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The Journal of Sex Research

ISSN: 0022-4499 (Print) 1559-8519 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/hjsr20

Only Bad for Believers? Religion, Pornography Use,


and Sexual Satisfaction Among American Men

Samuel L. Perry & Andrew L. Whitehead

To cite this article: Samuel L. Perry & Andrew L. Whitehead (2018): Only Bad for Believers?
Religion, Pornography Use, and Sexual Satisfaction Among American Men, The Journal of Sex
Research, DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2017.1423017

To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2017.1423017

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THE JOURNAL OF SEX RESEARCH, 00(00), 1–12, 2018
Copyright © The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality
ISSN: 0022-4499 print/1559-8519 online
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2017.1423017

Only Bad for Believers? Religion, Pornography Use, and Sexual


Satisfaction Among American Men
Samuel L. Perry
Department of Sociology, University of Oklahoma

Andrew L. Whitehead
Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Clemson University

Research has often demonstrated a negative association between pornography use and various
intrapersonal and relationship outcomes, particularly for men. Several recent studies, however,
have suggested that the negative association between pornography use and these indicators is
stronger among more religious Americans, suggesting that moral incongruence (engaging in an
activity that violates one’s sacred values) and the attendant shame or cognitive dissonance, rather
than pornography use per se, may be the primary factor at work. The current study tested and
extended this theory by examining how religion potentially moderates the link between porno-
graphy use and sexual satisfaction in a national random sample of American adults (N = 1,501).
Analyses demonstrated that while pornography use was negatively associated with sexual
satisfaction for American men (not women), among men who rarely attended religious services
or held a low opinion of the Bible this negative association essentially disappeared. Conversely,
the negative association between frequency of pornography consumption and sexual satisfaction
was more pronounced for men with stronger ties to conventional religion. These findings suggest
that the connection between pornography use and sexual satisfaction, especially for men,
depends largely on what viewing pornography means to consumers and their moral community
and less so on the practice itself.

As pornography use has continued to increase around the world, 2012 ; Traeen & Daneback, 2013; Yucel & Gassanov, 2010;
owing largely to the rise of the Internet and smartphone technol- Wright, Sun, Steffen, & Tokunaga, 2017; Wright, Tokunaga,
ogy, a burgeoning literature has sought to understand its poten- et al., 2017; Zillmann & Bryant, 1988).
tial implications for various measures of intrapersonal and While a general (though often untested) assumption
relational well-being (for recent reviews and meta-analyses, within much of the pornography research has been that
see Campbell & Kohut, 2017; Newstrom & Harris, 2016; pornography use itself may influence human well-being
Peter & Valkenburg, 2016; Rasmussen, 2016; Wright, and relationships in negative ways (Campbell & Kohut,
Tokunaga, & Kraus, 2016; Wright, Tokunaga, Kraus, & 2017), several recent studies have found that the negative
Klann, 2017). Among the more consistent findings of this association between pornography use and various intraper-
research (while not always establishing causal direction) has sonal or relationship outcomes tends to be stronger among
been that those who view pornography more often tend to report Americans who are more closely connected to a religious
lower levels of sexual satisfaction, and that this is particularly community (Doran & Price, 2014; Patterson & Price,
true for men (Bridges & Morokoff, 2011; Cranney & Stulhofer, 2012; Perry, 2016; Perry & Snawder, 2017). These find-
2017; Morgan, 2011; Muusses, Kerkhof, & Finkenauer, 2015; ings suggest it is not pornography use per se that is influ-
Poulsen, Busby, & Galovan, 2013; Perry, 2016; Sun, Bridges, encing personal satisfaction and relationships primarily but
Johnason, & Ezzell, 2016; Szymanski & Stewart-Richardson, rather the experience of what may be called moral incon-
gruence, that is, engaging in an activity which violates the
sacred values of one’s own and one’s community. The
Correspondence should be addressed to Samuel L. Perry, Department of current study sought to test and extend this idea by exam-
Sociology, University of Oklahoma, 780 Van Vleet Oval, Kaufman Hall ining how religion moderated the link between pornogra-
335A, Norman, OK 73019. E-mail: samperry@ou.edu phy consumption and sexual satisfaction, drawing on data
All data for replication are available from the NORC website. Coding
specifications are available from the authors upon request. Thanks go to
from the 2017 Baylor Religion Survey, a national random
Joseph O. Baker and Job Chen for their help with the statistical analysis. sample of American adults. This analysis sheds important
All errors are our own. light on religion’s role in contextualizing an increasingly
ONLY BAD FOR BELIEVERS?

