Sexual Attitudes of College Students: The Impact of Religiosity and Spirituality

By Beckwith, Henry D.; Morrow, Jennifer Ann | College Student Journal, June 2005 | Go to article overview

Sexual Attitudes of College Students: The Impact of Religiosity and Spirituality


Beckwith, Henry D., Morrow, Jennifer Ann, College Student Journal


Factors such as religiosity and spirituality were examined to determine their impact on the sexual attitudes of college students. The sample consisted of 330 undergraduate students from a southeastern doctoral research institution. It was hypothesized that higher scores of religiosity would be associated with more conservative attitudes regarding sex. It was also hypothesized that individuals who tended to be more spiritually involved or possessed qualities that defined them as "spiritual" would exhibit more conservative sexual attitude scores. Lastly, it was predicted that religiosity and spirituality would be positively related. As predicted, results showed that religiosity and spirituality were significantly negatively correlated with conservative attitudes about sex. Religiosity and spirituality were significantly positively related.

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What factors most influence a person's sexual behavior or the kind of attitudes or beliefs they have about sex? It can be assumed that many factors are involved in the evolution of sexual attitudes and behavior, such as one's personal philosophy about life (e.g., spirituality), exposure to sexual content (e.g., experience with sexual content or behavior), or moral teaching learned from parents, peers, or society (e.g., religious background, culture and societal norms). It might also be assumed that there are a combination of these factors that bring about a person's understanding of what he or she believes about sex and how he or she will approach sexual behavior.

Examining sexual behavior in college students, research has shown that relatively high unsafe and risky behavior is practiced among students. For example, inconsistent condom use (Desiderato & Crawford, 1995; Poulson, Eppler, Satterwhite, Wuensch, & Bass, 1998; Prince & Bernard, 1998), multiple sexual partners (Poulson et al., 1998), failure to communicate about previous partners (Desiderato & Crawford, 1995) or communicate about the risk of contracting HIV (Prince & Bernard, 1998), and the failure to be tested for HIV (Prince & Bernard, 1998) are all characteristic of the behavior exhibited by many college students. Hence, because of this risky behavior, there is a need to learn more about the specific protective factors that are associated with safer sexual behavior.

Religiosity

When measuring the religiosity of a person, both objective measures (e.g., church attendance), as well as self-report and subjective measures of a person's religiousness have shown to be significantly related to sexual attitudes. In college students, church attendance and/or a feeling that religion is important to them was found to negatively correlate with sexual experience and positively correlate with greater conservative attitudes about sex (Phihar, Frongillo, Stycos, & Dempster-McClain. 1998). A "strong" belief in God was associated with less risky sexual behavior (e.g., number of sexual partners, giving/receiving oral sex, sex practices uncommon to the norm, such as group sex) in female college students (Poulson et al., 1998).

Pluhar and colleagues (1998) examined the relationship between religiosity and sexual attitudes and behavior of college students. Results showed that participants who were considered as most religious and claimed that their religious beliefs had guided their sexual behavior were more likely to hold conservative attitudes regarding premarital sex. use abstinence or withdrawal as a means of contraception use, and were the least likely to have had sexual intercourse. Other studies illustrating this relationship in college students have shown that low religiosity will predict greater sexually permissive attitudes (Hendrick & Hendrick, 1987a: Strouse & Buerkel-Rothfuss, 1987), less conventional values, (McLaughlin, Chen, Greenberger, & Biermeier, 1997), and less traditional values (Young, 1986) or roles (Huffman, Chang, Rausch, & Schaffer, 1994) regarding sex or sexual behavior. …

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