An international study of major religious groups in the world found that Muslims were the least likely to have sex outside of marriage.
Published in the October issue of the American Sociological Review, the study also found an inverse relationship between the number of Muslims in a country to the rate of premarital sex in the general population, according to a report in Medical Daily.
"They found that not only do fewer Muslims have sex outside of the marriage, as a country's Muslim population grows, the rate of premarital sex declines among all residents, even non-Muslims," Medical Daily reported.
The findings came from an analysis of more than 620,000 responses from people (ages 15-59) who were interviewed as part of the Demographic and Health Surveys in 31 mostly developing nations from 2000 to 2008.
Most countries included in the sample had either a Muslim or Christian majority. The United States was not included in the study.
"(Researchers) found that, overall, the odds of married Muslims reporting premarital sex are 53 percent lower than for Christians. Hindus are 40 percent less likely to report premarital sex, compared with Christians. Meanwhile, Jews and Buddhists have greater chances of having sex before getting hitched than Christians do," according to LiveScience.
Co-author Amy Adamczyk of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice told Religion News Service that the study evolved from research she was doing that found countries with large Muslim populations have very low rates of HIV and AIDS. "I was trying to figure out why that would be,” she said.
One reason she considered was lower rates of sex outside of marriage. The authors discovered that the larger the proportion of Muslims and Hindus in a country, the lower the rates of premarital and extramarital sex. The team also found religion plays a greater role on sexual abstinence than laws that would police sexual behavior, such as restrictions on the mobility and dress of women.
“All major world religions discourage sex outside of marriage, but they are not all equally effective in shaping behavior,” said Adamczyk, who co-authored the study with John Jay doctoral student Brittany E. Hayes.
Suzy Ismail, a marriage and divorce counselor and the author of several books on Muslim marriage, told the RNS that low rates of premarital and extramarital sex among Muslims are rooted in the religion.
“For Muslims, any form of zinna (fornication or adultery) or anything that leads to zinna is religiously prohibited,” Ismail said. “In consistently reminding others and oneself of the importance of modest dress, modest actions, and modest interactions, Muslims tend to inculcate the concepts of sexual morals from a young age.”
LiveScience said researchers tried to control the possibility of respondents lying by making sure interviewers were the same gender as the respondent and attempting to conduct the questionnaire in private, which wasn't always successful. They were also told to flag inconsistent responses.