Feb

20

2013

Joe Carter|7:47 AM CT

Study: Watching Pornography Increases Support for Adultery and Same-Sex Marriage

The Story: New scholarly analysis suggests that the more exposure heterosexual men have to pornography, the more likely they are to support adultery, pre-marital sex, and same-sex marriage.

The Background: "Our study suggests that the more heterosexual men, especially less educated heterosexual men, watch pornography, the more supportive they become of same-sex marriage," Indiana University assistant professor and study co-author Paul Wright told the Washington Examiner.

"If people think individuals should be able to decide for themselves whether to have same-sex sex, they will also think that individuals should be able to decide for themselves whether to get married to a partner of the same-sex," Wright added. "Since a portion of individuals' sexual attitudes come from the media they consume, it makes sense that pornography viewers would have more positive attitudes towards same-sex marriage." 

In a related study published in the American Journal of Media Psychology, Wright found that males who have recently consumed Internet pornography are more likely to approve of premarital and extramarital sex. This was the case even after for controlling for the contribution of age, ethnicity, and religiosity.

What It Means: [Note: The following contains a frank, though not graphic, discussion of the effects of pornography.]

Although previous studies have found a connection between consumption of pornography and acceptance of premarital and extramarital sex, Wright's analysis appears to be the first to show the connection to attitudes about same-sex marriage. The new study, while novel, is not surprising since a number of other studies have established that sexual media consumption is a precursor of sexual beliefs and behaviors.

These studies outline a general rule—call it "Carter's law of deviancy acceptance"—that any behavior frequently portrayed in pornography will eventually gain broad acceptance within society. (I would define "broad acceptance" as at least 30 percent of the population engages in the activity, accepts it as normative, or finds it morally neutral.) Pornography has already shaped cultural views on a wide range of behaviors, from grooming to body modification, so it's not surprising that it would affect views on homosexual marriage.

More Christians need to recognize how pervasively pornography affects and shapes cultural attitudes. Our failure to acknowledge this reality leads us to adopt outdated rhetorical strategies.  Consider, for example, the "slippery slope" argument. While there is nothing inherently fallacious about slippery slope arguments (they are merely a form of inductive argumentation), when used in discussion of sexual behavior they invoke a metaphor—a slope—that is misleading.

Take, for instance, the slippery slope claim that acceptance of same-sex marriage will lead to acceptance of polygamous marriage. The argument relies on the idea that if supporters of same-sex marriage recognized the connection, they'd reconsider their position in light of their opposition to polygamy. But this implies that same-sex marriage supporters have an intellectual, rather than merely rhetorical, opposition to polygamy. They do not necessarily. In fact, many of them will now willingly admit that they have no problem with plural marriage as long as they are based on consent.

The reason for this new-found acceptance is largely due to the portrayal of polygamous sexual activity in pornography. When a person has been exposed to thousands of images of an particular human behavior it becomes impossible to consider such activity as "unthinkable." It becomes accepted on the individual level and later, when people recognize that other people are okay with it too, accepted on a societal level.

This means that any activity widely accepted in "mainstream" porn—adultery, homosexuality, group sex—will eventually, and likely within 20 years, gain acceptance in mainstream society. Fortunately, the corollary is that behavior that is still on the fringes of pornography (e.g., nonconsensual sex and sex with children) is less likely to gain general acceptance—at least until it becomes more accepted by porn users.

While same-sex marriage is a real threat to marriage and our culture, it is relatively benign compared to the other behaviors our porn-saturated society is becoming conditioned to accept. There are horrific behaviors accepted within "mainstream" porn—such as adult incest—that are already being accepted by individual porn users and thus soon could be accepted throughout society.

That is why the most useful metaphor is not the "slippery slope" but the "meme" (an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture). Rather than sliding down a slope we are merely waiting for the diffusion of an idea to spread from a group of individuals (i.e., porn addicts) to the larger population. For as novelist William Gibson once said, "The future has already arrived. It's just not evenly distributed yet."

Joe Carter is an editor for The Gospel Coalition and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator. You can follow him on Twitter.

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