common sexual practice in pornography use and its com- McBride, Hopkins, & Stevens, 2010; Peter &
plex relationship to other life outcomes. It also contributes Valkenburg, 2011; Stack, Wasserman, & Kern, 2004).
to the burgeoning literature connecting pornography con- Another important caveat to highlight is that there are
sumption to indicators of intrapersonal and relational well- often differences in reported sexual satisfaction between
being by clarifying that the link between pornography use those who view pornography alone or with their partners.
and sexual satisfaction hinges largely on what viewing Maddox, Rhoades, and Markman’s (2011) study of cou-
pornography means within American men’s religious and ples found that those who never viewed pornography at
moral context, not necessarily on pornography use itself. all reported higher sexual satisfaction compared to those
who did so alone, but not those who viewed it together.
And in their qualitative study of 430 men and women,
Kohut, Fisher, and Campbell (2017) found that a large
Theoretical and Empirical Background
number of participants reported pornography use actually
improved their sexual communication and experimenta-
Pornography Use and Sexual Satisfaction
tion (see also Daneback, Bente, & Mansson, 2009; Grov,
Although studies have been examining the association Gillespie, Royce, & Lever, 2011; Minarcik, Wetterneck,
between pornography use and indicators of sexual satis- & Short, 2016; Staley & Prause, 2013). This coupled use
faction for decades, research in this area has increased of pornography, however, is far less common than solo
considerably with the advent of Internet pornography (see use (Carroll, Busby, Willoughby, & Brown, 2017;
the meta-analysis in Wright, Tokunaga, et al., 2017). In Maddox et al., 2011; Minarcik et al., 2016), which
their early experimental study with college students, helps explain why the overall association between porno-
Zillmann and Bryant (1988) found that participants who graphy use and sexual satisfaction in the majority of
were exposed to weeks of nonviolent sexually explicit studies has tended to be negative, particularly for men
videos reported lower satisfaction with their sexual (Wright, Tokunaga, et al., 2017).
experience—in particular, their partners’ affection, physi- Related to this last point, researchers have consistently
cal appearance, sexual curiosity, and sexual performance. found the connection between pornography use and sexual
Subsequently, the dominant assumption within pornogra- satisfaction to be highly gendered. Studies of both married
phy research, whether using cross-sectional, longitudinal, and cohabiting couples, for example, have found pornogra-
or experimental data, has been that pornography use itself phy use was connected to lower sexual satisfaction for men
has a direct influence on viewers’ sexual relationships and but not necessarily for women (Bridges & Morokoff, 2011;
their evaluations of those relationships (Wright, Morgan, 2011; Muusses et al., 2015; Poulsen et al., 2013;
Tokunaga, et al., 2017). This literature has suggested Traeen & Daneback, 2013; Yucel & Gassanov, 2010).
several potential mechanisms. Some scholars, incorporat- Several studies, in fact, have suggested that women’s por-
ing insights from social learning theory (Bandura, 1977) nography use might have salutary effects on their sexual
and sexual script theory (Gagnon & Simon, 2005), have relationship. Poulsen et al. (2013), for example, found that
proposed that pornography provides cognitive “scripts” women’s pornography use was positively related to their
or heuristics that consciously and unconsciously shape own sexual satisfaction. And Bridges and Morokoff (2011)
viewers’ expectations about body image and sexual rela- reported that women’s pornography use was associated with
tionships in ways that lower their satisfaction (Morgan, higher sexual satisfaction among their male partners.
2011; Sun et al., 2016; Wright, Sun, et al., 2017). A Scholars have theorized that these gender differences likely
related view is social comparison theory, which simply stem from different pornography consumption patterns
argues that pornography depicts attractive sexual partners among men and women. Men are far more likely than
and situations in ways that are likely to leave viewers woman to view pornography in isolation for the purposes
disappointed with their own partner and sex lives of masturbation (Bridges & Morokoff, 2011; Maddox et al.,
(Kenrick, Gutierres, & Goldberg, 1989; Staley & 2011). Women, by contrast, are more likely to view porno-
Prause, 2013; but see Balzarini, Dobson, Chin, & graphic material within the context of a romantic relation-
Campbell, 2017). ship (Bridges & Morokoff, 2011; Poulsen et al., 2013) and,
Despite this general assumption about the directional thus, their viewing may contribute to greater intimacy, com-
effect of viewing pornography on sexual satisfaction, munication, and excitement for them and their partners
scholars have also argued that the relationship is bidirec- (Grov et al., 2011; Kohut et al., 2017).
tional, because persons who are dissatisfied with their sex
lives might turn to pornography as an alternative. For
Religion, Sexual Satisfaction, and Pornography Use
instance, Peter and Valkenburg’s (2009) study of adoles-
cents using three-wave panel data found that exposure to While the association between pornography use and
online pornography between Waves 1 and 2 reduced sexual satisfaction has received considerable attention,
adolescents’ sexual satisfaction, but their sexual dissatis- the relationship between religion and sexual satisfaction
faction at Wave 2 also predicted greater pornography is far less understood. Though Burke (2016) has recently
consumption by Wave 3 (see also Baltazar, Helm, shown how having a satisfying sex life has become a

