‘Sex and religion are generally considered uncomfortable bedfellows.’ So begins a new 24-page report which offers fascinating insights into the diversity of interactions between religion and sexuality among the young.
Authored by Andrew Kam-Tuck Yip (University of Nottingham), Michael Keenan (Nottingham Trent University) and Sarah-Jane Page (Durham University), the document can be downloaded from:
Entitled Religion, Youth and Sexuality: Selected Key Findings from a Multi-Faith Exploration, it represents the first published output from a 26-month project funded by the Religion and Society Programme of the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council between January 2009 and February 2011.
A full-length book from the project, by the same authors, and provisionally entitled Religious and Sexual Journeys: A Multi-Faith Exploration of Young Believers, will follow from Ashgate next year.
The research was undertaken among 693 young people aged 18-25 living in the UK and who were Buddhists, Christians (the majority, 57%), Hindus, Jews, Muslims or Sikhs and of varying sexualities. 82% were British citizens. 65% were white. 72% were students. 66% were women. 66% were single.
Information was gathered in three stages. All 693 participants completed an online questionnaire between May 2009 and June 2010. Some were then selected for further investigation in stages 2 and 3. These involved, respectively, face-to-face interviews with 61 participants between November 2009 and June 2010; and video diaries recorded by 24 participants over seven days between February and November 2010.
The report contains both quantitative and qualitative data. In considering the former, however, BRIN users should bear in mind that, for reasons which are not fully explained in the report (but which must doubtless include cost and the sensitive nature of the subject matter), it was not possible to select respondents according to recognized random or quota sampling methods.
Therefore, it remains an open question just how statistically representative the findings may be. From this perspective, it is worth quoting in full the section of the report which describes methodology:
‘The participants were recruited in diverse ways. Primarily, the research team sent publicity posters, postcards and e-mails to a wide variety of groups such as those working with religious young adults, sexual health organisations, support groups for sexual minorities, cultural associations and university religious and non-religious student groups.’
‘The team also used various personal networks and asked participants to refer others to the project. A website and a Facebook page were also established to publicise the project. Further, advertisements were placed in printed and online media.’
That said, here is a selection of numerical headlines from the report:
- 78% felt their faith made them a better person
- 42% said their faith was the greatest influence over how they lived their life
- 70% said they made decisions in their everyday life with reference to their religion
- 67% did not believe that being religious made their everyday life more difficult
- 74% considered religion gave them a connection to their community
- 48% regarded themselves as religious liberals and 25% as conservatives
- 65% were involved in a religious community
- 57% attended a religious service at least once a week
- 55% reported the majority of their friends were religious
- 65% agreed religion was a force for good in the world
- 69% agreed their religion is negatively portrayed in the media
- 69% (75% of Christians) considered religious people are stigmatized in Britain
- 40% had hidden their religious identity from others
- 63% agreed their religion emphasized equality of the sexes
- 73% (56% of Muslims) disagreed that religious authority figures should be male
- 70% agreed their religious faith shaped their sexual attitudes
- 63% agreed their religious faith shaped their sexual practices
- 74% defined themselves as heterosexual, 10% as homosexual and 8% as bisexual
- 43% were sexually active, ranging from 77% for Buddhists to 20% for Muslims
- 65% agreed consenting adults should be free to express their sexuality as they wish
- 58% agreed casual sex is detrimental to personal well-being
- 30% regarded celibacy as fulfilling to sexual health
- 58% agreed that ideally sex should only occur within marriage, but …
- 57% thought sex could be fulfilling outside marriage, if in a loving context
- 83% agreed monogamy should be the ideal for a partnered relationship, but …
- 35% felt that, while ideal, monogamy in a partnered relationship is difficult to achieve
- 58% said heterosexuality and homosexuality should be treated on equal terms, but …
- 52% regarded heterosexuality as the ideal
- 55% (76% of Buddhists, 22% of Sikhs) agreed their religion was positive towards sexuality
- 56% thought their religion opposed any sexuality other than heterosexuality
- 51% agreed their religious leaders were knowledgeable about sexuality
- 76% agreed there is too much focus on sex in the media