Still, there's been an uptick among women showing an interest in pursuing a religious life, said Patrice Tuohy of the National Religious Vocation Conference (NRVC), a Chicago-based group representing vocation directors for religious organizations.
The NRVC launched a website called VocationMatch.com seven years ago that links young people interested in leading religious lives to religious communities. The site gets about 6,000 inquiries a year.
The Internet is useful for such questions because it offers instant information and is anonymous, Tuohy said.
"For a 20-year-old to think about joining a religious community is an unusual decision, not to mention countercultural," she said. "Someone who's thinking about taking a vow of poverty and chastity goes counter to a culture that promotes sex and money and power."
The Internet has made a huge difference in how religious communities are recruiting, Tuohy said. Besides websites and Facebook pages, some are using podcasts, YouTube videos and chat rooms. According to a 2009 study commissioned by NRVC, 87 percent of religious institutes had used the Internet for vocation promotion in the past five years.
"Many of the religious communities are very savvy," Tuohy said. "I think people find this surprising, but in fact because they're working with young people, they're trying to stay in tune with young people - that's who their market is, young men and women."