Sanctified Sexual Relationships in Marriage: Reflections from Religious Wives and Husbands

Abstract

Background

Religion and sex are both prominent elements of most people’s lives. Most adults view both religion and sex as quite important in their lives. However, some research indicates that religion may negatively impact individuals’ perspectives on sex.

Purpose

We examined highly religious individuals’ spontaneous comments of the role of religion and sex in their lives and looked for themes in how sex and religion may be associated.

Methods

We conducted in-depth, qualitative interviews using a racially and ethnically diverse sample consisting of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish families comprised of 198 married heterosexual couples based on conjoint interviews with the husbands and wives. Couples were in long-term marriages (average 20 years) were interviewed together when most (93%) were in their 40s and 50s in 2001–2010. The topic of the nexus of religion and sexual relationships was not on the interview questionnaire but still surfaced in many of the interviews.

Results

We analyzed participants’ comments related to sex and found six themes that revealed these religious families’ perspectives on the purpose of sex, including: 1. The sanctity of sex; 2. The expression of sex is limited to marriage; 3. Sex strengthens the marriage; 4. Sex is for procreation; 5. Sex is just one component of a strong marriage; and 6. Religious beliefs can be damaging. Implications and applications are discussed.

Conclusions and Implications

This study also illustrates that how individuals, marriages, and families interpret and apply the teachings of their respective religion may have more to do with the influence of religion than their particular denomination or their religious attendance. Sexuality was viewed as a covenant, a higher purpose, a form of worship, or even a way to make God happy, but only within the bonds of marriage. Couples identified their sexual relationship with Godly characteristics and this provided a sense of power and sanctification. These findings may provide needed insight to religious couples about how and why sex and religion blend or create conflict.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Full list of search words and phrases available upon request.

  2. 2.

    This is the technical term for a coding category in NVivo.

  3. 3.

    All participant names in this article are pseudonyms for purposed of anonymity.

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Funding

This study was funded by the Eliza R. Snow Fellowship.

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Correspondence to Chelom E. Leavitt.

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Leavitt, C.E., Allsop, D.B., Clarke, R.W. et al. Sanctified Sexual Relationships in Marriage: Reflections from Religious Wives and Husbands. Rev Relig Res (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13644-020-00440-z

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Keywords

  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Sexual satisfaction
  • Relational satisfaction
  • Meaning of sex