2
PERRY AND WHITEHEAD

major theme among committed Christians, most studies would help explain the connection between pornography
looking at religious commitment (measured as worship use and sexual satisfaction.
attendance or self-reported religious salience) and sexual
satisfaction, have found no significant association
Theorizing the Role of Moral Incongruence in
(Bridges & Morokoff, 2011; Davidson, Darling, &
Moderating the Association Between Pornography Use
Norton, 1995; Hackathorn, Ashdown, & Rife, 2016;
and Sexual Satisfaction
Morgan, 2011; Perry, 2016). Findings from other studies
have painted conflicting pictures. In their comprehensive While a variety of theories have been proposed to
study of sexuality in the United States, Laumann, explain pornography’s connection to lower intrapersonal
Gagnon, Michael, and Michaels (1994) found that and relationship satisfaction, a less-explored theory has
women who were conservative Protestants or Catholics been what may be termed the “moral incongruence hypoth-
were more likely to report “always” experiencing an esis.” Using aggregated data from the General Social Survey
orgasm with their partner compared to those with no (GSS), Patterson and Price (2012) found a negative associa-
religious affiliation. And using data from the 2006 tion between viewing an X-rated movie in the previous year
Portraits of American Life Study, Perry (2016) reported and general life satisfaction. They also found, however, that
that married Americans with religiously devout spouses this negative association was strongest among those who
tended to report higher sexual satisfaction. Going in the attended church at least monthly. Focusing on marriage
opposite direction, however, Higgins, Trussell, Moore, outcomes and also using aggregated GSS data, Doran and
and Davidson (2010) found in their sample of college Price (2014) found that viewing an X-rated movie in the
students that religiosity was negatively associated with previous year was associated with lower marital happiness
reported physiological sexual satisfaction at first inter- and a higher likelihood of divorce or an extramarital affair.
course among White women and men, and negatively They also found that among Americans who attended
associated with psychological sexual satisfaction among church at least weekly, the magnitude of pornography’s
White women. These authors have theorized that the association with marital outcomes was larger than for less-
negative influence of religion on sexual satisfaction in frequent attendees. Those who attended church weekly or
their sample was largely due to guilt or shame over more and viewed an X-rated movie were more likely to
having violated their religious value of virginity until report a divorce, have an extramarital affair, and report
marriage (see also Burke & Moff Hudec, 2015; lower marital happiness compared to those who did not
Hackathorn et al., 2016; Regnerus, 2007). attend weekly. These authors theorized that for Americans
The idea of religious guilt has played an increasingly embedded in religious communities that morally oppose
prominent role in studies of pornography use (see pornography use, viewing pornography exacts greater “psy-
Grubbs & Hook, 2016; Grubbs & Perry, 2018). chic costs” and thus affects the religious more strongly
Research has showed that persons who are more reli- (Doran & Price, 2014; Patterson & Price, 2012).
gious or theologically conservative are generally less More recently, Perry (2016) found that the negative asso-
likely to view pornography compared to others ciation between pornography use and marital satisfaction was
(Bridges & Morokoff, 2011; Hardy, Steelman, Coyne, stronger for Americans with religiously devout spouses, again
& Ridge, 2013; Patterson & Price, 2012; Perry, 2016; suggesting that stronger connections to religious others who
Perry & Schleifer, 2017a; Poulsen et al., 2013; would disapprove of one’s pornography use would result in
Regnerus, 2007; Wright, 2013; Wright, Bae, & Funk, lower personal satisfaction for the viewer. Directly relevant to
2013; but see Perry, 2017a; Whitehead & Perry, 2017). the current study, Perry also showed that having a religiously
However, researchers also demonstrate that those reli- devout spouse intensified the negative association between
gious individuals who do view pornography are often pornography use frequency and satisfaction with one’s sex
consumed with profound guilt over having violated their life. Elsewhere, in Cranney and Stulhofer’s (2017) study of
deeply held moral convictions about nonmarital lust and Croation adults, religiosity moderated the association between
masturbation (e.g., Baltazar et al., 2010; Burke & Moff both mainstream and nonmainstream pornography use and
Hudec, 2015; Grubbs, Exline, Pargament, Hook, & sexual satisfaction for women, such that women who were
Carlisle, 2015; Grubbs & Hook, 2016; Grubbs & Perry, more religious and viewed pornography reported lower sexual
2018; Nelson, Padilla-Walker, & Carroll, 2010; Thomas, satisfaction. That finding did not hold for men, however (con-
Alper, & Gleason, 2017). Grubbs et al. (2015), for tra Doran & Price, 2014; Perry, 2016; Perry & Snawder, 2017).
example, argued that religious pornography users are Religious communities, and particularly conservative
even susceptible to “pathological interpretations” of Christian communities, almost unanimously oppose porno-
their own lives; specifically, religious pornography graphy (Burke, 2016; Burke & Moff Hudec, 2015; Lykke &
users are more likely than nonreligious users to consider Cohen, 2015; Perry & Schleifer, 2017a; Sherkat & Ellison,
themselves “addicted” to pornography, even though reli- 1997; Sumerau & Cragun, 2015; Thomas, 2013, 2016;
gious persons view less pornography. In the current Thomas et al., 2017); thus, it is likely that religious commit-
study, it was theorized that this subjective guilt response ment (however measured) in these studies represents a
to pornography consumption among religious Americans moral opposition to pornography use (Cranney &

