Mark Regnerus is a sociologist at the University of Texas, Austin. He publishes a lot of his books with Oxford University Press. So, his research methods are generally seen as reliable. I noticed that he had done a survey of views on religion, sexuality and marriage in 2018, and he published a popular level article about it earlier this week. I think it’s worth taking a look at his findings.
Let me offer a word about the survey. I call it the American Political and Social Behavior survey, which interviewed 5,285 Americans in November 2018, just days after the midterm election. The data collection was conducted by Ipsos… a research firm with a very strong record of generating high-quality data for academic projects.
Here are his findings:
This is interesting:
Even when I limit the group to respondents below age thirty—which is just north of the median age at marriage in the United States—it is notable that 22 percent of the unreligious are married and 23 percent are currently cohabiting, not radically different from the 19 and 18 percent of Catholics that are married and cohabiting, respectively. For comparison, 37 and 9 percent of younger evangelicals are married and cohabiting, respectively. The cohabiting habits of the unreligious, however, have shifted—note the uptick in cohabitation—six percentage points in just under four years. That amounts to a 35 percent increase. Since it’s unlikely that the unreligious have recently changed their minds about the morality or pragmatics of living together, my bet is in the other direction: cohabiting leads many to no longer identify as religious at all.
Got that part in bold? Their attitudes are changing because of their sexual behaviors. So, if you want to reverse the decline of Christianity, we’re going to need to come up with some arguments and evidence to counter the sexual revolution. And on this blog, we’ve done that many times, looking at studies showing the future instability of marriages that occur after cohabitation. I’ve never heard a church preach on that, though. And it’s not something that even many Christian apologists focus on. Most Christian apologists, particularly the women, tend to focus on soft arguments,. They stay away from arguments about morality, because it’s divisive and abrasive to their desired audience. However, if the goal is persuading people that Christianity is a viable worldview, then we need to focus more on sexuality.
[O]n each of seven attitude measures I examined, the unreligious are notably more permissive than even the spiritual-but-not-religious (not shown). Nearly 80 percent of unreligious Americans agree (or strongly agree) that cohabitation is okay, no-strings-attached sex is okay, and abortion should be a legal right. This is all unsurprising. But even some of the more radically “progressive” attitudes demonstrate strong support among the unreligious: 24 percent agree that it is “sometimes permissible for a married person to have sex with someone other than his/her spouse.” (I thought perhaps women would differ from men here, but they didn’t—or at least not by much.) Although few Americans are actually in polyamorous living arrangements, the unreligious would support them should someone choose such an arrangement; 58 percent of them agreed that “it is okay for three or more consenting adults to live together in a sexual/romantic relationship,” a percentage that is far more supportive than Catholics or evangelicals. Among the latter, only 6 percent thinks polyamory could be okay.
A more interesting theme, however, is the surge in support for such alternatives. On each statement, note the rise in agreement that has occurred in just under four years. Polyamory tops the list—a 35-percent leap in the share of unreligious who now endorse polyamorous arrangements (from 43 to 58 percent). Even support for extramarital affairs grew by one-third (from 18 to 24 percent). The unreligious aren’t alone here. Catholics, too, have witnessed liberalization in attitudes. Evangelical numbers display a more modest uptick, and from lower starting points.
The non-religious people in my office who were raised Christian like to tell me that the existence of the Christian God isn’t important to them, because they can achieve marriage via cohabitation, and behave like good people without the need for any sort of framework to rationally ground it. They think that you can just pull out God, and the marriage will stay the same. They expect the people they start relationships with to act on Christian morality, even if the worldview was rejected as superstitious nonsense. But as you can see from the data, removing God has an enormous effect on the person’s ability to be stable and faithful. The truth is that when you take out the vertical relationships with God, then the blueprint for the relationship becomes completely different. Relationships used to be seen as an enterprise where each person’s primary commitment was to lead and protect their spouse before delivering them to God with faith intact. Now, relationships are contingent on continuous happiness.
Only 66 percent of unreligious women say they are “100% Despite the permissive reputation of the unreligious, their actual marital sexual frequency is lower than that of Catholic and evangelical couples—at two instances in the past two weeks. As has been documented extensively in the past few years, the frequency of sex among American couples—whether cohabiting or married—has been declining at statistically significant rates. This pattern has not spared the godless.
I think this is interesting. I believe that men are facing an epidemic of sex-withholding from their wives, and I have an idea why that is. Today, women most commonly use sex to “jump start” a relationship with men who they perceive as “high value”, but who refuse to commit to them. This behavior is not focused on men who have commitment abilities, e.g. – provider, moral leader, spiritual leader, accurate worldview rooted in logic and evidence. Instead, most women use sex to get men who have the appearance of high value, e.g. – tall, tattoos, piercings, violent tendencies, exciting, fun, etc. Having established that pattern over and over with no-commitment bad boys, they marry someone who they see as beneath them, and then withhold sex. Commitment isn’t worthy of sex. It’s the man’s appearance and entertainment value that makes him worthy of sex. The comparison of this low-quality man to previous partners makes women more likely to initiate divorce for “unhappiness” later on.