Pinoy attitudes on sexual relations

By Mahar Mangahas
MANILA, Philippines—The title of this piece starts with Filipino because it argues that Filipino is a better adjective than Catholic, or even Christian, for attitudes on sexual relations in the Philippines, when seen from the perspective of (a) attitudes in six major Catholic Western countries, and (b) attitudes in four major non-Catholic, yet predominantly Christian, Western countries.

The source of data for these attitudes is the “1998 Survey on Religion of the International Social Survey Program (ISSP),” of which the poll group Social Weather Stations (SWS) is the Philippine member. The SWS national sample had 86 percent Catholics, nine percent other Christians, two percent non-Christians, and three percent with unclassified religions (which I will ignore).

The Catholic countries used for comparison are Austria, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, and Spain, here called “Catholic West,” or CW for short. The predominantly non-Catholic, yet Christian, countries are Germany (West), United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and the United States, here abbreviated “non-Catholic West,” or NCW.

Premarital relations. In 1998, 64 percent of adult Filipinos surveyed by SWS called it “always wrong” if a man and a woman have sexual relations before marriage. Fourteen percent called it “wrong almost always,” 12 percent said “wrong only sometimes,” eight percent said “not wrong at all,” and the rest couldn’t choose any answer.

Among Filipinos, those calling premarital relations “always wrong” were 62 percent among Catholics, 79 percent among other Christians, and 80 percent among non-Christians—i.e., showing non-Catholics as more strict than Catholics.

In the West, on the other hand, premarital relations were called “always wrong” by tiny minorities of only 17 percent in the CW, and 13 percent in the NCW—i.e., Catholicism barely mattered. The CW and NCW were miles apart from the Philippines on such attitudes. One cannot conclude that attitudes in the Philippines are due to its Christianity, or to its Catholicism.

When SWS repeated the ISSP Survey on Religion recently, in 2007/08, the proportion of Filipinos calling pre-marital relations “always wrong” dropped significantly to 53 percent. Yet that is still quite far from attitudes in CW and NCW 10 years ago. (The country comparison here is limited to 1998 because the ISSP Religion Surveys of 2008 in other countries are not yet available.)

Extramarital relations. In 1998, a huge 84 percent of Filipinos called it “always wrong” for a married person to have sexual relations with someone other than his/her spouse. By religion, the percentages were 84 among Catholic Filipinos, 87 among other Christian Filipinos, and 88 among non-Christian Filipinos—all close together.

On the other hand, the 1998 percentages were 60 in the Catholic West and 58 in the non-Catholic West. These are majorities, but they are much lower than in the Philippines. Western Christian countries, Catholic or non-Catholic, have similar attitudes.

Incidentally, Filipino disapproval of extramarital relations is still at 83 percent in 2008, or unchanged after 10 years.

Same-sex relations. In 1998, another huge 84 percent of Filipinos called sexual relations between two adults of the same sex “always wrong.” This was the average of 83 among Catholics, 88 among other Christians, and 88 among non-Christians—hardly any difference by religion.

On the other hand, in 1998 those calling same-sex relations “always wrong” were minorities of 46 percent in the CW and 30 percent in the NCW. I have no idea why Catholicism makes some difference in Western Christian countries, but no difference in the Philippines. What I want to point out is that, in such areas, attitudes towards practicing homosexuals were much less intolerant than in the Philippines.

Incidentally, Filipino disapproval of same-sex relations has dropped by a few points, to 79 percent in 2008.

Cohabitation without intent to marry. In 1998, only a small minority 18 percent of Filipinos agreed that it is alright for a couple to live together without intending to get married. This was the combination of 19 percent among Catholics, 10 percent among other Christians, and zero among non-Christians—i.e., in the Philippines, Catholics were a bit more permissive than non-Catholics.

On the other hand, in 1998 the majority of people in Western Christian countries accepted cohabitation without mutual commitment—61 percent in the CW and 67 percent in the NCW, i.e., in the West, Catholics were slightly less permissive than non-Catholics.

Cohabitation with intent to marry. In 1998, only a minority 37 percent of Filipinos agreed that it’s a good idea for a couple who intend to get married to live together first. This was the average of 39 percent among Catholics, 22 percent among other Christians, and 16 percent among non-Christians—showing Filipino Catholics as relatively more permissive.

On the other hand, the 1998 percentages accepting transitory cohabitation were majorities of 64 in the CW and 59 in the NCW. In this case, the CW was slightly more permissive. But again, both groups were significantly much more permissive than Filipinos.

Conclusion. In attitudes about sexual relations, there is only a small divide between Catholic and non-Catholic Filipinos, whereas there is a great gulf between Filipinos as a whole and the peoples in Western Christian countries, including Catholic ones. In our country, attitudes about sex are relatively strict by world standards, not because we are mostly Catholic, or even mostly Christian, but because we are all Filipino.

* * *

Contact SWS: or

Find more like this: Features

  • U.N. Rights Council to Investigate Killings in Philippine Drug War
  • Philippines declares national alert after 456 die from dengue fever
  • Trying to save the stories of a Philippine culture, one scan at a time
  • Pinoy archaeologist brings new human species discovery to Australia
  • Philippines a slowly ageing society – PIDS study
  • Page 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7


  • Nickelodeon releases first look at rebooted classic kids program Blue’s Clues with Filipino-American host Joshua Dela Cruz
  • How Marvel’s first featured Pinoy superhero can save society
  • This play tells the urgent story of a Filipino comfort woman
  • Will ‘Sahaya’ be the first Pinoy series on Netflix?
  • Z-GIRLS, Z-BOYS with Pinoy members to debut in Korea
  • MORE...


  • My story, and the new story of Filipino immigration
  • An appreciation of Moro food can bring Pinoy Muslims and Christians closer, says this Muslim chef
  • Showcase of PH culture, heritage
  • US and Philippines: Friends, Partners, and Allies
  • A Transgender Paradox, and Platform, in the Philippines
  • MORE...


  • Northern Blossom Flower Farm: Atok’s floral carpet
  • Philippines records ‘all-time high’ 7.1M tourist arrivals in 2018
  • Philippines island Boracay reopens for test run following huge cleanup
  • Philippines closes ‘cesspool’ tourist island of Boracay
  • Boracay Set to Ban Tourists for Six Months During Island ‘Rehabilitation’
  • MORE...


  • Filipino speed skater bags spot in 2020 Winter Youth Olympics
  • Pinoy gymnast Carlo Yulo earns historic qualification in worlds
  • Finding a way to bring the NBA to the Philippines
  • First Filipino table tennis Olympian Ian “Yanyan” Lariba dies at 23
  • Skateboarder Margielyn Didal wins 4th gold for Philippines
  • MORE...

    OFW News

  • Filipino maids’ dragon boat team makes splash in Hong Kong
  • DOLE suspends OFW deployment to Kuwait
  • Some OFWs turn to vlogging to beat loneliness, share life abroad
  • Overseas Filipino Bank to serve immigrants, workers
  • The ‘bagong bayani’ of the Philippines
  • MORE...


  • ‘Sordid Chapter’ Ends As Philippines Sends Back Canada’s Trash
  • Southeast Asia became dumping ground for plastic waste – study
  • Boracay Set to Ban Tourists for Six Months During Island ‘Rehabilitation’
  • Boracay: the good, bad and ugly sides to Philippine island for tourists
  • Luzon has greatest concentration of unique mammals
  • MORE...

    Pinoy Places
    and Faces