Sexuality and religion are generally considered uncomfortable bedfellows. Now, for the first time, a team of researchers from Nottingham have carried out a detailed study around these issues and how they affect and influence the lives of British 18 to 25 year olds.
Led by The University of Nottingham, in collaboration with Nottingham Trent University, experts spent two years investigating the attitudes, values and experiences of sex and religion among young adults.
The study, which involved nearly 700 young people from six different religious traditions; Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism as well as young adults of mixed-faith, highlights the challenges they face in reconciling their sexuality and their religion and the concerns they have about the stigmatisation of religion and the increasingly sexualised culture in British society today.
The project Religion, Youth and Sexuality: a Multi-faith Exploration received funding of nearly £250,000 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council.
Dr Andrew Kam-Tuck Yip and Dr Sarah-Jane Page, in the School of Sociology and Social Policy at The University of Nottingham and Dr Michael Keenan from Nottingham Trent University’s School of Social Sciences asked all the participants to fill in online questionnaires. Some were also interviewed individually and recorded week-long video diaries.
Young adults were asked to talk about their sexual and religious values, attitudes, experiences and identities. As well as looking at their family background, social and cultural expectations and participation in religious communities the researchers also examined young people’s experiences of living in British society and how they understood and managed their gender identity in relation to their religious faith.
Dr Yip said: “Despite their diverse cultural and religious backgrounds, many of today’s 18 to 25 year olds are following their own paths, drawing from a variety of resources such as religious faith, youth culture, the media and friendship networks. They are creating sexual ethics that are informed by their religious faith. Similarly, their sexuality also informs the ways they understand their religious faith and belonging.
“However, a majority of young people believe religious leaders do not know enough about sexuality — particularly youth sexuality. Others consider institutional religion a social control mechanism that excessively regulates gender and sexual behaviour, without sufficient engagement with young people themselves.”
The research shows that nearly a third of young people think celibacy is fulfilling while nearly two thirds are committed to treating heterosexuality and homosexuality on equal terms. Meanwhile lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered participants reveal that there are psychological and social costs to living their everyday lives, particularly within religious communities.
Dr Yip said: “The aim is to document and disseminate the voices of religious young adults. We wanted to explore how they understand their sexuality and religious faith, and the significant factors that inform such understandings, as well as the strategies they have developed to manage their sexual, religious, youth and gender identities. We believe that the research findings would make a significant contribution to the debate and dialogue in this contentious area of religion and sexuality. We hope the research will speak to religious leaders/professionals, professionals and practitioners working with young people in secular contexts, and of course young people themselves.”
Well over half the participants (65.1 per cent) were involved in a religious community and just over half (56.7 per cent) attended a public religious gathering at least once a week.
Most thought that the expression of one’s sexuality was desirable but opinions varied: some believing that consenting adults should be able to express their sexualities however they wished, while others believed sexual expression should be limited to marriage or a committed relationship. Despite the diversity in opinion, most salient was the support expressed across the board for monogamous relationships by 83.2 per cent of the sample.
Their experiences in connecting their religious faith and sexuality were diverse. Some had experienced tension and conflict. Others were able to deal with any conflict by compartmentalising faith and sexuality. While there were also participants who had found a way of accommodating both.
Dr Keenan said: “The majority of the religious young adults felt their religion was a positive force in their lives, and many felt that their faith was the most important influence on their sexual values and practices. The study also shows that the negotiation of religion and sexuality can be difficult and that there is a real diversity of experience among young religious adults. We hope the research findings will lead to greater discussion of these important issues and stimulate dialogue between religions and between religious and secular organisations.”
More information about this research and a copy of the research report can be found at:
Printed copy of the research report is available from Dr Yip.
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Notes to editors:
The University of Nottingham, described by The Sunday Times University Guide 2011 as ‘the embodiment of the modern international university’, has award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. It is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 75 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and the QS World University Rankings. It was named ‘Europe’s greenest university’ in the UI GreenMetric World University Ranking, a league table of the world’s most environmentally-friendly higher education institutions, which ranked Nottingham second in the world overall.
The University is committed to providing a truly international education for its 40,000 students, producing world-leading research and benefiting the communities around its campuses in the UK and Asia.
More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranked the University 7th in the UK by research power. The University’s vision is to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health.
More news from the University at: www.nottingham.ac.uk/news
Nottingham Trent University
is ranked amongst the UK's greenest universities in the Green League for its environmental commitment. It has 24,000 students and is investing £130million across its three campuses to create an inspiring learning environment. With 95 per cent of Nottingham Trent University graduates* with first degrees from full-time study employed or engaged in further study within six months of leaving, it is one of the top universities in England and Wales for its graduate employment rate.
(* of those available for work, HESA survey 2008/09)
The 2008 RAE results showed the outstanding quality of Nottingham Trent University's research, with 74 per cent of activity achieving international status and 8% classed as world-leading. For more visit http://www.ntu.ac.uk
Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
: Each year the AHRC provides approximately £112 million from the Government to support research and postgraduate study in the arts and humanities, from languages and law, archaeology and English literature to design and creative and performing arts. In any one year, the AHRC makes approximately 700 research awards and around 1,300 postgraduate awards. Awards are made after a rigorous peer review process, to ensure that only applications of the highest quality are funded. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK. www.ahrc.ac.uk
The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. We support independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC’s total budget for 2010/11 is £218 million. At any one time we support over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes. www.esrc.ac.uk
The Religion and Society Research Programme is a collaborative venture between the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Economic and Social Research Council.
Together these UK government funded research councils have contributed £12m to fund research of the highest quality on the interrelationships between religion and society.
The Programme started in January 2007 and finishes December 2012. It has funded 75 original projects across the arts, humanities and social sciences in three phases, with Phase 2 focused on Youth and Religion. Four types of projects (large grants; small grants; collaborative studentships; networks and workshops) have been funded. These awards are held across UK universities. Research is historical as well as contemporary in focus and many projects are investigating international contexts. www.religionandsociety.org.uk