Women are the happiest when they are in equality-loving, feminist-minded relationships, right?
That’s the line we’re often told. But a recent report seems to suggest something different.
Contemplating the role religion plays in the satisfaction levels of a marriage, the 2019 “World Family Map” surveys almost 10,000 men and women from around the world. These couples span the range from secular to highly religious, progressive to traditional.
When asked about the sexual satisfaction each of these individuals experience in their relationships, it was found that highly religious couples report the highest levels. The women in these highly religious relationships have a particularly high score.
By comparison, couples with mixed religious viewpoints or completely secular ideology report lower satisfaction levels.
But that question gets even more interesting when these three groups are broken into couples with progressive and traditional views of gender. Progressive couples with mixed religious views report the lowest levels of sexual satisfaction, with progressive secular couples just a bit ahead of them. Leading the pack, however, are the highly religious couples with traditional views of gender.
The authors of the report explain:
With sexual satisfaction, a different pattern emerged with highly religious traditional women being significantly more likely to be sexually satisfied than women in all other groups — including highly religious progressive women. This reveals that the higher levels of sexual satisfaction identified previously for women in highly religious relationships are consolidated among traditional women and not shared to the same degree by progressive women in highly religious relationships.
Such findings are a bit surprising. Why is it that couples who hold more traditional views of gender — a difference between the sexes and so on — are actually the ones who experience greater satisfaction in intimacy? Furthermore, why is it that women in these same relationships — the ones who are allegedly so oppressed by traditional gender roles — have the highest levels of satisfaction overall?
C.S. Lewis offered a theory on that nearly eight decades ago. Bringing up the intimate marriage relationship in a 1943 essay entitled “Equality,” Lewis notes the following:
Men have so horribly abused their power over women in the past that to wives, of all people, equality is in danger of appearing as an ideal. But Mrs. Naomi Mitchison has laid her finger on the real point. Have as much equality as you please — the more the better — in our marriage laws, but at some level consent to inequality, nay, delight in inequality, is an erotic necessity. Mrs. Mitchison speaks of women so fostered on a defiant idea of equality that the mere sensation of the male embrace rouses an undercurrent of resentment. Marriages are thus shipwrecked…. This is the tragi-comedy of the modern woman -- taught by Freud to consider the act of love the most important thing in life, and then inhibited by feminism from that internal surrender which alone can make it a complete emotional success. Merely for the sake of her own erotic pleasure, to go no further, some degree of obedience and humility seems to be (normally) necessary on the woman’s part.
That likely sounds a bit blunt — and maybe even a bit crass and unfair — to even the most traditionalist of women.
But is it true? And is it what we see at play in this recent study? Are religiously-minded traditionalist women the most satisfied in their relationships because they recognize there is a difference between the sexes — a difference they choose to embrace?
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Flickr-David Wise CC BY-NC 2.0
Annie Holmquist is the editor of Intellectual Takeout. When not writing or editing, she enjoys reading, gardening, and time with family and friends.