The Gospel Coalition

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 Our failure to acknowledge this reality leads us to adopt outdated rhetorical strategies.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."


Comments:

ned dominick

March 6, 2013 at 09:30 PM

There is something disgraceful in Christians playing dumb regarding internet porn. The statistical reality is that 50% of Christian men are using porn and that the impact on us is the same as on the secular world. When you gorge on hours of porn pretty soon it begins to seem normal. This can be homosexual porn, A little bondage, some sex toys and then let's try to get the wife to play. There is nothing, nothing good about porn. It will destroy your marriage, your ministry your career and may put you in prison. Men are almost immediately captured by porn and for most the only way to stay away from it is to get off the net (impractical) or install a high quality filter without a bypass. One such filter is http:www.wisechoice.net/forchristians they also have a discussion board at http://discuss.wisechoice.net where you can find thousands of posts from those ensnared. Pastors, I am talking to younas well...stop it before you are dragged down.

[...] Joe Carter, writing at The Gospel Coalition, reiterates that pornography has already had a profound impact on our society: “Pornography has [...]

pba

February 23, 2013 at 08:43 AM

Joe and Rachel,

Very informative posts, thank you!

Shepherd Links – 2/23 | Pastoralized

February 23, 2013 at 07:34 AM

[...] video The Science of Pornography explains the physiology of the addiction. A study has shown that pornography use is connected to our culture’s acceptance of adultery and homosexual marriage. This article from Brian Croft shows how a husband should move forward after revealing his porn [...]

Melody

February 22, 2013 at 11:23 AM

Ok I know I am not up to your level of debating but maybe I can ask more questions.

Does the assumption come that as the man does this in secret he is participating/leading at church? That life is going on as normal? That there is spiritual growth in all other areas of his life?

What is the reasoning that a man uses while being enslaved to this sin? Is it similar to the reasoning that we use for breaking the speed limit?

Mike

February 22, 2013 at 09:27 PM

As a man who has dealt with porn for the majority of my life (and I am only 36), I would say that rationalization is not the same. Breaking the speed limit and viewing porn are not even on the same level. And I am speaking of Christians, not unbelievers. I cannot speak to the rationalization if there is one for an unbeliever. If they have moral convictions, they would obviously be rationalizing, but they would be different (I hope) from a Christians.

From experience, I would say the deceptiveness of my heart has rarely left me aware of what rationalizations I am giving myself at that time. After extended use, much like a drug (and it's effects are similar to a drug) there is little thought involved and needed and it essentially becomes a compulsion much the same way smoking is or biting your nails or any similar habitual behavior we have. It hi-jacks you.

There is a GREAT book called Wired for Intimacy by Bill Struthers that anyone interested in the effects of porn should read. It has a DRAMATIC effect on the way we THINK and FEEL. Not only about behaviors, but within ourselves and our imaginations. It alters the who you are at the brain level whether you want it to or not, or whether you are aware of it or not. It's sin, it's brutally deceptive.

What this article is saying is an obvious effect of consuming pornography; my 10 year old could tell us that if I laid it out for her. We have a currently popular Christian video series where a lovable vegetable gets carried away when dresses up as a super hero. Kids get that and laugh. Whether on a statistical scale we can say that or not, the larger message is frightening if you trace it out.

One last point, I do think porn is part of the culture more than people realize. I liked that the article pointed that out. I have thought that for a long time and think there is much in the fashion, art, literature, etc., that shows up as an outcropping of porn/the sex trade.

Melody

February 22, 2013 at 03:28 PM

No those are different than the ones that I came up with but within there is the similar vein running through that God expects us to submit to the government and the reasons that you gave, while very good, would do you no good in court. And really do not promote your testimony in anyway. Well except that you know you are guarding against self-righteousness. I'm pretty sure that there are mature Christians that can manage it but I'm not one.

So do you think it is the same kind of rationalization? From the men that you have spoken to, that is.

Rachel

February 22, 2013 at 02:35 PM

Joe - While you are on the topic of correlations, we should be clear about the strength of the correlation found in this study. Pornography consumption and support of same-sex marriage is not a strongly correlated variable as you seem to imply you believe it to be. If you review your copy of the journal article, page 10 Table 1 shows that T1 pornography is correlated with T3 same-sex marriage, r=.29. This is considered at the upper end of weak and lowest end of moderate correlations, which indicates a weak to moderate relationship between the two. Additionally, the T2 pornography correlation with T3 same-sex marriage is r=.25, which is also a weak correlation and shows that the correlation possibly weakens over time. However remember that education has a moderating relationship between the variables in the regression model. This is why as researchers, we rely on more than just correlations when modeling interactions and relationships between variables. So while there is a correlation, it is not a strong correlation and one should be careful when making interpretations about that finding. Additionally, the results related to pornography and same sex marriage which you talk about (i.e. one causing the other) are not found in correlational analyses. You said "So when we say that A and B are strongly correlated we are not necessarily saying that A necessarily and always causes B, but that without the presence of cause A, cause B would be less likely to have occurred. I think that is how we should interpret this current study." This is a surprising claim you make given that the authors of this article in no way claimed a strong correlation between the two previously mentioned variables and in no way claimed that without the presence of pornography, support for same sex marriage would be less likely to have occurred. I think maybe you are confused about correlations, regressions, causal models, moderating variables and exactly how those findings are reported and interpreted in the research community. If TGC is going to start using academic articles and scientific research, y'all should probably make sure you can talk accurately about these articles, data analytic strategies, how to interpret findings, and address the totality of the study, not just a portion.

