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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  • Albert
  • Tiff

    Looking at that list I don’t see children living at home listed as a control factor (where it considers education, marital status, age, etc.) If the more conservative women are also the women who tend to have more kids at home that may be your answer right there. =)

  • Perhaps this measures the degree of propriety women of different ideologies feel compelled to exhibit when they answer a survey rather than their actual preferences. I don’t give much credence to surveys in general. One thing I am fascinated by though is why white evangelical guys love writing and thinking about liberal women’s sex lives. Maybe you could do a survey on that.

    • Frank

      There are Christians of every race and class standing up for Gods ethic of sexuality and marriage.

      • Carys Birch

        Thank you for the inspiring nonsequitur. /rolleyes

  • Joe Canner

    Tim, your penultimate paragraph illustrates why surveys like this are so problematic: correlation does not equal causation. The causal arrow may go in either direction or the cause may even be some unmeasured third (or fourth?) variable.

    One thing that doesn’t seem to have occurred to Mark or his commenters is the role of the partners of the women in question. Without knowing the relationship status of these women, it’s hard to generalize, but it seems that these results might, at least to some extent, reflect badly on the (presumably liberal) men who are not “putting out”. Alternatively, it could reflect the desirability of liberal women. Crude stereotypes about the physical desirability of liberal women aside, perhaps some/many men are turned off by strong women. The list of possible hypotheses is endless.

    • Cordelia

      Um…yeah. How can you do a survey about women and sex – and not ask about their men?

      Also, I think a more significant question than, “Do you want it more often than you’re getting it?” (quantity) would be something like, “Do you want it *better* than you’re getting it?” (quality).

      Interesting results anyway, though.

    • Carys Birch

      I think I responded to you on the other article on the same subject, but the survey results do indicate that on average the groups are having comparable amounts of sex. Which means that liberal men aren’t uninterested in sex, and that liberal women aren’t so unattractive they can’t find partners.

      I DO think the quality v. quantity question is interesting though!

  • Rick

    Interesting data, which is then handled badly so that you can draw conclusions to disparage people who believe differently. If this were a Fox News broadcast, the headline would be “Why are Liberal Women So Slutty When They Should be in Church?”

    • Craig

      Here’s another possibility: female churchgoers find Jesus sexually gratifying. Or another: very conservative women are less willing to admit to wanting more sex. Of course, Mark Regnerus won’t be suggesting any such things.

  • Why not also include the data on men?! As someone who researches on women and gender, research that problematize research questions only for women and exclude men are presenting only half of the story. We need the full picture.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      As stated, men of different political persuasions do not see a statistically significant variation in desire for more sex.