For Better Findings - Can Relational Spirituality Help Sexuality within Marriage & Loving Relationships?

  • Yes, relational spirituality can be a resource for sexuality within intimate relationships. “For better” refers to specific spiritual beliefs or behaviors about sexuality  that improve sexuality between adults who report being married or in a loving relationship. We have begun to publish peer-reviewed, scientific studies that directly measure specific spiritual resources for couples. These studies involve samples of people who are involved in organized religion about the same as other Americans who are in similar types of romantically exclusive relationships (married or dating). Below is one example.
  • Sanctification of Sexuality in Marriage & Loving Relationships - seeing your sexual union as sacred

For Worse Findings - Can Relational Spirituality Harm Sexuality within Marriage & Loving Relationships?

  • Research is needed to answer this question. “For worse” refers to specific spiritual beliefs or behaviors about sexuality that tend to undermine sexuality within marriage or loving relationships. 

General Findings on Involvement in Organized Religion for Sexuality within Marriage & Loving Relationships

  • Almost all available empirical research the influence of spirituality and religion on couples' sexual relationship focuses on sexual activity outside of marriage or adult unions - such as premarital sex by teens or sexual infidelity by married individuals. In this web site, we focus on the role of spirituality and religion for sexual activity that takes place within marriage or loving adult relationships. We do not focus here on the development of individuals and their sexual identity as straight or gay. 
  • Considerable scientific evidence indicates that higher involvement in organized religion is relevant for modern marriages/couples, much like religion is relevant to the lives of individuals, at least in the US. However, few studies exist on whether religion or spirituality can help or harm sexuality within marriage or a loving relationship. We find this surprising given that organized religion traditionally promotes the idea that marriage is the ideal context for sexual fulfillment. Further, many religious groups encourage people to be ethical about sexuality within traditional or non-traditional loving relationships - dating, cohabiting, or married for gay or straight couples. (See suggested readings).
  • Approximately 6 peer-reviewed scientific studies were published from 1999-2009 on the role of faith and sexuality for married couples. 2 of these studies involved unstructured interviews with small samples of couples. 4 studies asked highly structured questions via surveys with community or nationally representative samples of couples, most of whom lived the US (quantitative data). The quantitative studies relied on 1 or 2 general questions about one spouse's involvement in organized religion. Examples of general questions include how often people say they attend worship services or how important they say religion is to their daily life. 
  • The following general finding has been established about sexuality within marriage from studies using broad questions on religiousness:
    • Greater attendance at any place of worship decreases the chances of infidelity by married individuals.
  • Several limitations exist about findings based on general questions about religious involvement. 
    • Higher attendance at any place of worship in the US is statistically but only weakly linked to a lower risk of sexual infidelity by married individuals.   
    • We don’t know much about WHY or HOW higher religious involvement is tied to lower sexual infidelity by married individuals.  
    • General questions make it impossible to untangle specific spiritual beliefs or behaviors focused on sexuality within marriage or loving relationships that can be helpful or harmful for traditional and non-traditional couples. For example, a therapist who learns that a client attends a theologically liberal or conservative church twice a month would have few clues about specific spiritual beliefs the person holds about sexuality that could be part of the problem or the solution for sexuality in the client's relationship.  
  • For more on general findings on religious involvement and sexuality within marriage, see readings at bottom of this page.

 Additional Suggested Readings  

  • Hernandez, K. M., Mahoney, A., Pargament, K. I. (in press). The sacred dance between sexuality and religion: Scientific insights from the 21st century. D. L. Tolman & L. Diamond (Eds.) The American Psychological Association's Handbook of Sexuality and Psychology (1st ed.)
  • Hernandez, K. M., Mahoney, A., & Pargament, K. I. (2011). Sanctification of sexuality: Implications for newlyweds' marital and sexual quality. Journal of Family Psychology, 25, 775-780.

Updated: 03/17/2021 11:14PM