- The Washington Times - Monday, June 9, 2014

Christians are known for holding fast to their faith, but their grip seems to have loosened on their morals.

In a survey of more than 61,000 users of the extramarital dating site Ashley Madison, more than 70 percent said they identified as Catholic, Protestant and evangelical.

Analysts admitted the breakdown is reflective of religious demographics of the country — a Gallup poll from 2012 showed 77 percent of American adults called themselves Christian — but said it’s likely the conservative nature of a particular faith can influence the fidelity of its followers.

“It’s hard to live up to the expectations we place on ourselves when we are in environments that don’t allow for much deviation from that,” said Jon Bloch, sociology professor at Southern Connecticut State University. “There’s a tendency for certain kinds of urges to build up … then they come out.”

A black-and-white set of philosophies can limit a person’s comfort level in addressing an unforeseen relationship issue, such as a downward spiral in a couple’s sex life, or considering the help of a marriage counselor.

“If you do find yourself attracted to someone outside your relationship, it’s probably something not to be discussed, or worked out,” he said. “So you either force yourself not to do it, or you do it and hope you don’t get caught.”

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The Ashley Madison site has been an online dating resource for married and committed people since its launch in January 2002.

The survey, which queried both men and women, showed that Evangelicals made up the largest percent of the respondents at an average of 25 percent, followed by Protestants at about 23 percent and Catholics at 22 percent.

Respondents who considered themselves Baptist made up the next highest percentage, though they represented only about 5 percent.

Those who were Muslim, Mormon, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Agnostic, Jehovah’s Witness, and those who identified as Orthodox each fell below roughly 2 percent. Atheists represented about 1.4 percent of the respondents.

“A lot of atheists are interested in secular humanism, so they’re very self-conscious, very self-aware about trying to be good people because they don’t have a belief in some kind of higher power to inspire them or forgive them,” Mr. Bloch said. “So they may be more likely to want to live up to their commitments.”

The Pew Center found that 2.4 percent of American adults in 2012 identified as atheists.

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Ashley Madison’s Chief Science Officer Eric Anderson did point out that a higher percentage of Atheists tend to be younger people, while the average age of the Ashley Madison user is 24 for women and 39 for men.

The fact Catholics make up nearly the same percentage of Protestant users, Mr. Anderson said, probably means those Catholics aren’t the ones attending church on a weekly basis.

“It used to be being Catholic meant tighter community cohesion,” he said. “It was harder to deviate, do immoral acts. There are fundamental differences between Catholics and Protestants. Catholics believe you can go and repent, and have those sins washed … which might permit them to cheat at a little higher rate. At the same time Protestants who don’t go to church on a regular basis might find it a bit easier to cheat at higher rates.”

The survey, according to an Ashley Madison representative, was conducted in mid-April via an anonymous questionnaire of open-choice and multiple-choice questions. The margin of error was plus-or-minus 11 percentage points.

Other information gleaned from the survey showed that roughly a quarter of both male and female respondents said they were carrying on an affair with someone from a different religion, while 33 percent of women said they pray and only 25 percent of men said they pray.

As for considering adultery a sin, only 16 percent of women agreed with that statement and only 10 percent of men considered it a sin.

Of the people who confessed to someone about their cheating, men were more likely to tell a religious leader than a coworker or friend. Women first told a friend or sibling before admitting their indiscretion to a religious leader.

“We live in a society where it’s sex, sex, sex,” Mr. Bloch said. “The idea of being faithful is an idea that competes very much with the idea of not being faithful.”

• Meredith Somers can be reached at msomers@washingtontimes.com.

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