3
ONLY BAD FOR BELIEVERS?

Stulhofer, 2017). Moral incongruence theory suggests that it, would be less likely to feel morally conflicted about
Americans who violate their own moral convictions by pornography use and thus would likely experience less of
using pornography are more likely to experience shame a connection between pornography use and sexual satisfac-
and cognitive dissonance, which may lead them to either tion. Thus, it was predicted:
withdraw from social relationships or activities or simply
find them less enjoyable (Perry, 2017b, in press). This H3: The negative association between pornography use and
theory has been supported by research describing a connec- sexual satisfaction will be stronger for those who attribute
tion between moral and religious values, pornography use, greater authority to the Bible and weaker or nonexistent for
and guilt-related loneliness, withdrawal, and depressive those who attribute less authority to the Bible.
symptoms (Grubbs et al., 2015; Grubbs & Hook, 2016;
Grubbs & Perry, 2018; Nelson et al., 2010; Patterson &
Price, 2012; Perry, 2017b; Perry & Hayward, 2017;
Thomas, 2016).
Method
The current study sought to test and extend the moral
incongruence hypothesis by examining the extent to which
Participants
religious factors may moderate the persistent association
between pornography use and sexual satisfaction, for both To test these hypotheses, data were drawn from a recent
men and women. In light of previous research showing porno- national random sample, the 2017 Baylor Religion Survey
graphy consumption to be negatively associated with sexual (BRS). The 2017 survey is the fifth wave of the BRS series,
satisfaction, but primarily for men (Wright, Tokunaga, et al., which was first fielded in 2005. The 2017 BRS was an ideal data
2017; Yucel & Gassanov, 2010), the first hypothesis stated: source to test these hypotheses as no other recent national survey
contains a measure of sexual satisfaction alongside frequency of
H1: More frequent pornography use will be negatively asso- pornography consumption and various religion and sociodemo-
ciated with sexual satisfaction for men but not for women. graphic measures. The 2017 BRS was a self-administered pen-
and-paper survey with a mail-based collection conducted by the
To test the moral incongruence hypothesis, the authors Gallup Organization. The sample was selected using address-
considered how religion may moderate the connection based sample (ABS) methodology based on a simple stratified
between pornography use and sexual satisfaction, both in sample design that helps mitigate the ongoing coverage pro-
terms of belonging and belief. Previous research exploring blems of telephone-based samples. A stratified sampling design
this idea (Doran & Price, 2014; Patterson & Price, 2012; was employed to ensure adequate representation for various
Perry & Snawder, 2017) has used religious service atten- subpopulations (Hispanic, African American, young [ages 18
dance as an indicator of belonging to a moral community to 34]). The analyses used sample weights constructed to match
that likely opposes pornography use. Conceptualizing reli- the known demographic characteristics of the U.S. adult popu-
gious service attendance primarily as a measure of embedd- lation. A total of 1,501 completed surveys were returned from a
edness within a moral community, it is likely that those who sampling frame of 11,000 for a 13.6% response rate.1
are more connected to such a community would be more
likely to experience greater psychic costs associated with
pornography use and thus would experience a stronger Measures
association with their sexual satisfaction. Stated more for-
mally, the following was expected: Sexual satisfaction. The sexual satisfaction measure
used for the dependent variable asked: “Overall, how satis-
H2: The negative association between pornography use and fied are you with your sex life?” Possible response options
sexual satisfaction will be stronger for those who attend reli- included 1 = Not at all satisfied, 2 = Not very satisfied,
gious services more frequently and weaker or nonexistent for 3 = Somewhat satisfied, 4 = Very satisfied, and
those who attend religious services less frequently or never. 5 = Completely satisfied. The mean response for women
Adding to previous research on this topic, the potential
1
role of religious belief was also considered. Sherkat and Though less than ideal, this response rate exceeds that of the average
Ellison (1997) argued that conservative Protestants’ opposi- public opinion survey at 9% (Pew Research Center, 2012), and recent
analyses demonstrate that the accuracy of parameter estimates are mini-
tion to pornography was rooted primarily in their funda- mally related to response rates (American Association for Public Opinion
mentalist views about the Bible. Specifically, Americans Research, 2008; Singer, 2006). Moreover, Pew Research Center’s (2012)
who believed the Bible is the literal word of God were analysis of the representativeness of public opinion surveys found that
more likely to reject pornography on moral grounds and surveys that “are weighted to match the demographic composition of the
believe it should be illegal (see also Lykke & Cohen, 2015; population continue to provide accurate data on most political, social and
economic measures.” Finally, the 2017 BRS was compared to the 2016
Perry, 2017a; Thomas, 2013, 2016; Thomas et al., 2017). General Social Survey on a number of measures central to the following
Correspondingly, it was theorized that Americans who hold analysis (see Supplementary Table 1). While some small differences exist,
a low view of the Bible, attributing little moral authority to the estimates from the 2017 BRS compare quite favorably.

