Every town has at least one local salt-of-the-earth fellow who is a known exaggerator. He usually spends his mornings at the local older-gents breakfast place of choice – often Hardees (though I don’t mean to buzz-market). This character is known for his fish stories. He catches a large fish, and with wide eyes, tells his wife. By the time he tells his son, the fish has grown by several inches, the man’s unscientific measurement indicated by two outstretched hands at chest level. Ultimately, over greasy eggs and sausage, the exaggerator gives his exaggerator friends the impression that a catfish the size of a Volkswagen was pulled (by him) out of the community pond. The story grows and his hands gain distance with each retelling. In some towns the exaggerator’s story is memorable enough to become part of the local lore, and therefore, the false size of the fish is a new benchmark for future fisherman to beat. It remains so until a new exaggerator emerges to take his seat at breakfast.
Fish tales exist on blogs as well. One such case is the oft-repeated claim (whether you’ve heard it or not) that atheists actually have more fulfilling sex lives. Is this true? A recent article, entitled 10 Reasons Atheists Do It better, includes the assertion, along with a very serious reference to actual . . . “studies” – the seven letter word that automatically verifies any internet claim (sarcasm should be evident). The author, Paul Ratner, says,
“There have been studies that showed atheists having better sex lives than religious people. . .”
Now, most readers would take the author at his word. After all, he used the word “studies.” Nevertheless, in utter rebellion, I clicked the link. The research referenced was a study conducted by one Darrel Ray, who supposedly demonstrated that,
“Once they left religion, more than 50 percent [of participants in his survey] saw improvements in their sex lives, 29.6 percent saw no change and 2.2 percent said it was worse, according to his survey. Those who had grown up in the most conservative churches -- based on their teachings on sex and invocation of guilt -- reported the highest satisfaction levels after leaving religion behind.”
It’s not Ray’s findings that warrant the phrase “fish tale,” but the validity of his research in the first place. According to Susan Donaldson James (the author of the linked article),
"His research will not be published by an academic institution because it has not been peer-reviewed."
And according to associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, Mark Regnerus,
"It appears that it was a 'fill it out if you want to' kind of survey that is not random, not nationally representative, and relies entirely on self-selection. In other words, they have data from people who felt like filling out a survey on atheism and sex. As a result, I am not surprised at their findings."
To put it in perspective, it’s not that our exaggerator was wrong about the size of the fish, it’s just that we can’t say for sure it was a fish that was caught in the first place.
Nevertheless, the findings get reproduced in article after article as if the “study” represented an absolute about sex and faith. The fish story has become a part of atheist lore, now adopted by the community. Someday, we can imagine, a new exaggerator will sit down to breakfast and tell another fish tale about sex in another worldview. Oh wait, they already have – Do Ultra-Orthodox Jews Have Better Sex?
I thought about ending this article with my own top ten list of reasons committed Christians have (or at least should have) the best sex, but I thought of a better idea. I’d rather ask you, the tasteful reader, to give me your own answer to the question. Please do not use graphic or explicit language. Pretend that a nine-year-old is reading your post. Leave it in the comments below.
(Future readers should recognize that if there are no comments here, they probably showed up on social media links to this article. That’s usually how it goes).