Atheists have far better sex lives than religious people who are plagued with guilt during intercourse and for weeks afterwards, researchers have found.
A study discovered that non-believers are more willing to discuss sexual fantasies and are more satisfied with their experiences.
Both groups of people admitted that they carried out the same activities such as masturbation, watching pornography, having oral sex and pursuing affairs.
But followers of religion did not enjoy the experiences as much due to the stigma created by their belief systems, the study found. It left them with intense feelings of regret after they had climaxed.
The findings emerged in the ‘Sex and Secularism’ survey of more than 14,500 people carried out by psychologist Darrel Ray and Amanda Brown from Kansas University.
All of the people who were questioned were found to have sex around the same number of times a week. They also became sexually active at similar ages.
But devoutly religious people rated their sex lives far lower than atheists. They also admitted to strong feelings of guilt afterwards.
Strict religions such as Mormons ranked highest on the scale of sexual guilt. Their average score was 8.19 out of 10. They were followed closely behind by Jehovah’s Witness, Pentecostal, Seventh Day Adventist, and Baptist.
Catholics rated their levels of sexual guilt at 6.34 while Lutherans came slightly lower at 5.88 . In contrast, atheists and agnostics ranked at 4.71 and 4.81 respectively.
The study found that in individuals, the stronger their religious beliefs were the more powerful their feelings of sexual regret.
Of people raised in very religious homes, 22.5 per cent said they were shamed or ridiculed for masturbating compared with only 5.5 percent of people brought up in the least religious homes.
Some 79.9 per cent of people raised in very religious homes said they felt guilty about a specific sexual activity or desire while 26.3 per cent of those raised in secular homes did.
Worryingly, children raised in strongly religious homes were more likely to get their sex education from pornography, as they were not confident enough to talk with their parents.
However, there was some good news for religious groups. People who had lost their belief and became atheists reported a significant improvement in sexual satisfaction.
People who had left their beliefs behind said their sex lives were ‘much improved’ and rated their new experiences on average as 7.81 out of ten.
The finding dispelled conventional wisdom that feelings of guilt can continue to trouble people after the religion has faded.
‘We did think that religion would have residual effects in people after they left but our data did not show this. That was a very pleasant surprise. The vast majority seem to shake it off and get on with their sexual lives pretty well,’ Darrel told alternet.org.
He added: ‘Our data shows that people feel very guilty about their sexual behaviour when they are religious, but that does not stop them: it just makes them feel bad.
‘Of course, they have to return to their religion to get forgiveness. It’s like the church gives you the disease, then offers you a fake cure.’
RELIGION ‘MAY AFFECT HEALTH OF BRAIN’
Followers of certain religions may have healthier brains that are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s, scientists have claimed.
Researchers measured changes in the hippocampus are of the brain in a number of patients. The area is responsible for memory and learning.
All human brains shrink slightly with age and reduction in the size of the hippocampus has been linked to Alzheimer’s.
But Protestants were found to have significant less atrophy, or wastage, in that area of the brain that Catholics, non-religious groups and born-again Protestants.
Participants who said that they had had life-changing religious experiences were also found to have large hipppocampus regions.
Experts hope that the findings might lead to preventative measures against brain deterioration.
Researcher Amy from Duke University Medical Centre in Durham, New York, said: ‘One interpretation of our finding – that members of majority religious groups seem to have less atrophy compared with minority religious groups – is that when you feel your beliefs and values are somewhat at odds with those of society as a whole, it may contribute to long-term stress that could have implications for the brain.’