A study published last year (Perry & Whitehead, 2021) suggested that conservative Protestant men are more insecure in their sexual performance and masculinity. But new research published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion empirically tested these claims and found that sexual and masculine insecurity are not related to religious affiliation.
Study author Terrence D. Hill and colleagues used data from the 2021 Crime, Health, and Politics Survey (CHAPS) of a representative sample of United States residents. The primary purpose of CHAPS was to document the causes and social consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Within the bigger survey, participants completed measures of religious beliefs, health behaviors (mental, physical, sexual), and demographic characteristics.
Researchers were specifically interested in assessing measures of sexual insecurity and masculine discrepancy stress. Sexual insecurity was measured by participants rating their agreement with statements such as whether they felt “anxious about their ability to perform sexually” in the last year. Masculine discrepancy stress was measured by agreement with statements such as “I wish I was more ‘manly.’” Researchers sorted participants into five religious affiliation categories: conservative Protestants, moderate Protestants, Catholics, other Christian/other religions, and non-affiliates.
Overall, sexual insecurity was associated with masculine discrepancy stress in that high scores on one measure predicted high scores on the other. Results show no differences in reported sexual insecurity (performance anxiety, erection trouble, or erectile dysfunction medication use) across men from all religious affiliations. The most stable predictor of sexual insecurity was age, in that the older men were more likely to report sexual insecurity than younger men.
Similarly, results show no differences in masculine discrepancy stress between men in all religious affiliations. Men who were older and men with higher household income reported lower masculine discrepancy stress than younger men and men with lower household income.
Overall, results do not support the claims made by previous researchers (Perry & Whitehead, 2021). However, the researchers caution readers of the limitations of their own study. “Because our analyses are based on a cross-sectional design, no causal or temporal inferences can be made. Since our measures of sexual insecurity are limited to only a few items, the veracity of our analyses is contingent upon replication with more detailed assessments. Finally, there is also the possibility of social desirability bias in self-reports of sexual behavior,” cautioned the researchers.
In reference to the third limitation, it is possible that men experience differential levels of shame associated with reporting and admitting to problems with sexual function due to some unknown or unmeasured variable in this study.
The study, “Conservative Protestantism, Sexual Insecurity, and Masculine Discrepancy Stress“, was authored by Terrence D. Hill, John P. Bartkowski, Jessica Pfaffendorf, Lacey J. Ritter, Amy M. Burdette, and Christopher G. Ellison.