‘Catholic Guilt’ About Sex Is Just a Myth, Poll Says

According to a large-scale survey of secular and religious feelings toward sexual activity, Catholics are no more likely to feel guilty about sex than many other religious people.

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Toby Melville / Reuters

A large-scale survey of secular and religious feelings toward sexual activity shows that Catholics don’t feel any guiltier about sex than members of any other religion, according to the U.K. market-research firm YouGov.

It’s not that Catholics don’t feel guilty about sex, mind you, it’s that religious people in general are more likely to have qualms than the nonreligious. And even then Catholic guilt doesn’t measure up to that experienced by Baptists, Muslims and Pentecostals, reports the Guardian.

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In fact YouGov’s survey of over 4,000 adults, commissioned by Westminster Faith Debates and conducted at the end of January as part of a series on societal sexualization, found that religious people were four times as likely (20%) as the non-religious (5%) to feel guilty about premarital sex. The figure jumped to one-third (33%) when religious people were asked if they would feel guilty using pornography, compared with less than half that (15%) among those non-religious.

When asked about using contraception — a practice staunchly opposed by the Catholic Church — only 12% of practicing Catholics admitted they’d feel guilty doing so. In fact across a range of sexual issues, from premarital and extramarital sex to pornography and contraception, just 14% of Catholics said they’d feel guilty, compared with 16% of all religious people and just 3% of those non-religious.

Who’s the “most guilty” about sex? Religious women, according to the poll, whereas the “least guilty” were non-religious men.

YouGov’s poll findings aren’t entirely new. A study dating back to the 1980s and published in the winter 1988 issue of the Journal of Rational-Emotive and Cognitive-Behavior Therapy found no variance in guilt levels between different religious denominations, but that having a religious affiliation (as opposed to identifying as non-religious) was “a significant guilt predictor.”

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