Catholics have more sex and better sex than Protestants and Jews.
And they don't even feel guilty about it.
That's according to Rev. Andrew Greeley, who has just written the soon-to-be-released "Sex: The Catholic Experience" (Thomas More, $19.95).
Two years ago, Mr. Greeley, a sociologist and novelist as well as a priest, made headlines reporting on the -- who knew? -- sex life of senior citizens, 20 percent of whom said they "did it" outdoors. And now Greeley's back, reporting on the sex life of . . . Catholics.
Greeley's findings include:
* 68 percent of Catholics have sex at least once a week, vs. 56 percent of non-Catholics.
* 50 percent of Catholics over 55 have sex once a week, vs. 40 percent of non-Catholics.
* 3 out of 10 Catholics have purchased erotic underwear, vs. 2 out of 10 non-Catholics.
* 64 percent of Catholic women scored high on a "sexual playfulness" scale, which included activities such as undressing your spouse, showering or bathing with your spouse, swimming nude with your spouse, and experimenting with sexual techniques, vs. 42 percent of non-Catholic women.
* Protestants married to Catholics have more sex than Protestants married to other Protestants, and way more sex than Protestants married to Jews. (Sixty-one percent of Protestants married to Catholics have sex once a week or more; just 54 percent of Protestants married to other Protestants do it that often, and only 40 percent of Protestants married to Jews.)
* Despite the church's teachings, 80 percent of devout Catholic women approve of sex for pleasure alone.
* Despite the church's teachings, 9 out of 10 Catholics don't believe birth control is wrong.
* More single Catholics have sex than single Protestants (66 percent to 57 percent).
* Only 17 percent of single Catholics disapprove of premarital sex, vs. 33 percent of non-Catholics.
It is difficult to imagine anyone, other than Andrew Greeley, who would even think to study the correlation of praying together and showering together (30 percent of couples who do both are ga-ga about each other, vs. only 9 percent of couples who do neither). But, as Mr. Greeley says, "Somebody has to do it."
Mr. Greeley has been doing it -- analyzing religion and sex -- for more than 30 years, since he first reported that Catholics were using birth control despite the church's stand against it (and thus earned himself what he calls "permanent marginality in the institutional church.")
"Even 35 years ago, most Catholic women were practicing some kind of birth control," says Mr. Greeley. "Now they don't even bother to confess it." He has continued exploring what he calls "this sex thing," because it's "such a big problem for the church," and, in part "to defend myself from the rage of Catholic leaders and the ridicule of Catholic liberals."
His latest survey is a collection of studies he has done through the years, most in the last five.
The title alone -- "Sex: The Catholic Experience" -- will strike some people as an oxymoron, Mr. Greeley knows. Others will think that if Catholics are having sex, they can't be enjoying it very much -- they're too repressed, too inhibited. Still others will think Catholics have become so secularized that their sex lives won't be any different from anyone else's.
Mr. Greeley says all these groups are in for a surprise and that there are probably a lot more surprises to uncover if a more exhaustive study of Catholic sexuality were undertaken.
"Ideally," writes Mr. Greeley, "the church itself should fund [such research]. So, too, ideally the Chicago Cubs will win the World Series next year."
Why do Catholics have more and better sex?
Mr. Greeley says it's because Catholics see sex as a "gift from God. It's meant to be enjoyed. My theory of the sociology of religion is that religion is religious images, and it's true that Catholics have more gracious images of God as mother, lover, friend and spouse, so theoretically their sexual lives should be more fulfilling. I wasn't altogether surprised that they were not the sexual Puritans of their image."
Mr. Greeley has no patience for those who say that it's unseemly for a priest who has taken a vow of celibacy to write about sex, to even know about sex.
"Who says it's inappropriate for a priest to write about sex? It would be wrong only if priests weren't human and sex was evil."
Mr. Greeley being Mr. Greeley, he's not bringing out just one new book. He has two. In addition to the sex study, he has a new novel, "Irish Gold" (Forge, $21.95). It's a romantic-mystery with a beautiful Irish heroine, Nuala Anne McGreal, and a --ing American hero, Dermot Michael Coyne. On the surface the two books have little in common. But Mr. Greeley says they're both about Catholic religious imagination.
"There is a fundamental similarity between the research and 'Irish Gold' in the notion that the lover is a metaphor for God. The erotic lover is the closest we're going to get to God in our lives. I didn't write 'Irish Gold' to illustrate that, but they both come out of the same fundamental orientation that the spouse, the beloved, reveals in an especially dramatic way the goodness and the passion and the tenderness of God."
There's almost nothing Andrew Greeley likes more than smashing a stereotype. One that he'd like to put to rest forever is of the priest as a miserable, frustrated man who can't wait to leave the priesthood and get married. On the contrary, says Mr. Greeley, 65 percent of priests say the priesthood is better than they thought it would be.
"I'm one of that 65 percent," he says. "I wouldn't leave, even if
they tried to throw me out. And they know it."