience, peers and porn than from their parents. A common theme we heard from hundreds of people is that religious parents are much poorer at communicating about sex to their children than the non-religious parents. One inhibitor we found was premarital sex. 95% of the US population has premarital sex. Even religious people who become parents. Unfortunately, when religious people have children they cannot admit that they had premarital sex whereas secular parents have no problem discussing and admitting it. This makes for an immediate barrier to communication between religious parent and child. The religious parent does not want to answer the question “mom or dad, did you have sex before you were married” or “how many partners did you have before you got married.” Because all churches teach that this is sinful. Religious parents simply don’t know how to respond to these questions except to lie and say they didn’t or to tell the truth and say it was a mistake and the child should not do it. Nether answer is satisfying to a child or adolescent. The big problem we noted, was that religious parents simply see honesty about human biology as far too risky, therefore they just don’t talk to their children. 13% of religious parents and 38% of secular parents talk. Neither of these are particularly good numbers BUT it shows something is going on to inhibit religious parents talking to their children. If religious parents admit that premarital sex is going to happen, indeed, they could not resist it themselves, then they will be more open and honest in helping children make rational choices. Simply saying God does not want you to do it, stops few if any. Biology is simply too powerful and guilt doesn’t stop anyone, it just keeps them from thinking clearly.

    When I was in seminary and my wife was in bible college, there were dozens of prayer meetings and other events to teach these obviously religious and dedicated people how to resist sexual temptation. Nevertheless, we and virtually all the other couples we knew were engaging in sex – sometimes before or after the prayer meeting. The bible college was one of the most strict in the US. My seminary was not nearly as strict, but the same amount of sex seemed to be going on in both schools. In any case we all felt horribly guilty, but that didn’t stop even the most devout in many cases.

    Denial was rampant from the Dean and President to the dorm monitors (who were often sleeping with someone). A significant number of girls got pregnant each semester and “took a semester off.” No one was supposed to know why, but it got out.

    Birth control was strictly forbidden in my wife’s bible college AND they would even search purses and dorm rooms if they suspected. Many girls still used birth control including my future wife and I. She had a special hiding place in her car that her senior spiritual partner had shown her! The senior “spritual partner” eventually got married to the most charismatic man in the school. He went on to have a series of affairs and got fired from two different churches before she finally divorced him. But he could build a church from scratch to thousands in only a few years.

    We were both amazed at the capacity of the administration in both institutions to deny what was clearly going on in their institution. It convinced me that denial is one of the hallmarks of religion. The ability to overlook the obvious while preaching against it and often doing it themselves.

    Just some thoughts on my experience and observations.

    Thanks again for a thoughtful article. I have not seen many honest and well written from religious writers.

    Dr. Darrel Ray, author of the Sex and Secularism Report

    • Dr Ray, thank you for commenting! I feel honoured that you’ve looked at this.

      I find your stories and experiences horrific. To be frank. Being a Christian, I believe the Church will have a lot to answer for one day when it comes to these issues, as I said in the article. It’s absolutely horrendous that pastors, lecturers, teachers and ministry leaders just don’t have the first clue about dealing with such issues.

      As I’m sure you respect my faith, I still maintain that the ideal within Christianity is that sex is kept for within marriage. Having said this, I don’t find the stats surprising. But I feel the ‘sex sin’ is often seen as a lot more serious than the ‘acceptable sins’ such as jealousy, lying etc etc. Last time I checked, God didn’t have a sin hierarchy.

      And this guilt that ministry leaders have put on people has filtered down to parents, as you rightly said, who lie, or refuse to talk about a past which doesn’t comply to Christian teaching. Where is the honesty? One quote I remember most vividly is the one where it says ‘You’re most like the Devil when you’re lying’. It’s so true. The lies and guilt that has been put on this delicate matter has turned our society into a big mess, especially in the Christian world… and I’m glad you’ve highlighted it. The Church as a whole needs to buck up its ideas; Jesus was never in the habit of guilt tripping and condemning people. Christianity is not a faith which seeks to do this. It is, or should be about grace and forgiveness; not to say that we turn a blind eye to ‘sin’, but that reconciliation can be found in those times when we don’t live up to God’s standard etc.

      I wish you every success and thank you again for commenting here. Would be great for you to keep me in the loop about more studies like this that you carry out.

  • Dean: Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I didn’t say earlier, but I love North Wales and have been in the Ruthin area many times working with clients for my consulting firm. It is a most beautiful place, almost magical with it history, old castles and language. I have not been there in about 6 years but spoke in London and Birmingham in October of last year on my book The God Virus. Spoke at South Street Ethical society where Bertrand Russel spoke. Quite awesome to speak in the same place as such a great mathematician and philosopher.

    I will attempt to keep you “in the loop” however, I have a great many people in my contact list. If you don’t hear from me, remind me if you wish. My next book will be out late this hear God and Sex: How Religion Distorts Sexuality.

    Very good to have a civil conversation with a Christian. I am too often responded to with vitrol and hate from followers of Jesus and accusations that I have no idea what I am talking about from people who have not seriously read their own holy book. I think civil discussion is possible though we are poles apart. All the best in your future studies and work. By the way, take Paul Tillich very slowly when you study systematic theology and be sure and read Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity (1842). One of the most fun courses I took in seminary was a course called Theology and Literature at Vanderbilt Divinity School. I never read so much in my life, before or since, but it was a huge experience in how theology has been expressed in literature. Very fun course. My favorite book in the whole course was Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. I have probably read it a dozen times since.


    • Thanks Darrel!

      Will really have a look at those books. I’ve come across Tillich before. Glad you like Wales! I don’t live far from Rhuthun (Ruthin) when I’m back at home, though as you might have read, I live in Cardiff at the moment.

      So refreshing to have this sort of conversation with someone who is ‘poles apart’ – completely agree. Best of wishes to you!