Catholic guilt about sex is a myth, although religious people in general tend to feel more guilty about sexual 'sins' than other people, according to a new poll.
Muslims, Baptists and Pentecostals feel the most guilty about pre-marital and extra-marital sex and the use of pornography and contraception, the YouGov survey of 4,437 people showed.
The poll, commissioned by Westminister Faith Debates to coincide with a talk on the sexualisation of society, showed that only 9% of nominal Catholics feel guilty about using contraception, despite its condemnation by the church. According to the poll, only 12% of practising Catholics feel guilty about it.
Catholics and Anglicans feel just as guilty as the general population when having an affair, at 60% of those polled. However there is a marked difference when evaluating attitudes to pre-marital sex and pornography.
Four times as many religious people (20%) say they would feel guilty about pre-marital sex as non-religious people (5%).
More than twice as many religious people (33%) say they would feel guilty about using pornography for sexual stimulation as non-religious
Linda Woodhead, Professor of Sociology of Religion at Lancaster, and Director of Religion and Society, the programme which organises the Westminister Faith Debates, said the results were interesting because they shed light on the way the church's official position is failing to reflect the conscience of its members.
Speaking to the Huffington Post UK, Professor Woodhead said the polls for the debates had shown how religious spokesmen are taking a different stand from the majority of Anglicans and Catholics.
She said: "What we're seeing is that the attitudes of most religious people doesn't differ from those of non-religious people, even on issues the Catholic church strongly condemns, such as contraception, which is a grave sin.
"It shows the the official positions of churches is significantly more conservative than the members of those churches.
"It's interesting because secular people usually think that religious people have very conservative views on society and its simply not true."
The survey also asked participants about the role sex played in society. It found that most people think sex is important but that society is too sexualised, with little difference in opinion between religious and non-religious people.
The biggest difference is between men and women, especially between those who feel strongly – men are almost twice as likely to agree strongly (40%) that sex is important for a fulfilled life as women (20%), and this gender difference is the same amongst religious and non-religious people.
Woodhead said those who eschewed the church's official position were not in any way "wishy washy" Catholics or Anglicans.
"I wouldnt assume it's just because there's merely a few people who are "true" Catholics either. Many of those that are surveyed are sincere believers, who definitely believe in God, some of whom attend church regularly, but who come to a different moral conclusion compard with the current leadership.
"What is does show is that the leadership is not speaking for a majority of Catholics and that is a serious problem."
Overall the survey showed the most guilty in society are women who describe themselves as religious, regard religious sources as authoritative, are active members of a religious group, and definitely believe there is a God. They would feel four times as much guilt as the most guilt-free men.
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