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Atheists Do It Better: Why Leaving Religion Leads to Better Sex

A new study shows that religious people have as much sex as atheists, but with less sexual satisfaction and more guilt.

Do atheists have better sex? Yes. According to science, that is -- and more specifically, according to the recently released "Sex and Secularism" study.

In January 2011, organizational psychologist Darrel Ray, Ed.D. (psychologist for 30 years and author of The God Virus as well as two books on psychology) and Amanda Brown (undergraduate at Kansas University, focused on sexuality and sex therapy) conducted a sex survey of over 14,500 people -- atheists, agnostics, and other people in the secular community. The survey was looking at religion, atheism, and sex: how religion affects sex, how leaving religion affects sex, whether lifelong atheists feel differently about sex than people who have recently deconverted, and so on. The report -- "Sex and Secularism: What Happens When You Leave Religion?" -- is on the Internet, and if you want all 46 pages of the naughty details, including the charts and graphs and personal stories, you can download it free (you just need to register on the site).

But if you just want to know the gist?

Leaving religion improves people's sex lives.

A lot

Atheists and other non-believers, as a whole, experience a lot more satisfaction in their sex lives than they did when they were believers. They feel much less guilt about their sex lives and their sexuality. The sexual guilt instilled by so many religions tends to fade, and indeed disappear, when people leave religion -- much more thoroughly than you might expect. And according to the respondents of this study, non-believers give significantly better sex education to their kids than believers do.

Now, when it comes to people's actual sexual behavior, religion doesn't have nearly as much impact as you might think. Religious and non-religious people have pretty much the same kinds of sex, at pretty much the same age of onset, and at pretty much the same rate. Believers are just as likely to masturbate, watch porn, have oral sex, have sex outside marriage, and so on, as non-believers are, and they start at about the same ages. So it's not like religious sexual guilt is actually making people abstain from forbidden sexual activity. All it's doing is making people feel crummy about it. And when people leave religion, this crumminess decreases -- at a dramatic rate. Believers and atheists are having pretty much the same kinds of sex... but when it comes to the pleasure and satisfaction experienced during this sex, it's like night and day.

Okay. Before anyone squawks, I'll start the squawking myself: There are some demographic problems with this study, and it shouldn't be relied on as the absolute final word on this topic. In particular, the participants in the study aren't statistically representative of the population: they're statistically representative of whoever heard about it on the Internet, and they're disproportionately represented by readers of the hugely popular atheist blog, Pharyngula. (In fact, in several places throughout the report, the researchers themselves freely acknowledge the limitations of their research.)

But that being said: The results of this report that aren't new? They're entirely consistent with the results of other research. Lots of other research, both on human sexuality and on religion/ atheism. And that makes those results a whole lot more plausible. As researcher Darrel Ray told me, "Our data is virtually identical to other national surveys on the basics of when and how people start sexual behavior." (Citations of those studies are in the report.) Yes, it's virtually impossible to get completely accurate, statistically representative information about human sexuality under any circumstances: there's not really any ethical way to get information about sex other than relying on people's self-reporting, and it's a topic that people tend to, you know, lie about. But on the reliability scale of human sex research, this report seems to rank on the higher end.

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