Greg

February 22, 2013 at 01:44 PM

>Is it similar to the reasoning that we use for breaking the speed
>limit?

My reasoning for breaking the speed limit - in the moderate and safe ways that approximately everyone else does - is multipart.

For one thing, the governing authorities do not actually *want* me to literally obey all of their posted speed limits. In addition to their desire for ticket revenue, they know perfectly well that many of our roads would grind to a standstill if we all did that. Not to mention that high speed differentials (as when a few church ladies go much slower than everyone else) are in fact more dangerous than high speeds.

The other thing is that my slavishly following all speed limits - even as the parade forms behind me and everyone gnashes their teeth at me for making them late - would be more about my praising my own goodness and would be quite unloving of my neighbor.

Sorry for the tangent - always wanted a chance to get that off my chest in a Christian forum :)

Greg

February 21, 2013 at 12:59 PM

"If you're wondering if I'm saying that most or all men who engage in a particular not-to-be-named sexual act are doing so out of a latent homosexual desire, the answer is "yes"—that is indeed what I believe to be true."

One needn't be a fan of the unnamed act to say that this is quite a charge.

Do you believe the same thing about men who engage in another not-to-be-named act with their wives, involving the mouth? Why or why not?


"What does it mean then . . . when a man puts the part of himself which represents the generation of life into the cavity of decay and expulsion? "

I think it is possible to make too much of this. For one thing, there is the immediate irony that "the part of himself which represents the generation of life" is in fact far more often used as one of the organs of elimination!

Also, at the very least God must have a sense of humor about putting the organs of generation and elimination so close together (or as noted above, in one case they are a shared organ!).

Someone who gets too concerned about that, when it comes to married relations, perhaps has a bit of a gnostic problem with the physicality of sex?

Joe Carter

February 21, 2013 at 12:18 PM

And more to the point, why would it be even more different for a reformed believer?

While the deleterious effects of watching porn would be the same for them, presumably they'd be less likely to allow it to change their views on the social acceptance of that behavior. They would probably see it as still being a sin, even if it is one they engage in.

Or is this a subject that women should stay out of?

No, of cours not. The main reason the article and comments have focused on men is that are the primary (though certainly not the only) consumers of visual-based pornography.

Mere Links 02.21.13 - Mere Comments

February 21, 2013 at 10:01 AM

[...] Study: Watching Pornography Increases Support for Adultery and Same-Sex Marriage Joe Carter, The Gospel Coalition 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. Leave a Reply Click here to cancel reply. Name Required: [...]

Melody

February 21, 2013 at 09:23 AM

And more to the point, why would it be even more different for a reformed believer? I know that is horrible grammar but you get the idea.

Is that an argument that can be defended?

Instead of picturing a man (or woman for that matter) sitting alone in a dark room in front of his computer watching porn, let's picture him standing in a pagan temple watching the sex act on an altar over and over.

That is the reality of the situation because God sees everything. What someone is doing in the dark isn't really hidden from Him and the idea that somehow the presence of the Holy Spirit is going to protect someone that is participating in that behavior from accepting more and more sin isn't supported by scripture.

Or is this a subject that women should stay out of?

Michael

February 21, 2013 at 09:21 PM

preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.

Nathan

February 21, 2013 at 08:22 AM

Agree with the article's content. However the article does not really offer much hope about how we can change the culture and pursuade our friends.

Could you possibly offer some advice on this matter?

Many thanks

Nathan

Melody

February 21, 2013 at 07:42 AM

Why would it be different for believers?

Joe Carter

February 21, 2013 at 04:57 AM

While I agree this is true among non-believers, I think that this is untrue for believers who struggle with pornography.

That's a fair point. I was thinking more of those who are trying to justify their use of pornography, rather than struggling against it.

But certainly there might be interesting effects there that have not been explored much.

I definitely think that there are effects we haven't really explored because our entire society takes pornography for granted. For instance, men were designed to go through our entire lives without seeing another man engaged in sexual activity. Our entire object of arousal and desire was to be one woman—our wife—and she was the only one that we were supposed to view while in a state of arousal.

