People who occasionally watch pornography tend to become less religious over time, but those who watch pornography more than once a week tend to become more religious, according to a study to be published in the Journal of Sex Research.
Use of pornography, which the researcher in this study defines as sexually explicit material intended to arouse the viewer, has increased dramatically in recent decades, as technology has made it easier to access. Research into the social factors that may make some people more likely to watch pornography than others has identified religion as especially important in this regard, with high religiousness being related to low pornography use.
While the prevailing view has been that religious groups’ disapproval of pornography makes highly religious people less likely to use it, others have argued that pornography users are more prone to drifting away from religious practices.
A study conducted by Samuel Perry, of the University of Oklahoma, followed the same individuals over a period of six years (from 2006 to 2012), measuring their levels of pornography use and religiousness at each time point, to help understand in which direction this influence operates. The study sample included 1,314 adults who were representative of the US population as a whole. Study participants indicated, at each time point, how often they viewed pornography, as well as several questions about their religious practices.
Analyses showed that even after statistically controlling for background factors, such as age and gender, more frequent use of pornography in 2006 was related to lower religiousness in 2012. This was true even after accounting for religiousness in 2006, which indicates that pornography use in 2006 was related with subsequent changes in religious involvement over the course of the next six years.
The nature of this relationship was complex. Pornography consumption was related to decreased subsequent religiousness until the rate of consumption became more frequent than about once a week, at which point increasing pornography became related to subsequent increases in religiousness. These findings were the same for both men and women.
The author concludes that pornography use may have an impact on changes in religiousness. Exposure to pornography may make people feel guilty about violating the rules of their religion, leading them to distance themselves from religious activities. The most frequent pornography viewers, on the other hand, may find ways of rationalizing their behavior to avoid feeling at odds with their religious convictions. Some may also turn to religion as a means of overcoming or atoning for a behavior that makes them feel guilty. Religious leaders in particular may find it useful to note that heavy pornography use may drive some closer to religion rather than further away.