Scott RonisReligious youth are experiencing conflict between their beliefs and their initial sexual experiences, and it may be impacting their self-identity and relationship with religion, a new study has found.

UNB psychology professor Dr. Scott Ronis and student researcher Camille Garceau didn’t set out to explore the dynamic between sex and religion.

But it was a subject that kept coming up when interviewing university students about their initial experiences with sex as teens.

“With participants talking extensively on religion, and after identifying an existing gap in the literature, we decided to make the relationship between religion and sexual experience a core focus of our study,” says Ms. Garceau.

Their study entitled The Interface Between Young Adults’ Religious Values and their Sexual Experiences Before Age 16 was recently published in the Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality.

According to the study, young people’s feelings of guilt and fear brought on by conflict between their religion and sexual experiences reportedly altered their relationship with their religious beliefs, often driving them away from their religion.

Dr. Ronis hopes to use the findings from the study to encourage religious communities to have open conversations around sex education and development.

“Some orthodox religious sects may believe that talking and educating youth on sex means they have to abandon their beliefs, which is not the case,” says Dr. Ronis. “However, not having these conversations can be problematic.”

Dr. Ronis explains that not talking about sex or taking an abstinence-only approach does not generally impact adolescent decision-making about sex or may even lead to relatively unsafe sex practices. Moreover, these approaches can leave youth ill-equipped to make healthy sexual choices later in life.

Ms. Garceau is a fifth-year bachelor of sciences student who completing an honours in psychology. Her honours thesis was entitled A Qualitative Investigation of Actual versus Expected Initial Sexual Experiences.

Dr. Ronis is an associate professor and director of graduate studies in the department of psychology at UNB. His primary research interests focus on identifying the roles of individual and interpersonal factors on youth emotional and behavioral problems, and understanding normative and atypical sexual experiences among youth as well as how these experiences may influence psychosocial development.

Media contact: David Stonehouse

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