What then happens when men watch male-female pornography? A man is being aroused but how does his brain make the distinction between being aroused only by the female? For some, perhaps even most, men that distinction is clear. But for others it isn't so clear-cut, at least on the subconscious level. That is why I think we are seeing a greater acceptance of homosexuality. Men who flood their brain with porn are sexually confused and are more open and sympathetic to the idea of sexual attraction to other men.

. . . is very different from the overall behavior of male-to-female relations.

To some extent, I agree. But without getting too graphic, I think that there are certain sexual behaviors that men are wanting to engage in because of homoerotic lust enflamed by by heterosexual porn. They think the action is "heterosexual" because they are engaging in it with a woman. But I suspect that they are mostly fooling themselves and that their desires are homosexual in nature. They use women in the way they desire to use a man, because they are too ashamed to admit what they really want.

If you're wondering if I'm saying that most or all men who engage in a particular not-to-be-named sexual act are doing so out of a latent homosexual desire, the answer is "yes"—that is indeed what I believe to be true. But there is a deeper meaning to such acts than just latent homosexuality. As Christian philosopher J. Budziszewski bluntly put it:

"Our bodies have a language of their own . . . we say things to each other by what we do with them. What does it mean then . . . when a man puts the part of himself which represents the generation of life into the cavity of decay and expulsion? . . . It means 'Life, be swallowed up by death.'”

Links I like | Blogging Theologically

February 21, 2013 at 04:01 AM

[...] Watching Pornography Increases Support for Adultery and Same-Sex Marriage [...]

Nick F.

February 20, 2013 at 12:48 PM

Is there a link to the original article? It'd be nice to see it, and the Examiner doesn't link to it.

I looked at the link to the AJMP, and I wasn't convinced that it was peer-reviewed. There *is* a Journal of Media Psychology that appears to be a legitimate journal, but I could find no website for the AJMP. The link that does exist just returns a blank page -- no impact factor, instructions for authors, etc.

Not trying to dispute the findings at all, but if TGC is going to do science journalism (and commentary), they should adhere to the standards of other online sites.

Mark B.

February 20, 2013 at 11:10 AM

To see more on the effects of sex in media see the document below. It shows there is a high correlation between attitudes toward rape and what we see in the media.

www.k-state.edu/psych/research/documents/seximpact3rev.doc

Chris

February 20, 2013 at 10:20 PM

Thanks for the response, Joe.

You write, "I don't think you'll find too many behaviors that porn users both condemn as unacceptable and yet frequently watch on the internet." While I agree this is true among non-believers, I think that this is untrue for believers who struggle with pornography. Paul's struggle in Romans 7 comes to mind (though of course, that is a hotly-debated passage itself...) Condemning behavior as unacceptable yet still falling into it is precisely what Paul describes when he writes that he does what he doesn't want to do, and what he does want to do he can't bring himself to do!

The claim about homoeroticism is interesting...I think one result from viewing pornography might not be homoeroticism, but perhaps body-image issues among males. But certainly there might be interesting effects there that have not been explored much.

I would say that heterosexual porn includes many of the same acts (or practices, as you wrote) as homosexual porn, but that the overall behavior (of male-to-male relations) is very different from the overall behavior of male-to-female relations. I think simplifying homosexual relations and acts/practices into one thing is a bit off.

I suppose I'm reacting against the article because I know many Christian men who struggle with pornography, yet they are reformed in their faith and do not support homosexuality. But perhaps reformed men were not represented in the sample from the study...

God bless.

Pornography & Marriage | The Biblical Family

February 20, 2013 at 09:36 AM

[...] *Please check out this article from The Gospel Coalition. Study: Watching Pornography Increases Support for Adultery and Same-Sex Marriage [...]

Joe Carter

February 20, 2013 at 08:49 AM

The Washington Examiner article is a good example of taking evidence for correlation as evidence for causation.

While I don't want to defend the Examiner's example, and you don't say otherwise in your comment, I do want to add for the sake of clarification that evidence for correlation can be evidence for causation. Indeed, correlation is almost always used when inferring non-obvious occurrences of causation.

We often hear the phrase "correlation is not causation" used imprecisely. While it is technically true (if it were not we wouldn't need both words), it misrepresents what we mean when we point out correlations. Outside of the natural sciences—where natural laws are presumed to rarely deviate from a norm—it is very difficult to determine causation. When it comes to human behavior it is nearly impossible to say that A causes B. So when we say that A and B are strongly correlated we are not necessarily saying that A necessarily and always causes B, but that without the presence of cause A, cause B would be less likely to have occurred.

