Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Sex, God and Politics

Is sex more satisfying for conservative women?  Or are liberal women just making an idol out of sex?
The always-stimulating (no pun intended) Mark Regnerus, a Patheos blogger and one of the most significant sociologists of religion practicing the craft today (and Mark is a gadfly in the most salutary sense, but far more controversial than he should be), points to a very interesting correlation between political liberalism amongst women and the desire for more sex.

The New Family Structures Study asked respondents, “Are you satisfied with the amount of sex you’re having?”  As Regnerus reports, women of all political persuasions report roughly the same frequency of sex — so, before you leap to conclusions, conservative women are not “frigid” or sexually unsatisfied.  Indeed, they might be more.  18-39 year-old women who lean to the left politically are far more inclined to say that they would prefer to have more sex than they are having.  16 percent of “very conservative” women in that age range say they would prefer to have more sex, compared to 29 percent of conservative women, 31 percent of moderates, and 47 percent and 50 percent respectively of “liberal” and “very liberal” women.  That’s a very significant trend line.  Liberal women are 50% more likely than moderate women to report a desire for more frequent sex, and “very liberal” women are over 300% more likely than “very conservative” women.

And the result only grows more interesting the further you delve into it.  As Regnerus writes:
In regression models, the measure of political liberalism remains significantly associated with the odds of wanting more sex even after controlling for the frequency of actual intercourse over the past two weeks, their age, marital status, education level, whether they’ve masturbated recently, their anxiety level, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, depressive symptoms, and porn use. Many of these are significant predictors of wanting more sex. And still the political thing matters.
This begs for interpretation.  Regnerus offers one possibility.  Liberal young women are much less inclined to be religious than conservative young women.  Perhaps sex functions as a substitute for the transcendent.  Many psychologists have posited a deep human need for experiences of transcendence, of mystical oneness, of spiritually impassioned self-abandonment.  So in the absence of another transcendent experience, in the absence of another sacred goal and unifying purpose to life, perhaps liberal young women turn to sex as the only place where they find what they’re looking for.  Since conservative women are more likely to be religious, they are more likely to have other ways of connecting and transcending.  But for many liberal women, sex is quite literally the only religious experience they can allow themselves to enjoy.

Some might find this answer offensive.  But there’s a strong piece of evidence in its favor: when you control for attendance of religious services, “political liberalism finally went silent as a predictor.”  That is, politically liberal women who attend religious services frequently are not significantly more likely than politically conservative women who attended religious services frequently to report a desire for more sex, and liberal women who never attend religious services are not significantly more likely to report a desire for more sex than conservative women who never attend religious services.

So the upshot, if I understand Regnerus correctly (and I will ask), is that women who attend church services less frequently, even though they’re not having significantly less sex, are more likely to report a desire for more sex than women who attend church services more frequently.  The question is: Why is this so?  And why is this so for women when it is not so for men?  Are women less inclined to want more sex because they attend church more frequently?  Or are they less inclined to attend church more frequently because they want more sex?  Or both?

One wise conclusion, from Dr Regnerus, is this: “measures of political conservatism or liberalism are clearly reflecting more than just Republican or Democratic Party affiliation or voting habits.  No, they’re about people’s embedded-ness in distinctive worldviews and sets of meanings.”  This seemed more clear in 2012 than ever before.

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