Science on Religion

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Religiosity correlates with lower porn use in teens

Computer addictionMany people assume that viewing pornography is a natural part of being a teenager, but for those of a religious background this may not be so natural at all. A religious environment, through the internalization of religious ideals and social norms, could encourage different ideas about what is and is not natural and edifying. Psychologists Sam Hardy and colleagues (Brigham Young University) sought to investigate religion's relationship with pornography. Specifically, they found that religion does discourage pornography use in teenagers.

Evidence from previous studies have indicated that pornography may have physical negative effects on health. The researchers cite examples such as “risky sexual behaviors, sexual victimization, aggression, delinquency, low self-worth, objectification of women, permissive sexual attitudes, and sexual deviance.” Consequently, for the researchers, getting the motives behind pornography is not just a merely academic matter.

They note three areas in which religion may help teens resist pornography. First, through self-regulation, which they defined as “the ability to regulate one's own thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.” Second, by altering attitudes about sexuality and sex behavior. Third and finally, with social control, in which social pressures to teenagers encourage certain kinds of sexual behaviors rather than others.

For these reasons the researchers then made three hypotheses about the exact relationship between religiousness in teenage pornography use. First, that in general religiousness will negatively correlate with pornography use. Second, that, independent of religion, self-regulation, conservative attitudes about pornography, and social control over pornography will also correlate with less frequent pornography usage. Third, that boys and girls will differ in how they interact with pornography. Importantly, the researchers distinguish between two kinds of pornography usage: intentional and accidental. Intentional pornography usage is when someone voluntarily and purposefully looks and seeks out pornography; by contrast, accidental photography usage is when someone is unintentionally exposed to pornography, often against their will.

To test their hypotheses the researchers surveyed 419 adolescence ages 15 to 18. All of these participants came from United States, mainly from urban and suburban areas. Each participant completed six major items. First, religious involvement was assessed by six items such as “How often do you pray by yourself alone?”, “How often do you watch or listen to religious programs on TV or radio?”, and "How often do you attend religious worship services?” Second, religious internalization was measured by the Religious Internalization Index where participants responded to the following question: “For you personally what religious activity is the most important and best expresses your religious beliefs?” Third, the survey measured self-regulation by the Early Adolescent Temperament Questionnaire, which included questions such as “I finish my homework before the due date” and “It’s easy for me to keep a secret.” Forth, the survey evaluated attitudes towards pornography by adapting items from previous research (for example, the item “pornography degrades women”). Fifth, participants filled out an assessment of social control where the items asked, “How do you think your mother, friend, religious leader, God, etc. feel about your using photography?” Six and lastly, each participant answered whether they had seen pornography in 12 distinct situations, six of which consisted of accidental pornography and the other six of intentional pornography.

While not entirely in line with the researchers’ predictions, the results largely lean toward their hypotheses. Both religious involvement and religious serialization positively correlated with self-regulation, conservative pornography attitudes, and social control. Furthermore, regarding accidental pornography use, self-regulation and social control negatively correlated with it. The psychologists found some significant differences between males and females. For males, religious internalization and release involvement each had significant correlations with pornography: with accidental pornography through social control and with intentional pornography through attitudes towards pornography and through social control. For females, social control mediated both accidental and intentional pornography. Interestingly, the researchers also found that females scored higher than males on religious internalization, attitudes towards photography, and social control, whereas males scored higher than females intentional and accidental pornography exposure.

The researchers draw four conclusions. First, religiousness might protect against both accidental and intentional pornography usage by promoting self-regulation, conservative social attitudes, and social control. Second, both types of religiousness (internalization and involvement) correlated with a reduction in both types of pornography (accidental and intentional). Furthermore, the researchers concluded that there must be some sort of connection between religious commitments and religious behaviors. Third, religiousness had a greater effect on intentional pornography than accidental pornography. That said, either way religiousness buffered against viewing photography in general. Fourth and finally, social control seemed to be the most reliable mediator between religiousness and pornography viewing regardless of gender.

Corroborating the stereotype, the psychologists’ research demonstrates that religious people do shy away from pornography when compared to non-religious people. They found the effect in both males and females, internally and externally, and for accidental and intentional pornography viewing. The religious may take some solace in knowing that their followers are indeed watching less pornography then others. Of course, whether abstinence from pornography is ultimately a good thing is a matter for ethics.

For more, see “Adolescent religiousness as a protective factor against pornography use” in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology.

 

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