Attitudes to Issues of Sexuality

In revising the materials for the 3rd edition of Australia’s Religious Communities CD-Rom, we discovered some interesting patterns in the changing attitudes to issues of sexuality amongst Australians. As might be expected, Australian adults have become more accepting of pre-material sex and homosexuality. However, in relation to extra-marital sex, Australians have become less accepting. This suggests that while Australians usually move into a de facto relationship before marriage, they take faithfulness in marriage very seriously.

In the last twenty years, community attitudes have changed substantially. Church attenders tend to have different views from non-church attenders, but their attitudes have also changed. Attitudes vary from one denomination to another, not necessarily in line with the positions and debates of their denominations.

It has become common for couples to live together before marriage, and most Australians accept this. In the Australian version of the International Social Survey in 1993, 59 per cent of Australian adults said that pre-marital sex was not wrong at all. In the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes (2009), 68 per cent of the sample of the Australian population said that sexual relations before marriage were not wrong at all.

This is an issue in which the attitudes of Christians and especially of those who attend church frequently are quite different from those of others in the population. Of those who attended church monthly or more often, 51 per cent said that pre-marital sex was almost or always wrong. In 2009, that figure had risen slightly to 54 per cent. Attitudes have become more conservative particularly among younger church attenders.

The Australian Survey of Social Attitudes (2009) asked about attitudes to sexual relations with someone other than one’s spouse. Less than 1 per cent of Australians thought it was not wrong at all and 91 per cent said it was always or almost always wrong. Six per cent said it was wrong sometimes and just under 3 per cent said they could not choose.

Australians were quite divided about sexual relations between two adults of the same sex. According to the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes (2009), 42 per cent of adult Australians considered that it is not wrong at all, while 39 per cent of Australians felt that it was always or almost always wrong. Another 9 per cent of Australians felt that it is sometimes wrong. Eleven per cent did not know what to think.

In 1993, 82 per cent of those who attended church monthly or more often felt that homosexual practices were always or almost always wrong. In 2009, that figure had reduced to 73 per cent of those attending church monthly or more often. While, overall, church attenders have become a little less opposed to homosexuality, there remains a substantial difference between their attitudes and the attitudes of those who rarely or never attend church.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 20, No. 4, Pages 13-16

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