"Don’t think about the pink elephant" is an often-used phrase in psychology to exemplify how to get someone to think about something by telling them not to. It also falls in line with the difficulty of not thinking about something when you are worried about it. So it’s not surprising to find out that religious teenagers who are told not to think about sex, end up thinking about sex a lot.
In the wonderfully titled paper “God, I Can’t Stop Thinking About Sex! The Rebound Effect in Unsuccessful Suppression of Sexual Thoughts Among Religious Adolescents,” Yaniv Efrati from Beit Berl College shows that religious teens end up feeling really bad about sex and they suffer for it.
The study is based on three surveys. The first, on 661 teens, showed that religious adolescents are more worried about sex than their peers. The second one with 522 people showed that due to their preoccupation with sex, religious teens report lower well-being. In the final one, the religious teens in a group of 317 have both lower well-being and more compulsive sexual behaviors.
“The study reflects, in my opinion, the complex reality among religious adolescents. It seems that the religious public should examine its ways regarding the importance of discourse and the ability to engage in sexuality and sexual education even in the early stages of adolescence,” Efrati told PsyPost.
“It is very important that religious society discuss sexuality and deal with sexuality in the right manner at the beginning of adolescence and even at the elementary age in order to prevent the development of compulsive sexual behavior.”
Parents’ responses towards things like pornography and masturbation play a key role in compulsive sexual development. It is important to remember, Efran explains, that religious people tend to overestimate how much their behaviors are compulsive.
“It would not be prudent to say that religious people have a higher compulsive sexual behavior than secular people,” Efrati added. “In the field of therapy, I see that religious people in self-reporting will indeed report that they have a compulsive sexual behavior when in practice they do not have a compulsive sexual behavior. They define themselves as such because of the negative feelings (shame and guilt) of the conflict in which they live – sexuality versus religion.”
Efran stresses the importance of discussing sexuality in the right manner in religious society, during and even before adolescence. This will improve the well-being of teenagers.