3/13/2009

Survey on Religion and Spirituality in BDSM

Because religion fascinates me (my minor was religious studies) and I love to study sex, it made sense to study the two together.



I do have a master's degree and do know the basics of surveys, reporting results, and analyzing data (I had to use it for my thesis, but that is another long, painful story). I am not, however, a psychologist or doctor so these results should be taken just for fun!



My deepest thanks goes to the 246 of you who completed my survey. I especially thank those of you who made [polite, constructive, or helpful] comments. To those of you who can't type anything nice.... "don't type anything at all"! :) I also extend my apologies for the lateness in responding. While my goal was 2 weeks, it turned into more like 6 or 8. First, I waited because so many results were still coming in. Then my job in France had a break and I took my first trip home to the States in 5 months. Needless to say, BDSM surveys weren't high up on my list during those weeks!



But now I am home again (to France, anyway) and ready to share your results. Thanks again for contributing!
1. What is your identified gender? This question changed somewhat, as my original wording confused some people (some of you thought it was "too P.C." and some of you thought it wasn't P.C. enough!). Either way, I changed it early on per some good suggestions for better wording. In the end, 131 people (53%) responded female, 103 responded male (42%), and 12 responded other (5%). Among the others, responses included: 2 MtF (Male to Female), 1 irrelevant, 2 gender fluid, 1 sissy, 1 none, 1 FtM Intersexual/male of center, 1 FtM, 1 Transgender, and 1 "just other."
2. What is your age? Here, only 4 people (2%) were under 18 and 0 over 65. Fifty percent were 40-65, 32% 26-39, and 17% 18-25.
3. What is the highest level of education you have achieved? Thirty-seven percent have finished some college, 27% a 4-year college degree, 14% a Master's, 4% a Doctorate, 7% high school/GED, 7% a 2-year college program, and 1% some high school. Three percent answered "other."


4. What religion was your family while growing up? Most (69%) of the respondents were raised Christian (33% Protestant, 27% Catholic, and 7% evangelical). Twelve percent were nonreligious, 7% other, 5% Jewish, 4% agnostic, and 1% Muslim, Pagan, Hindu, or atheist.


5. What religion are you now? The respondents seem to follow the trends of the larger population, with all denominations of Christians and Jews losing members, Paganism, atheism, agnosticism, Eastern religions, and "other" gaining adherents. The largest group of respondents now identify as "other" (27%) or pagan (17%).




6. How would you describe your religious activity? Most respondents were not active (38%), although answers varied greatly. Eighteen percent are active more than once a week, 8% once a week, 12% a few times a month, 18% a few times a year, and 6% "other". Many of the "others" were because their religious beliefs imply more a way of thinking and living, not events to attend.


7. How religious would you consider yourself? Thirty-four percent responded "not at all", and 7% responded "very." The graph below shows the breakdown of responses in between.

8. How spiritual would you describe yourself? Here the results showed more or less of an inversion of self-described religiosity, with 41% considering themselves "very spiritual" and increasingly fewer people describing themselves as less spiritual. In general, the BDSM community (perhaps mirroring the population at large) considers itself more spiritual than religious.

9. How much do your religious beliefs affect what you will or will not do in BDSM? Unfortunately, as many respondents indicated, this question is geared toward religious beliefs, without a clear distinction between religiousity and spirituality. I believe this will skew the results. But as for the actual question, whether religious beliefs affect BDSM activities, most people (55%) said "not at all." Only 8% said "very much."


10. How much do your religious beliefs affect your decisions in everyday life? While BDSM activities may not be much affected by religious beliefs, everyday activities and decisions are. The answers are fairly evenly divided across the spectrum in this case.





Limits of the study:
This study did not allow for a difference in religion and spirituality, which there definitely is. It also cannot allow for different individual notions of what is religion; what is spirituality, and what is BDSM? That each person has his or her own idea of these three concepts makes the survey necessarily subjective. Also, this study only allows for one response (due to its multiple-choice nature) from respondents. Some people practice a mix of faiths or religions, while others engage in an eclectic mix of spirituality. For some the two are inseparable, and for others they are not. Also, just because an individual considers herself "Catholic" does not mean she agrees with everything the Catholic Church teaches.

Some Final Words
It is interesting to survey the results for what they are. The latest research indicates Americans, and the world in general, is becoming "less religious," the BDSM community, like their vanilla counterparts, reflect that. Twenty-eight percent of Americans leave the religion they were raised in, and 1.6% considered themselves atheist in 2008. A higher proportion of BDSM members (9%) considered themselves athesists, but the numbers are still small. Sixteen percent of Americans, and 26% of BDSMers in the survey (not all of whom are American or even from Western societies!--but many were so I'm using Americans as a not-without-faults control group) identify as nonreligious, atheist, or agnostic. 2.4% of Americans are agnostic, and 6% of BDSMers responded accordingly. While there are differences, these could be accounted for in difference of sampling populations, differing survey methods, or random chance. Of course, they could also be significant--only a statistical program would tell me that!

In America, 75% of adults are Christian; among BDSMers, 69% were raised Christian and 23% remained so as adults, indicating much lower numbers of Christians than in the general population. Sixty-three percent of moderate Protestants in my study left their childhood religion; 50% of evangelicals, 42% of Jews, and 78% of Catholics left as adults. This reflects the general population, where Catholic groups lose more adherents than any other religions.

Compared to the general population, fewer Protestants identify as evangelical. It is perhaps not surprising that those groups seen as more conservative (Christians and Jews in general, and evangelical and Catholic Christians in particular) are less represented in a so-called "alternative lifestyle" like BDSM than in the population at large; however, there are BDSMers from all these groups!

The converse is also true. In 2008, an estimated 0.4% of Americans were pagan (including Wiccan and New Age). Fully 17% of BDSMers were pagan in my study, indicating higher numbers of pagan BDSMers than in the rest of the population. Not being pagan, I have no idea why this may be, but I find it highly interesting and invite any Wiccans or pagans to leave a comment with their best theory or explanation.

In short, the BDSMers who took my survey represented a wide variety of religious and spiritual beliefs. There are people in the community who are atheists, people who aren't sure, people who are Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Catholic, Baptist, nothing, many things, and still searching. I find it fascinating that so many people from all walks of life have found something in BDSM worth staying for.

Thanks for your attention.

To see where I got more information, click here (2008 religion study) And here (2008 religion study). And here (2001 religion study). And here (Summary of many religion studies).
Comments are welcome. However, I ask that if you can't phrase your criticism constructively that you refrain from commenting. Negativity has no purpose if it can't help the recipient improve. Thanks! :)

3 comments:

PasserByFromFetlife said...

Fascinating. Thanks for doing this.

Anonymous said...

Excellent work, and very informative.

innocence and magic said...

as a pagan and witch, i think it's because we are so open about sex and sexuality. we're freer than most other religions. some of us even practice the 'great rite', where we personify the god and goddess joining. and also sex magic.