Contra Mozilla

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Does It Matter Who Has Better Sex?

My thoughts on that study which my co-blogger linked saying that Catholics have better sex are nicely summed up in this post by Dr Stacy Trasancos:
The information is based on a questionnaire, the National Health and Social Life Survey, conducted in 1992 by the Population Research Center. It’s not that the analysis or the conclusions are necessarily wrong; it’s that this approach could be lampoonable. 
Why? Well, if someone had used this data to convince me to consider Catholicism on the basis that Catholics have better sex because a scientific study says so, I’d have wondered why someone so sure of the conclusions needed to hide behind a study to back it up. Science is supposed to investigate what is unknown, not what is known. Then I’d point out how sketchy the data is.

Sketchy data and a lampoonable approach to evangelization is a good summary. The point of Catholicism or religion in general is not to improve one's sex life, nor to otherwise enhance one's pleasure. That's a mostly cynical look at religion, the same old "health and wealth gospel" modified for a culture which cares more about sex than money. The reason for choosing a particular religion (or other worldview) is first that it is true, and if that can't be decided then second that it is good (though goodness is so intrinsically linked to truth that there can scarcely be goodness without truth).

When a study like this is used to pitch conversion to Catholicism, it's somewhat akin to saying, "We can't know whether the Catholic Faith is true or not, we can't even know whether the Catholic Religion is good or not, but you should still join the Catholic Church because you'll likely have better sex. In other words, join the Church because it feels good!" "Because it feels good" is not sufficient grounds for making major moral decisions, and this is the very attitude against which Christianity in general (and Catholicism in particular) has to contend. This attitude is, in short, rather antithetical to a religion which claims to be followers of the Truth.

That point is complimented by the fact that this study itself is rather poorly constructed. Asking people if they feel loved during intercourse or whether they enjoy intercourse with their partner doesn't exactly provide a stable metric for determining who is having the best sex {1}.  The frequency and duration of sexual intercourse are more solidly measurable by "scientific" means, though this study only attempted to measure the former and not the latter). And who buys what kind of underwear how often is hardly an indicator of who is having the best sex, or even (for that matter) the most "kinky" sex--a different story entirely.
I submit that we don’t need to be talking about how loved someone feels during intercourse as a measure of “better sex”, and neither do we need to be talking about how often people have sex, whether people think it’s okay to have sex just for pleasure, or the specifics of their underwear buying habits as a measure of the quality of the Catholic experience. Frankly, that information is none of anyone’s business anyway. I would refuse to participate in such a survey on those grounds too.

What I’m trying to say is: Don’t rely on science to answer non-scientific questions.

There’s a better way.
This is the crux of the scientific analysis of this "study," and Dr Trasancos goes on to analyze some of these findings in a more theological manner by linking them to the Trinity. I also agree with her assessment. I want to go back to where I started by stating that this is not the kind of thing which is necessarily good for evangelization. To the extent that it will be taken by people who don't understand the science/methodology/problems underlying the study and then pitched as "food for thought" to people who do, it may actually become a roadblock. It's the kind of thing that looks like bad science on the surface, which then turns of people who understand the difference between good science and bad by convincing them that the best Catholicism has to offer in its defense is pseudoscience.

I will grant that no apologia alone can convert a person, and few can even get most people to stop and consider conversion, or even to consider simple fairness apart from conversion. But we live in an age where science is king (along with Sports and Sex), and where "Science" is invoked as a stick with which to beat the Church: namely, "The Church is against science and impedes scientific progress while supporting junk science." Therefore, when a study of dubious scientific quality is invoked as reason to convert to the Church, and when it is subsequently demolished by scientific-minded people from outside the Church, it reinforces in those peoples' minds their own chief (stated) objection to the Church.

My point, then, is that science can be an aide to (but not a cause of) evangelism, but only if done right. Studies like this might make a man stop to consider other claims of the Church--if the study is done well. But if the claim he is considering is that because more practicing Catholics express satisfaction with sex than other people, he's more than likely to brush the whole thing aside, or worse use it to reinforce his own prejudices if he sees that such a study is being touted by Catholics as "Science."

Such studies are good for a laugh, and can be entertaining as conversation-starters. In some ways, they may even be no-brainers {2}. They are not, however, a substitute for good apologetics or a joyful witness to one's Faith.

{1} I will note as an aside, though, that it does give an indication as to whom is most satisfied with their sex life: the Catholics maybe are having better sex, or it could be that they value what sex they are having more than anybody else.

{2} This is arguably an even better conversation-starter, and one which actually is helpful for helping to evangelize.

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