New research suggests that the suppression of sexual thoughts among religious people only begets a greater preoccupation with sexual thoughts and fantasies.
The study, published in The Journal of Sex Research, compared Jewish Orthodox teens to secular teens in Israel.
“I grew up in a religious community and today I define myself as religious,” said study author Yaniv Efrati of Beit Berl College. “I have noticed over the years that the subject of sexuality in the religious public is more complex than the secular public. I also noticed that many religious people are busy with the question of whether their sexual behavior is normal or not.”
A survey of 661 teens found that religious adolescents reported greater preoccupation with unwanted sexual thoughts and fantasies than secular adolescents.
A second survey of 522 teens found that religious adolescents tended to report lower well-being, which was linked to their preoccupation with unwanted sexual thoughts.
Another survey of 317 teens found that religious adolescents were more likely to report suppressing sexual thoughts and fantasies, which in turn was associated with more self-report compulsive sexual behavior and lower well-being.
“The study reflects, in my opinion, the complex reality among religious adolescents. It seems that the religious public should examine its ways regarding the importance of discourse and the ability to engage in sexuality and sexual education even in the early stages of adolescence,” Efrati told PsyPost.
“It is very important that religious society discuss sexuality and deal with sexuality in the right manner at the beginning of adolescence and even at the elementary age in order to prevent the development of compulsive sexual behavior,” he added.
“In my studies and work with sexual compulsive behavior in adults, I find that parental responses to child sexual behavior (masturbation, pornography viewing) are very significant in compulsive sexual development. Comments regarding sexuality as being a ‘dirty thing’ or ‘forbidden’ only cause the development of compulsive sexual behavior.”
“Longitudinal research will provide a more accurate response to the questions raised in the study and will try to give a broader view of the suppression of sexual thoughts and their implications in adulthood.”
Efrati noted that religious people tend to overestimate their compulsive sexual behavior. Previous research has found, for instance, that religious people were more likely to have a perceived pornography addiction, regardless of how much porn they actually consumed.
“It would not be prudent to say that religious people have a higher compulsive sexual behavior than secular people,” Efrati said. “In the field of therapy, I see that religious people in self-reporting will indeed report that they have a compulsive sexual behavior when in practice they do not have a compulsive sexual behavior. They define themselves as such because of the negative feelings (shame and guilt) of the conflict in which they live — sexuality versus religion.”