The Humanist Hour #63: Sex and Secularism

A new episode of the Humanist Hour is available for listening. Keep reading to find out about the guests on this month’s show.

In this month’s  podcast, Jes Constantine and Todd Stiefel interview organizational psychologist, Dr. Darrel Ray, about his recent empirical study, called Sex and Secularism: What Happens When You Leave Religion? Also, listen to an interview with movie writer and director, Matthew Chapman, about his upcoming film, The Ledge.

This episode contains explicit content and listener discretion is advised.



Segment 1: The Ledge

Is this the Brokeback Mountain moment for atheists? The Ledge is the first drama in Hollywood history to feature an openly atheist hero in a story about religious conflict. Nominated for Best US Drama at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, the new thriller is available now On Demand and comes to theatres July 8, 2011.

The Ledge is the first film in Hollywood history that puts an atheist into the hero role in a production that features A-list stars. It is written and directed by Matthew Chapman, the great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin, the scientist who discovered evolution, the biggest challenge to religion since Gallileo. The film was nominated for Best US Drama at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and stars Charlie Hunnam, Sons of Anarchy, Liv Tyler, Lord of the Rings, Tony, Emmy, and Golden Globe nominee, Patrick Wilson, Watchmen, and Oscar nominee Terrence Howard, Crash, Iron Man.

On the rooftop of a city skyscraper, Detective Hollis (Terrence Howard) pleads with Gavin (Charlie Hunnam) not to jump. What he does not know is that Gavin, an atheist, is involved in a deadly feud with Joe (Patrick Wilson), a Christian extremist. Joe’s wife, Shana, (Liv Tyler) is caught in the middle as Joe seeks to test Gavin’s faith or lack of it. Cutting between the present and the past, tension escalates as verbal shots give way to deadly threats in a race against time that neither God nor the police can stop. Along the way, the film provocatively explores the intellectual and emotional conflicts between religion and atheism.


How You Can Help!

Stand up and be counted! See The Ledge anytime through Video on Demand (your cable service), through the iTunes Store (go to the link and click View in iTunes), on the Internet at Sundance Now or through a “test run” that opens July 8 in two theaters:

  • IFC Center, 323 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY
  • Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, CA

Hollywood listens to numbers! The more people see the test run, cable, and online service, the more push it will get nationwide. Visit to learn about what else you can do.

Segment 2: Sex and Secularism: What Happens When You Leave Religion

Darrel Ray, Ed.D. is an organizational psychologist, consultant and author of The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture and founder of the organization, Recovering from Religion. For the first 10 years of his career he practiced as a clinical psychologist before moving into the corporate world where he has had an international consulting practice since 1986.

Why Sex and Secularisms Research is Important

In February, he along with Amanda Brown of Kansas University, completed a national survey of over 14,500 secularists that examines the effect leaving religion has on sexuality and sexual practices. The full report can be downloaded for free at A wide range of publications, bloggers and journals have written articles on the report including ABC News Health, The Daily Mail (UK), Harper’s Magazine, The New York Post and many others. His next book, Sex and God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality is due to be released winter of 2011.

The Sex and Secularism survey report is out. We have worked hundreds of hours analyzing the data and writing and rewriting the report, going over it with academics, taking feedback and criticism and incorporating a lot of it. Why is this report important enough to spend this kind of time on? Secularists don’t know a lot about their own community. Unlike Baptists or Catholics, we don’t have entire organizations dedicated to researching membership and developing programs to infect more people with religion. No one is asking what are secularists like? Are we same or different from the general population? How are we different from religionists and what happened when we left religion? What religions did we belong to before we left? How many religions did we try out before becoming secular? Are there any residual effects of religion after we become secular? How often do we have sexual fantasies? How kinky are we and do we share these with our partners? Do religious partners inhibit sexual satisfaction?

We think these are important questions to ask. If, as we believe, religion has similarities to disease, there should be signs that people are somehow different – better or worse – after getting away from the disease. Sex and religion is something that seems to be “hands off” for researchers in the field, yet the one thing that seems incredibly important to religionists. From anti abortion to anti homosexual, from Catholic Priest and Nun Celibacy to Priestly pedophilia, anti masturbation to anti sex before marriage – religions seem obsessed with trying to control sex. So what happens to people’s sex lives when they leave religion? Do they go wild? Do they stop educating their children about sex? Do they leave their spouses and families for wild orgies? This report is one of the first to explore the sexual behavior or the non-religious.

While we could not answer all these questions, and may have not answered any definitively, the 14,560 people who participated in our survey gave us plenty of data to make some tentative conclusions about the secular community and secular sex. More research will be needed, but we think this is a good start. Even if you are not interested in sex (which is hard to believe), you may still be interested in the many demographic facts. For example, there seems to have been a huge influx of new atheists coming from Christian Non-Denominational Churches. Catholics were number one a few years ago but are now coming in second by a narrow margin. Who would have thought? All those mega churches are sending us their members. You might also be interested in the educational and income levels as well as gender and ages and what they may tell us about where to look for new people.

We hope you will take the time to examine the report and let us know what you think. If you were one of the thousands who took the survey, we thank you for your participation and support. If you did not get a chance to take the survey, this may give you valuable information about how others view their sexuality outside of religion. For all of us it begins a process of normalization. Humans are sexual creatures. We can do just fine expressing and controlling our sexuality without any religious indoctrination. This survey shows, in many ways, we are more open and less guilt ridden about sex than when we were religious. We feel better about ourselves and our partners than when we were religious. In other words, we are at least as normal as the religionists with some apparent benefits from shaking off religion.

Web Extra: What do atheists say in bed?

Listen to this radio play, inspired by Jeff Swenson’s “Humanists in Love” comic to find out:

Humanists In Love:


(This radio play is sexually explicit, but it’s nothing that you didn’t hear in When Harry Met Sally.)

Links from this month’s episode:

Music from this month’s episode (in order of appearance):