Porn and Christians: Starting Trouble For a Reason

Porn and Christians: Starting Trouble For a Reason September 6, 2020

Hi and welcome back! I guess today also represents a bit of a palate cleanser. I ran across a recent article on a Christian site that caught my eye. It describes a study about the effects of porn on fervent Christians. Most of us probably saw most of their findings from a mile away, but part of it really spoke to me. Namely, pornography use becomes a problem for fervent Christians precisely because of their ideology — not because of any potentially-terrible facets of the porn itself. As usual, if toxic Christians didn’t bring trouble, there wouldn’t be trouble.

control of porn = control of the person
(Sreenivas.)

(Note: In this post, I refer to “forced-birthers.” I adopted this term because I think it accurately summarizes the zealots who disguise their malevolence and dishonesty by calling themselves “pro-life.” The dupes of this culture war do nothing whatsoever to improve any lives, while their crusade brings death to all too many people. I’m a proud supporter of the REAL MVPs saving and improving lives at Planned Parenthood.)

The Porn Study.

Today’s meta-analysis study comes to us from the peer-reviewed and well-respected journal Archives of Sexual Behavior. Here’s a link to the paper abstract. It’s titled “Pornography Problems Due to Moral Incongruence: An Integrative Model with a Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” and is authored by several people. One of them, Samuel Perry, wrote about the paper for Christian Post a couple of days ago.

To gather their information, the researchers drew upon General Social Surveys (GSSs). These are huge annual surveys taken of Americans on a variety of topics relating to society, religion, and lifestyle. The people who make these surveys then make that information available to researchers.

As Perry puts it, he compared survey respondents’ church-attendance habits to their porn usage. They also checked out the relationships between porn usage, church attendance, and people’s overall senses of well-being and their sexual satisfaction levels.

What They Found.

Everybody here will be shocked and stunned to learn that Christians who attend church frequently (more than once per week) still use porn almost as much as anybody else. Personally, I’d go one further and say they use it more, but they just lie about it. I’ve known several non-Christian men who don’t use it at all, and I’m in a position to know this is true. But I can’t think of any Christian man I’ve ever been on close terms with who could say the same. But fine, whatever, the GSS says that very fervent, observant Christians use porn slightly less often than other Americans.

Regardless, these “deeply religious Americans” get way more upset about their habits, are way more likely to say they’re “addicted” to porn, experience greatly reduced satisfaction with their real-life sex lives, and feel less happy about their overall lives.

Also, some porn users weren’t deeply religious, but their spouse was. In those cases, the more a respondent used porn, the less happy they were in their marriages. I’ve no doubt at all about that! I used to buy into all kinds of false ideas about porn when I was fundagelical. (Ex-Christian women, sing along with me: “It’s COMPETITION!”)

“Moral Incongruence.”

Perry and his researchers came up with a term for what they saw in this data: moral incongruence.

Moral incongruence is “the experience of intentionally violating one’s deeply held moral values.” In this case, it’s the result of someone who officially believes that porn is harmful and shameful and off-limits, but still uses porn anyway. Behaving in morally-incongruent ways can produce depression and “spiritual discouragement.” (That seems identical to regular emotional discouragement. It’s just Jesus-flavored.)

Perry concludes:

When it comes to porn, studies show that, despite their beliefs, deeply religious Americans view porn only slightly less often than other Americans. They are choosing to experience psychological and relational turmoil, and not necessarily because of what pornography does to their brains, but because of what pornography means to their social group.

In other words, normally the porn wouldn’t be any kind of problem for the people using it. But if their tribe has declared it off-limits and bad, and they’re super-fervent members of their tribe, then and only then does the porn become a problem.

In those cases, however, it becomes a big problem.

Might As Well Face It: They’re Addicted to Porn.

Sometimes, these “deeply religious” respondents in the GSSs completely absorbed the tribe’s negative opinions. Some even claimed to be “addicted” to porn — even if they claimed they never used it at all. Some even claimed to suffer from an addiction, while also claiming that they had never used porn, ever, in their lives.

Yes, seriously. Check this out:

americans addicted to porn despite never having used any
(Source.) Click to embiggen.

A small number of just regular Americans made this claim (3.9%), but those identifying as “born-again Christians” made it way more often (22.1%).

This bizarre finding reminds me of those women who tell researchers that they’re virgins — despite having had children.

Don’t Start Nothin’, Won’t Be Nothin’.

Fundagelicals and hardline Catholics alike love to wring their widdle handsies about porn being some kind of major “public health crisis.”

They wage this crusade despite there not being any evidence of actual harm done by porn.

The Republicans pandering to them try to oppress and demonize the industry. Their Dear Leaders drape all kinds of pseudo-medical terms on porn — like “addiction” itself — and claim it does all kinds of harm to users.

(These religious wingnuts act like this while pretending they don’t use porn all the time themselves. Hypocrites! Whited sepulchres! I guess feeling really bad afterward cancels out the naughtiness.)

