There is a well-established and positive association between religiosity and marital satisfaction. What is less clear is the effect of religiosity on marital sexual outcomes, with research findings that have run the gamut from negative to positive. Given that most religions teach that marriage is the divinely appointed context for a sexual relationship, religious persons who are married and in sexual relationships could have a different experience with sex than those who are not in a marital sexual relationship. Although the majority of the population in the United States is religious, sex in religious marriages has received scant research attention. The purpose of this dissertation is to examine in three manuscripts the association between religiosity, sexuality, and marital connection. In manuscript one, I look at how doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints dovetails with principles of social science in ways that could potentially improve the sexual connection in these religious marriages. Specifically, I examine how Latter-day Saints can better sanctify their sexuality through autonomy and relatedness. As member couples dovetail healthy religious principles with social science principles, such as focusing on avoiding selfishness and developing a self in a larger moral context, they can experience improved marital connection. In study two, I research the spontaneous mentions of sexuality in interviews with highly religious families in the American Families of Faith dataset. These 198 highly religious families come from a rich variety of socioeconomic, racial/ethnic, and religious backgrounds. Couples and families mention four major themes that matter to them at the intersection of religion and sexuality--boundaries and rules of sex, purposes of sex, navigating culture and media, and concerns around children and sex, such as imparting values. I also offer clinicians who work with religious couples and families ways to help their clients better navigate the intersection between religion and sex. In study three, I use a nationally representative (CREATE) survey dataset to examine the effect of religion on marital connection (emotional and sexual), and whether commitment and empathy mediate that relationship. Commitment and empathy are both elements of Martin Buber's dialogic philosophy that should help individuals enjoy better connection. The association between religion and marital connection is analyzed over time (Waves II, III, and IV, which are approximately one year apart) and with dyadic data (1,818 households completed all three waves). Commitment and empathy do concurrently mediate the relationship between religion and marital connection, but the effects do not last over time, suggesting that these connective attributes need to be renewed often to have a positive effect on marital outcomes. Religion appears to have a positive impact on marital sexuality and marital connection. Popular thought might indicate that marriage often settles into comfortable complacency, but it is not doomed to. Like dynamic individuals, religious married individuals might find their relationship gets better with time and effort. Married religious individuals might also benefit from future research that examines specific religious doctrines or teachings that help married couples enjoy sanctified sex and increase marital connection.



College and Department

Family, Home, and Social Sciences; Family Life



Date Submitted


Document Type





marital connection, healthy sexuality, religion