People with strong religious beliefs are happier with their sex lives, according to a new study.
Those who say religion is important in their lives have less sex as they often abstain if they’re not partnered up – but it makes them happier with their sex life overall.
Researchers at the University of Exeter believe it could be because they have “lower expectations” of sex outside of marriage.
For men and women, they found the more disapproving people are of sex without love, the higher their sexual satisfaction.
And the more people approved of casual sex or sex without love, the less they enjoyed intercourse.
The team said the link between religious belief is to do with the frequency of sex – when people begin having sex they enjoy it, but once sex reaches a certain frequency it gets less great.
This led the team, whose study was published in the Journal of Sex Research, to suggest an optimum frequency for higher sexual satisfaction does exist.
Dr Nitzan Peri-Rotem, of Exeter University, said: “The relationship between sex frequency and sexual satisfaction is neither simple nor straightforward.
“Across all relationship types, too little or too much sex is associated with lower sexual satisfaction, suggesting that an optimum exists in terms of frequency related to higher satisfaction levels.”
The role of gender
Gender was found to play a role in faith and sexual satisfaction – religious beliefs had a greater impact on married women’s sex lives than married men’s.
Married women who were more religious got more sexual satisfaction than married women who were not religious.
However, if the men were married their levels of sexual satisfaction stayed the same, whether they were religious or not.
Another gender split appeared in the levels of satisfaction between women who have lots of sex versus men who have lots of sex.
Women were found to get less pleasure from sex the more sexual partners they have.
Having ten or more sexual partners over their lifetimes decreased women’s sexual satisfaction, yet the number of lifetime sexual partners had no impact on men’s satisfaction.
Dr Vegard Skirbekk, of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, said: “As religious individuals are less likely to engage in casual sex and are more likely to limit sexual activity to a relationship based on love, this can lead to lower expectations of sexual activity outside a formal union, as well as increased satisfaction from sex life in general.
“However, it is possible that religious sentiments about the sanctity of marital sex, as well as disapproval of sex outside marriage, matter more for women’s than for men’s sexual satisfaction.
“This is also evident by the relatively higher levels of sexual satisfaction among more religious cohabiting men when all other variables were held constant, while no similar relationship was found among cohabiting women.”
‘Too much’ sex may lower satisfaction
Dr Peri-Rotem believes their research show changing religious norms could be an important way of understanding changes in sexual behaviour.
He said: “Our research suggests that changes in sexual behaviour need to be understood in a context of changes in religious norms and beliefs and other societal level trends.
“The postponement of union formation is related to less frequent sex, while also increasing the exposure to casual sex among those with weaker religious orientation.
“For women, it is found that having no sexual partners, as well as having ten or more lifetime sexual partners, is associated with lower satisfaction from sex life.
“Among men, on the other hand, no relationship is found between the number of lifetime sexual partners and sexual satisfaction.
“However, disapproval of sex without love and of casual sex is linked with higher satisfaction from sex life among both men and women.
“While sexual satisfaction initially increases with sex frequency, it declines again at a higher number of sex occasions.
“Therefore, having ‘too much’ sex may lead to a lower level of satisfaction from sex life.”
Education was also found to have an effect on sex lives. Researchers discovered highly educated people have sex less often and feel less satisfied with their sex lives versus those with lower qualifications.
Researchers used data on men and women aged 18 to 59 from the third British National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles.
Over four weeks, men reported having sex more often than women, 4.4 times versus 4.0.
The trend of men having more sex than women continued throughout their lives, almost 40 per cent of men reported 10 or more sexual partners in their life versus a quarter of women.
Around a quarter of women and men strongly agreed with the statement “I feel satisfied with my sex life”, while 14 per cent of women and 17 per cent of men reported being dissatisfied with their sex life.
In the survey’s cohort, 11 per cent of men and 16 per cent of women said religion and religious beliefs are very important to them.
Over two-thirds of respondents reported that they never or almost never attended religious services.
Half of all respondents were married, a further 17 per cent were living with a partner and a fifth had no stable partner.