Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Speaking God's Name in Bed

Even atheists are known to take God's name in vain between the sheets.

Here’s a puzzle for you that has to do with human behavior. It’s well established that sexual acts are usually accompanied by a steady stream of vocalizations. Forget, for the moment, all the “oooohs” and “ahhhhh’s.” Let’s concentrate on real verbal utterances that accompany those delightful moments of carnal pleasure. An informal survey (using a somewhat less-than-scientific method) suggests that the two favorites are “Oh baby” and – wait for it – “Oh God.” In some quarters, the “Oh” part is optional. It’s the noun that seems to count most, and “baby” and God” are definitely the big winners.

Right about here I can imagine some of you replaying those tapes in your heads, trying to remember what you or your partner said. Or maybe you can’t recall and you’re planning to collect some data later today – all in the name of science, of course. Anyway, let’s leave the “baby” possibility aside and concentrate on why so many people utter the Deity’s name, over and over again, at moments of intense pleasure. The repetition part is important, by the way, lest you think “Oh God” might be spoken in surprise. There’s a limit to how many times you can be startled by sexual pleasure in a brief period of time.

Before you bombard me with stories about how we choose to offer thanks to the creator of our beautiful bodies, especially when they are generating such exquisite pleasure, just stop and think – which I submit is a lot more than you are likely to do in the middle of a sex act. I don’t believe anyone of either sex takes the time to craft a prayer of thanks when they are a few moments away from having an orgasm. So I doubt many of us are “offering thanks” with all those “Oh Gods.” Most people I know, including myself, are on auto-pilot in those pre-orgasmic moments. Who knows what kind of blather is coming out of our mouths. That’s one of the joys of sex: the ability to totally let go. So whatever is said, I submit it isn’t thought through very carefully. So again, why does it so often turn to God?

Here’s one more thing to ponder before you answer: why are atheists just as likely as theists to moan the Deity’s name in moments of pleasure? That’s the part that intrigues me personally. I am an atheist, as you might have figured out from reading this column. I have been with my share of atheist partners over the years and I can tell you the number of “Oh Gods” flying around the room might have made you think you were in church on Sunday morning. The Deity’s name just seems to come flying out. And believe me, it ain’t prayer.

I do not believe for a second that this is a positive case of “There are no atheists in a foxhole.” You’ve probably heard that expression. It says that we atheists talk a good game but, come the crunch, we’re revealed to be the closet theists that we really are. Nonsense, I say. I’ve been an atheist since I was a kid. My book Caveman Logic is as fervent an atheist manifesto as I’ve read (or written). I’ve been in a near fatal car crash; I’ve lost both parents; I’ve had loved ones die. I’ve lost pets. I have not turned to a deity to alter the outcome. But when I’m having a dandy sexual experience, I do seem to find my way to utter that three-letter word rather easily.

There’s a Part II to this question. I’ve sampled the Judeo-Christian community to know that I’m not alone in such utterances. But how is it, I wonder, with other religions? Do Hindus, when reveling in sexual pleasure, call out the name of Vishnu or one of their gods? As I understand it, there are thousands of them. Either Hindus have incredible sexual stamina or they are selective in which of their gods they turn to when verbalizing during sex. I also wonder about Muslims. Do they, like most Westerners, split their time between “Oh baby” and “Oh Allah?” Do they call the name of the prophet Mohammed directly?

I mean no disrespect here and I hope none is taken. My curiosity is genuine and it can be reduced to two questions. (1) Why do people, even atheists like myself, speak so freely of god during sexual pleasure and (2) is this “turning to the deity” principle in any way unique to my culture or does it occur in religions the world over? I’m guessing we’re looking at a human universal here, which brings the issue front-and-center into the domain of Evolutionary Psychology. But I could be wrong. I expect I will find out rather quickly once this is published.

More from Psychology Today

More from Hank Davis Ph.D.

More from Psychology Today