I think that is how we should interpret this current study. If action B (acceptance of SSM) would be less likely to occur if it were not for action A (viewing porn), then it is significant even if we cannot establish a causal relationship or even if the effect does not occur 100% of the time.

pba

February 20, 2013 at 08:31 AM

The Washington Examiner article is a good example of taking evidence for correlation as evidence for causation. Read the original article--nothing the authors argue goes beyond suggesting a correlation between watching pornography and attitudes in sexual ethics.

Joe Carter

February 20, 2013 at 08:14 AM

But, to imply that one always causes the other is simply fallacious and intellectually lazy.

Does use of pornography always lead to acceptance of same-sex marriage? Of course not. But I've never heard anyone make that claim. (I certainly haven't.)

That's what people mean by the logical fallacy of slippery slope.

A slippery slope argument states that a relatively small first step leads to a chain of related events culminating in some significant effect. That in itself is not a logical fallacy, though it could lead to one if someone claims that any first step always leads to a chain of events, etc.

The problem with slippery slope arguments is not that they are inaccurate—in most cases they are so accurate that they're obvious—but that they aren't rhetorically effective. Generally, if someone hears the claim "A will lead to B" and they accept A they will either not care that it leads to B or they will dismiss it as an unfortunate consequence of supporting A.

Jonathan

February 20, 2013 at 07:58 AM

There is definitely a correlation between porn and Same Sex Marriage. But, to imply that one always causes the other is simply fallacious and intellectually lazy. That's what people mean by the logical fallacy of slippery slope.

Melody

February 20, 2013 at 04:24 PM

In other words a hardening of the heart that leads to blindness.

Joe Carter

February 20, 2013 at 02:48 PM

There are many behaviors which are present in pornography at large that are far from acceptable in modern society.

I agree. That is why I say that they will eventually be accepted, not necessarily that they are accepted now. Where they are accepted now is by frequent users of pornography. I don't think you'll find too many behaviors that porn users both condemn as unacceptable and yet frequently watch on the Internet.

But more than this, this review by TGC seems to suppose those who view pornography are also viewing homosexual pornography, and that this viewing of specific behaviors causes those behaviors to be accepted in a society.

No, for my claim to hold the pornography being watched does not necessarily need to be of a homosexual nature. (Though anytime a male is aroused while closely watching another male engage in sexual activity, there is likely to be some homoerotic nature to it.) Heterosexual porn includes many of the exact same sexual behaviors that can be found in homosexual porn. In fact, before the rise of video pornography many practices were considered by most people to be disgusting. But now they've become so common that even some Christian ministers defend them as acceptable.

Joe Carter

February 20, 2013 at 02:40 PM

Here's a link to the first article, that appears in this month's Communication Research: http://crx.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/01/09/0093650212471558.abstract

Chris

February 20, 2013 at 01:01 PM

I don't think I agree with this "Carter's law of deviancy acceptance," which states that "any behavior frequently portrayed in pornography will eventually gain broad acceptance within society."

There are many behaviors which are present in pornography at large that are far from acceptable in modern society.

But more than this, this review by TGC seems to suppose those who view pornography are also viewing homosexual pornography, and that this viewing of specific behaviors causes those behaviors to be accepted in a society. But I do not think that it is the case that many who view pornography are viewing homosexual pornography.

God bless.

Melody

April 17, 2013 at 04:17 PM

See I think we lost this one when good looking women started making out in TV shows on Network stations. Then single gals started doing that in bars and spring break vacations to attract the attention of men. Is there nothing that women will lower themselves to just to get a man to look at them? Now we have the sissy men on network shows playing house and trying to be mommies. None of it reflects real life but draw the men in with sex and the women with male girlfriends to hang out with and the battle is lost.

ned dominick

April 16, 2013 at 02:26 PM

I have narrowly avoided landing in divorce court after my wife of many years discovered that I had been using internet porn. She was furious as she equate porn use with cheating. In addition she was hurt and became extremely distrustful.

As I want to stay married and enjoy my family, I agreed to stop using the porn but soon was horrified to discover that I had apparently developed and addiction to it and could not seem to put it down. So I began staying late at the office and getting in the wee hours of the night to feed the addiction. Of course I got caught again and it hit the fan.

I got kicked out of the house, an attorney was called and things were going south rapidly. I was commiserating with a friend about the whole thing when he suggested that an internet filter might be helpful. It is software that will actually block access to the porn sites. So I discussed this with my wife who agreed to give it a try. The problem remained that she still didn't trust me so I found a filter that included something called accountability reporting. This allows a partner, my wife in this case, to access a browsing history that cannot be erased. Even more compelling is that it will send email alert if the software detects that I am trying to break through the filter to the porn sites.

There are several filters that do this. I am using one called http://www.wisechoice.net .
It sounds as though I am in a prison but really it is a relief. I have a handle on an addiction that was going to ruin my life and more importantly I have moved back home, and trust is being rebuilt. I hope this is helpful to someone.