But now we’ve got a nice, peer-reviewed paper demonstrating that it’s the wingnuts themselves causing the harm they perceive. The moral crusade itself creates the problem it seeks to solve.

The call is coming from inside the culture-warriors’ house!

A Very Useful Crusade.

Wondering Eagle wrote a good blog post regarding just how useful the anti-porn crusade has been for authoritarian Christian leaders. In the post, he wonders if evangelical culture itself might drive adherents. And then, those users feel crushed by shame for violating the tribe’s dictates. They respond to those feelings by confessing their sins in tribal-approved ways. At that point, the tribe’s leaders weaponize those confessions. It’s a horrifying blog post, well-written and inspiring in me an endless march of OMGWTFBBQ feelings of creeping horror.

I agree with his assessment. Yes indeed, evangelical culture itself is so toxic that it drives adherents into porn usage. To all genders, sex becomes this off-limits, alluring No No Place for singles. But they’re not given any street-legal ways to alleviate sexual impulses. Porn becomes the only semi-secret way to indulge such desires (together with masturbation). But the tribe makes sure to forbid this outlet too.

So now our theoretical porn users have met their needs, but at great cost. They now have no way at all to deal with the crushing guilt the tribe has inspired in them. They seek the redress the tribe offers: accountability. But if they grab for that frail straw (and go through the farcical restoration to follow), it becomes their downfall. From then on, if the tribe ever needs them smacked down, it now has all the dirt it needs to do it.

This beloved evangelical song-and-dance is incredibly abusive and cruel. But the flocks are long accustomed to the tactic.

Similar Crusades.

When I read about this study, I couldn’t help but think of other moral crusades these scolds have pushed on Americans.

Long long ago, I was Pentecostal and my then-husband Biff volunteered at one of those fakey-fake “women’s clinics” run by forced-birther crusaders. As its operations/volunteer manual, this fake clinic used what’s now called “a Pearson’s Manual.” Among other WTF elements, the fake clinic pushed a false idea they called “abortion regret syndrome.”

In reality, 99% of women feel relief, not regret over their abortions. But forced-birthers have long asserted the opposite. They’ve even medicalized and pathologized their fake diagnosis with science-y sounding words!

Even in the early 1990s, I knew that there was no such thing as “abortion regret syndrome.” Thus, it already troubled me to hear forced-birthers constantly asserting otherwise. Seeing it repeated as gospel truth in that fake clinic’s own manual destroyed my forced-birther stand and my already-unraveling faith.

But I couldn’t help but notice something after that.

Obviously, some women do feel regret over purely-elective abortions. So do some of their partners. However, the vast majority of the women who speak loudly about experiencing symptoms of “abortion regret syndrome” tend, overwhelmingly, to buy into forced-birther propaganda. Typically, their anguish begins with (or forms an integral part of) their conversion to forced-birther flavors of Christianity.

So back then, I wondered if they’d have felt so upset if they hadn’t joined those groups. Now I doubt it. To outsiders, the idea of “abortion regret syndrome” sounds as alien as the notion of a gripping hand.

They’ve Got a System.

I’ve noticed a lot of other situations like these in the worst flavors of Christianity. They all follow the same basic steps. The outcomes look the same as well: increased subjugation, more despair and anguish, self-blame and victim-blaming, and a determination to knuckle down harder to obey impossible rules.

To increase the stakes of disobedience, authoritarians try to make something normal and natural sound as deeply troubling and horrifying as possible:

  • Assertions of lifelong anguish and regret
  • Insistence that this thing will destroy the person’s relationships forever
  • Dehumanization of anyone who does this thing, especially if they don’t see any problems with it
  • Creation of a actual medical-sounding disease diagnosis with a super-science-y name for the thing
  • Extensive medical-looking treatment protocols to cure this totally-for-realsies disease
  • Constant reinforcement of the ickiebadgrody nature of the made-up disease
  • No way to leave the merry-go-round once someone’s gotten onto it
  • No way to win the game or even break even

That last one tips us off.

The Win Condition.

Toxic Christians seek to grind down, completely break, and forever subjugate anybody they can. That’s why so many of their culture wars center around the most essential aspects of the human situation: love, sex, relationships, identity, etc. If a horrible person can gain control over those aspects of your life, chances are you’ll let ’em do whatever they want to you.

Very few things are as frustrating or as spirit-crushing as a game that you just can’t win, ever, no matter what. And that’s exactly the game these horrible people want to play.

So any time you encounter a situation where there is literally no win condition for you, perk up your emotional ears. Very likely, you’ve just stumbled across an authoritarian seeking control over you.

The only winning move in these games is not to play at all.


Everything I need to know about toxic Christians, I learned from 1983’s Wargames.

NEXT UP: Tomorrow, Lord Snow Presides rides again! 


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About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even volunteered in church (choir, Sunday School) and married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. She lives with an adored and adoring husband named Mr. Captain and a sweet, squawky orange tabby cat named Princess Bother Pretty Toes. At any given time, she's running out of bookcase space. You can read more about the author here.
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