Watching Porn Is Making You Religious, New Study Says

According to new research from the University of Oklahoma, porn lovers pray and attend church more than people who just watch X-rated vids occasionally. Hm…

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May 12 2016, 8:50pm

Photo by Cameron Whitman via Stocksy

Conventional wisdom says porn and religion don't mix. Religion thinks porn is sinful; porn thinks religion is rife with parody ideas. According to the Catholic Education Resource Center, "the problem with using porn is that it emasculates men, degrades women, destroys marriages, and offends the Lord."

This is not a surprising attitude to be coming from the Catholic Education Resource Center! But although religion doesn't support pornography, a new study from the sociology department at the University of Oklahoma suggests that the opposite may be true: Watching a lot of porn can make people more religious.

It kind of makes sense, right? Called "Does Viewing Pornography Diminish Religiosity Over Time?" the study was conducted with 1,314 people who were surveyed in both 2006 and 2012 as part of the nationally representative Portraits of American Life Survey (PALS). As its title suggests, researchers went in acknowledging the typical assumption that greater interest in religion means less interest in porn, and they wanted to find out if greater interest in porn meant less interest in religion over time. "One of the oldest and most consistent findings in studies on the correlates and antecedents of porn use is that people who are more religious tend to watch pornography less often," Samuel Perry, the study's author and an assistant professor of sociology and religious studies at the university, told Broadly.

But when Perry compared how often people watched porn against rates of religiosity (using indicators like frequency of prayer and religious doubts), he found something a little more complicated than this common knowledge suggests. While people who use pornography at all tended to be less religious than people who had never watched it, people who watched porn at least once a week seemed to become more religious over the six-year time period than people who watched it monthly or less.

What's going on? Although Perry noted that previous studies were always based on self-reporting porn use—and more religious people might under-report out of guilt—he thinks that people "who are VERY religious, especially evangelical Christian men, often feel at war with themselves over their porn use," which can lead them to "overestimate its effect on their own lives."

Indeed, according to a 2015 study conducted by Joshua Grubbs and published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, religious people are more likely than non-religious people to say they are "addicted" to porn—even though they use it the same amount. On the website Catholics Come Home, the pornography information page jumps immediately to address "those who are suffering with this addiction," never acknowledging that the casual PornHub peruser might also want to save his soul from eternal damnation through the power of the Lord.

The specifics of Perry's research were also illuminating. Religious doubts increased when subjects watched porn more often—until people said they watched porn a few times a week, at which point doubts declined. Perry attributes this to cognitive dissonance and "guilt and shame." "We want to be the embodiment of the things we say we believe," Perry said. "When we're confronted with cognitive dissonance, we basically have one of two options to resolve the dissonance. We can change our behavior, or we can change our beliefs and values. When it comes to pornography and religion, some religious porn users are successful at changing their behavior, and they either use it less often or not at all. Others, however, rather than change their pornography use, just adjust their religious beliefs and values to be more consistent with what they're living out. This is why we might see a decline in religious participation or an increase in religious doubts over time for porn users."

Other indicators of religiosity increased with porn use. "When it came to religious practice like prayer and worship attendance, those who viewed pornography at the highest frequencies earlier on seemed to pray more often and attend church more often over time compared to more moderate porn users," Perry said.

This could be due to a number of factors. One is a "repentance moment," at which point a porn addict might decide she's going to straighten up and stop offending the Lord. More likely, in Perry's opinion, is compensation. "I think this is where the guilt comes in," he said. "You've got religious folks who don't want to stop using pornography, so instead of stopping, they just become even more religious. Almost as a way of saying, 'OK, God, I'm not obeying you in this area of my life, but look at all the stuff I'm doing over here!'"