A new study in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy sought to investigate the relationship between sexual values and sexual incongruence as well as the effects of religiousness on this relationship. The findings indicate that religiousness predicts sexual incongruence, but not more than conservative sexual values, which demonstrated the most substantial relationship.
Sexual congruence refers to the alignment of sexual values and behavior, while incongruence occurs when individuals engage in sexual behaviors that violate their moral beliefs. Past research has shown that religiousness is associated with greater sexual incongruence. In the new study, researchers Brinna Lee and Joshua Grubbs sought to add to the research literature a clearer picture of the roles that specific sexual values might play in the relationship between religiousness and sexual incongruence.
Two studies were conducted to investigate sexual values and their association with religiousness and sexual incongruence. Study 1 recruited 923 adults via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, while Study 2 used a nationally representative sample of 2,519 U.S. adults. Participants in both studies were asked to describe their sexual values in a free-response question.
Results revealed that participants generally endorsed the following sexual values: commitment, consent, privacy, abstinence, heterosexuality, religion/spirituality, hedonism, love, nature, “anything goes,” safety, and reproduction. Conservative sexual values surrounding abstinence, heterosexuality, religion/spirituality, and commitment were strongly associated with each other, and participants endorsing these values tended to be higher in religiousness. Sexual values surrounding consent, privacy, and “anything goes” were linked to one another, and participants supporting these values tended to be lower in religiousness.
Additional statistical analysis of the collected data indicated that, although religiousness predicted sexual incongruence, conservative sexual values also predicted variance in sexual incongruence over and above the effects of religiousness. Specifically, individuals endorsing sexual values surrounding abstinence were more likely to experience sexual incongruence. In contrast, those endorsing permissive sexual values surrounding privacy, hedonism, consent, “anything goes,” and safety reported greater sexual congruence.
The research team posits that individuals endorsing conservative sexual values may find it more difficult to uphold these moral standards, leading to greater sexual incongruence. On the other hand, those endorsing more permissive sexual values may be more accepting of their sexual behavior, leading to greater sexual congruence. These findings highlight the importance of understanding the specific sexual values that individuals hold, as they may be predictive of sexual congruence or incongruence.
These results have important implications for sexual education and therapy. Sexual education programs that focus solely on abstinence-based education may be ineffective for individuals who have difficulty upholding such values. Instead, a more comprehensive approach that considers individual values and beliefs may be more effective in promoting sexual health and well-being. Similarly, therapists working with clients experiencing sexual incongruence may benefit from assessing their clients’ sexual values and beliefs and working with them to establish a congruent sexual identity.
While this study provides valuable insights into the relationship between sexual values, religiousness, and sexual incongruence, it is not without limitations. For example, the study was cross-sectional, making it difficult to establish causal relationships between variables. Additionally, the free-response format used to elicit sexual values may not have captured individuals’ full range of values. Future research may benefit from using a more structured approach to assess sexual values and longitudinal designs to examine the temporal relationship between sexual values and sexual incongruence.
The research demonstrates that specific sexual values are predictive of sexual incongruence, over and above the effects of religiousness. Conservative sexual values surrounding abstinence may be particularly difficult for individuals to uphold, leading to greater sexual incongruence.
These findings have important implications for sexual education and therapy, highlighting the need to consider individual values and beliefs in promoting sexual health and well-being.
The study, “Religiousness and sexual values predict sexual incongruence: Results from a U.S. nationally representative study”, was authored by Brinna N. Lee and Joshua B. Grubbs.