Sanctification of Sexuality in Marriage & Loving Relationships: Seeing a Sexual Union as Sacred

What is the Sanctification of Sexuality in Marriage or a Loving Relationship? What do couples say about the sanctity of their sexual bond?

  • “I guess I’ve always felt God had a strong role when it comes to sexuality. I think I gained a greater appreciation for God’s place in and the sacredness of the marriage bed after we were married.”  
  • "God is the source of sexuality. God’s divine presence vibrates through us, bonding us as one within the unity of God.”
  • “I believe God intended sex within marriage to be pleasurable. I also believe He can increase these desires within us if we are willing.” (3 different newlyweds, Hernandez, 2008).


How do psychologists doing research define the Sanctification of Sexuality in Marriage or a Loving Relationship?

  • We broadly define sanctification as viewing an aspect of life as having divine significance and meaning. 
  • For scientific research, we define and distinguish two types of the sanctification when studying sexuality or other aspects of life:
    • Sacred Qualities of Sexuality within Marriage or Loving Relationship (non-theistic sanctification) is defined as viewing sexuality in one's marriage or loving relationship as having sacred qualities associated with divinity, including attributes of transcendence, ultimate value and purpose, and boundlessness.
    • Manifestation of God in Sexuality in Marriage or Loving Relationship (theistic or God-centered sanctification) is defined as viewing sexuality in one's marriage or loving relationship as a manifestation of one's images, beliefs, or experiences of God.
  • See For Researchers for list of published studies on the perceived sanctity of many aspects of life - marriage, cohabiting relationships, sexuality in and out of marriage, parenting, major life strivings, one’s physical body, the environment.

How do we define the Sanctification of Sexuality in Marriage for psychological research?     

  • To measure the sanctification of sexuality in marriage, we used a 20-item Sanctification of Marital Sexuality questionnaire (Hernandez & Mahoney, 2011) with newlyweds.  Below are the 3 items that our newlyweds most often endorsed for each type of sanctification.
  • Sacred Qualities of Marital Sexuality (non-theistic sanctification)
    •  The sexual bond I have with my spouse is sacred to me - 75%
    • Our sexual relationship connects us to something larger than ourselves - 43%
    • There are moments when we are sexually intimate that time stands still and I feel like I am part of something eternal - 43%
  • Manifestation of God in Marital Sexuality (theistic sanctification sub-scale)
    • Being in a sexual relationship with each other is a reflection of God’s will - 47% 
    • God played a role in my decision to have a sexual relationship with my spouse - 41%
    • I see God’s influence in our sexual relationship - 29%
  •  For a copy of our Sanctification of Sexuality within Marriage scales, click For Researchers/Our Measures

Does the Sanctification of Sexuality within Marriage help?

  • Yes, viewing sexuality within one's marriage helps.
  • Greater sanctity of sexuality within the marriage predicts
    • Greater satisfaction with the sexual relationship with a spouse, currently & over time. 
    • Greater satisfaction with one's marriage, currently & over time.
    •  Greater frequency of sexual intercourse over time.
  • In general, newlyweds tend to engage in less sex over time. In our study, newlyweds who had higher sanctification of sexuality scores did not experiences such declines. 
  • These findings are based on an initial study of newlyweds in the Midwest who were followed for a year. The results were very strong even after controlling for demographic variables (e.g., age, income, education), how often the participants attended religious services, the overall importance of religion or spirituality, and conservative interpretations of the Bible. Source: Hernandez, 2009; Hernandez & Mahoney, 2011; Mahoney & Hernandez, 2009

Does the Sanctification of Sexuality in a Non-Marital, Loving Relationship help (or harm)?  

  • To study the sanctification of sexuality in loving relationships, we used an 18-item Sanctification of Sexual Intercourse in Loving Relationships - see Murray (2005) for copy - with BGSU college students .
    • 151 students reported whether they viewed sexual intercourse in a loving, non-marital relationship to be sacred. 
    • A sub-sample of 65 students who reported they were in a loving relationship also filled out a measure on the sanctity of sexual intercourse in their current relationship.
  • Viewing sexuality within a loving relationship as having sacred qualities was correlated with  
    • Greater satisfaction and emotional fulfillment from sexual intercourse in one's own loving relationship. 
    • Greater likelihood of ever having had sex, more frequent intercourse, more diverse sexual experiences, and more prior partners.
  • Note: The findings on sanctification of sexuality in loving experience and more premarital sexual activity were not predicted & can be interpreted as helpful or harmful. Sources: Murray-Swank, Pargament, & Mahoney (2005) & Murry (2000).

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does “endorsed" mean in statistics listed above (e.g., 75%)?  
    • It means that our newlyweds rated the sanctification item as a "5" "6" or "7" on a 1-7 scale, with 4 being equal to “neutral” and 7 being equal to “strongly agree.”Coefficient alpha = .98.
  • Who was in our study of newlyweds? 
    • These were 83 heterosexuals who had been married for 4 to 18 months (average 13 months). These individuals were demographically similar to other married heterosexuals across the U.S.  For example, as a group, these newlyweds were similar to other newlywed Americans in terms of education and household income.
  • Were the newlyweds highly religious? 
    • No. They attended religious services about as often as other Americans. 
  • Where can I find more information other items used to measure sanctification and how common such beliefs seem to be?
    • Click Constructs/Our Measures for additional discussion about sanctification, a list of studies on sanctification, and a chart of various sets of items used to measure sanctification of marriage, sexuality, parenting, and other aspects of life.
  • What, if any, risks are associated with sanctification? 
    • If a sacred aspect of life is lost or violated, people tend suffer more emotionally, and to be more hostile toward those held responsible for the injury. For examples of research on sacred loss and desecration, go to the page on Divorce

How sacred is sexuality in your marriage compared to the newlyweds in Hernandez's project?

Additional Suggested Readings

  • Hernandez (2008). Sacred sexual unions: The sanctification of marital sexuality in newlyweds. Master's thesis. Bowling Green State University. 
  • 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. doi: 10.1037/a0025103.
  • 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.)
  • Mahoney, A., & Hernandez, K. M. (2009, July). Sex through a Sacred Lens: The Longitudinal Effects of the Sanctification of Marital Sexuality.  Working paper located at  /content/bgsu/en/ncfmr.htmlpage78704.html
  • Murray-Swank, N. A., Pargament, K. I., & Mahoney, A. (2005). At the crossroads of sexuality and spirituality:  The sanctification of sex by college students. The International Journal of the Psychology of Religion, 15, 199-219.
  • Murray, N. (2000). The sanctification of sexual intercourse among college students. Unpublished master’s thesis, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH for copies of all measures.