The Evangelical Sex Disconnect

As Republicans continue to mount specious attacks on Planned Parenthood and remain undeterred in their efforts to deprive it of federal family planning funds, a new report from the Guttmacher Institute reveals that their female base is not as sexually repressed as Republican politicians and religious right activists want them to be.

Crucial to the current attack on Planned Parenthood, the report [PDF] finds that majorities of Christian women — Catholics, evangelicals, and mainline Protestants — use birth control. Guttmacher found that only two percent of Catholic women (including unmarried women) rely on the natural family planning permitted by Church doctrine, even among those who attend church regularly. On the other hand, “[s]ixty-eight percent of Catholic women use highly effective methods: sterilization (32%, including 24% using female sterilization,) the pill or another hormonal method (31%) and the IUD (5%).” Nearly three quarters of mainline Protestant and evangelical women use “highly effective methods,” including more than 40% of evangelicals who rely on male or female sterilization, “a figure that is higher than among the other religious groups.” The figures for married women are similar to those of women as a whole.

Evangelical leadership attempts to persuade women that their primary purpose in life is to remain a virgin until married, submit to their husband’s spiritual authority, and to bear children. Yet evangelical women don’t seem to be heeding these puritanical demands. Sixty-three percent of unmarried evangelical women between the ages of 15 and 44 have had sex, just six points lower than all unmarried women in that age group. Among 15-19 year-old women, evangelicals aren’t different from the rest of the population: 42% of unmarried women of all religious traditions have had sex; 41% of unmarried evangelical women have. And, not surprisingly, the numbers are even higher for unmarried 19-24 year-olds; 79% of all unmarried women in that age group have had sex, while 75% of unmarried evangelical women have.

Republicans like Mike Pence, author of amendment to deny Planned Parenthood federal funds, pushed against the wall by the evidence Title X funding goes to protect womens’ health and prevent unintended pregnancies, claim they are not trying to strip away family funding, but merely are trying to punish “Big Abortion.” But no matter how much they try to make it about abortion, when Michele Bachmann recently lamented a supposed attack on “fertility,” she called to mind religious right efforts to frame the Pence Amendment as being about restricting access to contraception, not just abortion. And Glenn Beck gave away the real motivation when he called women who receive services at Planned Parenthood “hookers.”

Republicans like Pence may claim that they want to put the “big” (three percent!) abortion provider out of business. (Has anyone pointed out that Planned Parenthood is one of the primary providers of abortion services because the intimidation of and restrictive legislation promoted by anti-choice activists have driven other providers out of business?) But the Republicans refuse to admit the clear evidence: that not a single dollar of federal money pays for anyone’s abortion, and that all the federal money that pays for family planning services is spent with the aim of preventing unintended pregnancies and therefore diminishing the number of abortions.

The “ideal” Christian woman — chaste until married, and producing as many children as she believes God commands after marriage — that’s what a zealous group of retrograde politicians want for American women. But not even evangelical women want it for themselves.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email