New research finds spirituality has a greater impact on the sex lives of young adults — especially women — than religion, impulsivity, or alcohol. The question remains, though: Is it really spirituality that makes women more sexually active and carefree, or is spirituality simply an indicator of an open-mindedness and free-spiritedness that are manifested through sex?
What’s the connection between a woman’s spirituality and her libido? That’s the question a lot of people are asking after the presentation of new research that discovered that spirituality has a greater impact on the sex lives of young adults — especially women — than religion, impulsivity, or alcohol.
“I think people have been well aware of the role that religious and spiritual matters play in everyday life for a very long time,” Jessica Burris, one of the study’s researchers at the University of Kentucky, told LiveScience. “But in the research literature, the unique qualities of spirituality — apart from religiousness — are not usually considered.”
According to a research measure known as the Spiritual Transcendence Scale, those qualities are connectedness, universality and prayer fulfillment. But the data suggest that of the three, connectedness plays the largest role in spiritual sexuality and leads to more sex with more partners.
“Believing one is intimately tied to other human beings and that interconnectedness and harmony are indispensable may lead one to believe sexual intimacy possesses a divine or transcendent quality in itself,” Burris explained. “In fact, ascribing sacred qualities to sex has been positively associated with positive affective reactions to sex, frequency of sex, and number of sexual partners among university students.”
The study enlisted 353 college undergraduates, 61 percent of whom were women. Participants answered a questionnaire that asked them about their alcohol use, impulsivity, religiousness, spirituality, and sexual practices. The statements on spirituality, which were ranked by level of agreement, included “In the quiet of my prayers and/or meditations, I find a sense of wholeness,” and “Although individual people may be difficult, I feel an emotional bond with all of humanity.”
One of the study’s more interesting findings was that high levels of spirituality had the opposite effect on men. Spiritual men weren’t sexually boosted by their level of spirituality — in fact, their frequency of sex declined. The researchers concluded that men might not view spirituality as sexual because they biologically don’t think of sex as a gateway to emotional intimacy.
For women, however, spirituality was the strongest predictor for the number of sexual partners and the frequency of sex.
“It is possible female young adults yearn for greater connectedness with other humans,” Burris writes. “Spirituality, at least for women, could be considered a risk factor.”
(A separate review of studies last year found that sexually unsatisfied women who practiced the Eastern techniques of mindfulness and yoga reported improvements in levels of arousal and desire, as well as better orgasms.)
The question remains: Is it really spirituality that makes women more sexually active and carefree, or does spirituality simply an indicator of an open-mindedness and free-spiritedness that are manifested through sex?
“Research suggests that spirituality provides predictive utility over and above personality traits such as conscientiousness, extraversion, and openness,” Burris told LiveScience. “So while it may be the case that spirituality is correlated with other variables that show similar relationships with human sexuality and sexual practices (such as openness to experiences), the relationship we observed, in my opinion, cannot simply be explained away by other variables.”
This article was originally published in the September 5, 2009 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper