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11.25.08

Why Are Christians Having Better Sex Than the Rest of Us?

A Texas pastor has come up with one of the best public policy proposals of the decade: have more sex.

Let’s concede right up front that you hate evangelicals. Most affluent, educated people do. Where I live, they're the most unpopular group there is. How do I know this? Because of the reaction to a story that ran in yesterday’s New York Times.

Earlier this month, the Rev. Ed Young, a 47-year-old megachurch pastor in Texas, urged his married congregants to have sex as much as possible with their spouses; if possible, every day for a week. Sex improves marriage, Young argued. God wants you to have more of it. “If you've said, ‘I do,’ do it,” he told the Times.

The piece quickly became the newspaper’s most emailed story of the day, sent mostly, I suspect, by readers in New York, Washington, and L.A. to their friends along with notes mocking Ed Young and his parishioners. That’s how I first saw the story. “This will be good for them,” the email read. “It’s hard to spend too much time engaged in meth-fueled sodomy with your boyfriend when you've got a nightly copulation meeting with your wife.” (A reference to Colorado pastor Ted Haggard, who confessed to such activity after being busted by a male prostitute.)

The devout are actually having better sex than the rest of us.

Even a friend of mine who’s sympathetic to Christianity was skeptical of the idea: “I'm of two minds on it. If you can convince a good Christian girl that she's serving God by having sex with you, it's hard to argue with that logic. However, is it good sex, or sanctified sex? I love Jesus, I love rock and roll, but I don't like Christian rock. Some things are better left separate.”

The evangelicals have a PR problem. Even when they say something self-evidently sensible, all a lot of people can think of is Ted Haggard. Which is a shame, because Ed Young may have come up with one of the best public policy proposals of the decade.

Once you factor out venereal diseases, there’s almost nothing better for you than regular sex. Judging from the many studies on the subject, a daily romp is healthier than yoga, a five-mile run, and a handful of multivitamins combined. Sex has been shown to ameliorate memory, posture, depression, anxiety, insomnia, menstrual cramps, digestion, bladder control, dental health, and the sense of smell.

It’s a natural analgesic that also reduces the risk of prostate cancer and heart disease. It lessens the incidence of colds and flu. It burns calories. Overall, according to a 1997 study in the British Medical Journal, men with the most active sex lives have a death rate half that of those with the least active. Sex prolongs life.

You'd think that someone other than Ed Young would have noticed this. Maybe one of the tens of thousands of federal bureaucrats paid to worry about America's health might have caught on and launched an ad campaign on billboards and city buses. (“Sex: It’s the Right Thing to Do,” or “Take a Minute for Couchball.”) But no. It took an evangelical.

And not a minute too soon. Americans, despite appearances, don't have enough sex. The country fares decently by international standards (the average Japanese mates just 37 times a year), but we're still nowhere near where we ought to be.

In his 1953 report, Alfred Kinsey found that younger married couples had sex about twice a week. By 1974, that average had risen to a little more than three times every seven days. Like many positive trends in America—larger disposable incomes, longer life expectancy—the trend line pointed up. Then it stalled. For reasons that are still not clear, married Americans failed to meet their potential. By the mid-1990s, the average couple was doing it less than twice a week.

So what happened in the ‘80s? Did the rise of the religious right drag the country back to a sexual dark age? Before you jump to easy conclusions, consider the data. The most comprehensive study of American sexual behavior ever undertaken (published by the University of Chicago and marketed under the notably non-arousing title The Social Organization of Sexuality) found that, in fact, “having a religious affiliation was associated with higher rates of orgasm for women.” The devout are actually having better sex than the rest of us.

So maybe it’s worth listening to the megachurch pastor. Ed Young says compulsory, scheduled sex will improve your marriage. Doesn't sound very romantic. But is it true? Try the following thought experiment:

Let’s say your marriage was falling apart. Alienated, angry, frustrated with couples therapy, you decide to divorce. But before you do, you agree to try one last thing: Every day for a month, you'll have sex. You don't particularly want to, but you will, and you'll be disciplined about it: half an hour minimum, naked, both striving for orgasm.

Let’s say you actually did that. Do you think by the end of the month you'd go through with the divorce? Maybe you would. Likely you wouldn't.

Ed Young is right. Sex is medicine. It’s worth doing, whether you feel like it or not.

Tucker Carlson is a senior political correspondent at MSNBC. Carlson joined the network in February 2005 from CNN, hosting The Situation with Tucker Carlson and Tucker .