Little Valentine's Day sex for those (old) mainliners?

On one level, I cannot believe that the folks at Religion News Service thought to get involved in doing a serious survey about the religious ghosts in Valentine's Day sex. However, I am glad that they did. Honest.

Stranger yet, it's pretty obvious to me that the RNS team needs to do some more digging into stories that might spin out of this research -- especially the stories linked to two of the most important niches in the religious landscape in postmodern America. I am referring to the declining world of liberal mainline Protestantism and the growing, and related (listen to pollster John Green) world of the so-called "nones," the religiously unaffiliated believers and unbelievers.

We may as well start at the beginning on this rather short RNS report:

Unchurched Americans have high expectations that they will have sex on Valentine’s Day. Lutherans, Presbyterians and other mainline Protestants? Not so much.

A new study from the Washington-based Public Religion Research Institute, conducted in partnership with Religion News Service, shows that 57 percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans think sex is in store for them on the holiday of love. That compares to 51 percent of Catholics who predict Valentine’s Day sex, 48 percent of white evangelicals and 40 percent of white mainline Protestants.

This is particularly interesting because the religiously unaffiliated tend, as a rule, to be singles. This serves to underline one of the main themes that emerged in that media-friendly "'Nones' on the Rise" study conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life -- which is that one of the main bonding elements in the whole religiously unaffiliated camp is a rejection of traditional forms of religion, especially when it comes to sexual morality.

So more information, please? For the "nones," is sex on Valentine's Day somehow important for the sake of symbolism or, dare I say it, a kind of big-R Romantic sacrament? Is this their "church"?

Meanwhile, as the RNS story asks:

What’s going on -- or not going on -- between the sheets for white mainline Protestants?

“One thing you have to remember about mainline Protestants is that they tend to be older and be in longstanding relationships, and both those things are negatively correlated with having sex on Valentine’s Day,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI’s research director.

Whoa, baby.

Back up the data-train just a bit. Does anyone remember this little National Institutes of Health factoid from a decade or two ago?

Little attention has been given to the question of how marriage is related to the chances that people will have active, satisfying sex lives. Cross-tabulations based on data from the 1992 National Health and Social Life Survey show that levels of emotional and physical satisfaction with sex are highest for married people and lowest for noncohabiting singles, with cohabitors falling in between (Laumann et al. 1994). Additional evidence for the importance of commitment as a determinant of sexual satisfaction is provided by more recent multivariate analyses of these data (Waite and Joyner 2001). To date, these relationships have not been quantified using longitudinal data.

Our knowledge about the relationship between religion and sex is also limited. Cross-tabulations by religious denomination show that those with no affiliation (i.e., no involvement in religious activities) are least likely to report being extremely satisfied with sex either physically or emotionally (Laumann et al. 1994). Waite and Joyner (2001) find that emotional satisfaction and physical pleasure related to sex are higher for frequent attenders of religious services, holding other characteristics of the individual constant. Along similar lines, Greeley (1991) reports that couples who pray together say they have more “ecstasy” in their sex lives; he also finds that religious imagery and devotion is positively associated with sexual satisfaction. The small amount of evidence available is only suggestive of a connection between religious participation and the quality of people’s sex lives.

So, yes, I see the "older" adjective in the RNS story. And, yes, the wholesale graying of the declining world of liberal mainline Protestant believers is a demographic reality. But it also seems that long, stable marriages would provide support for, well, a happy Valentine's Day.

Or is the positive force of religion in this matter somehow linked to people who are conservative and/or frequent worship attenders?

There is some interesting info in the RNS story on this angle, too. Check out the following and look for the potential follow up questions:

Of those surveyed, 54 percent said an unsatisfying sex life is a major problem for a relationship or marriage, while only 29 percent cited a couple’s differing religious beliefs as a major problem. But only white evangelicals -- 56 percent -- seemed to home in on religious difference as a big relationship issue. That doesn’t mean they’re not concerned about a bad sex life -- 57 percent see it as a major problem.

Catholics also stand out in the study: Relatively few Catholics -- 19 percent -- consider differing religious beliefs a big concern for a couple. The Catholic Church, meanwhile, encourages a shared faith and typically frowns on a Catholic marrying a non-Catholic within the church.

But Cox said this finding is not surprising in light of American Catholics’ tendency on some issues -- such as gay marriage -- “to differ with official positions of the church while also affirming their identity as good Catholics.”

But wait, what about the surveys suggesting that the number of so-called "American Catholics" who are seriously, actively involved in the full sacramental life of their parishes being quite low, perhaps in the range of 20 percent of those who still call themselves Catholics?

So many questions. This is a very interesting story and I hope that this RNS story is the first to dig into this survey.

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