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PERRY AND WHITEHEAD

Table 1. Descriptive Statistics

Women Men

Description M or % SD M or % SD

Sex satisfaction 1 = Not at all satisfied; 5 = Completely satisfied 3.20* 1.18 2.98 1.30
Porn frequency 0 = Never; 4 = Several times a day 0.23* 0.58 0.90 1.17
Sex frequency 1 = Not at all; 6 = More than once a week 3.00 1.77 3.35 1.95
Romantic partner 1 = Yes 59.83% — 64.59% —
Religious service attendance 0 = Never; 7 = Several times a week 3.35 2.40 2.79 2.67
Biblical literalist 1 = Biblical literalist 20.69% — 17.25% —
Bible inspired 1 = Must interpret Bible’s meaning 32.70% — 32.44% —
Bible errors 1 = Bible contains some human error 12.42% — 11.04% —
Bible legends 1 = Bible is ancient book of history and legend 21.46% — 29.03% —
Bible don’t know 1 = I don’t know 12.63% — 10.09% —
Evangelical Protestant 1 = Evangelical Protestant 29.06% — 28.15% —
Mainline Protestant 1 = Mainline Protestant 11.90% — 12.63% —
Black Protestant 1 = Black Protestant 8.19% — 5.84% —
Catholic 1 = Catholic 26.49% — 23.49% —
Other 1 = Other 9.54% — 7.41% —
None 1 = Unaffiliated 14.15% — 22.07% —
Age In years (17–98) 49.96 17.96 49.45 18.32
Child < 18 in home 1 = At least one child under 18 currently living in home 33.17% — 25.68% —
Non-White 1 = Non-White 38.10% — 31.98% —
Education 1 = 8th grade or less; 9 = Postgraduate or professional degree 5.00 2.18 5.30 2.40
Income 1 = $10,000 or less; 7 = $150,001 or more 3.91 1.65 4.45 1.87

Source: 2017 Baylor Religion Survey (weighted MI data).


*T-test demonstrates a significant difference between men and women at p < 0.001; t-test run for sex satisfaction and pornography frequency variables only
(results available upon request).

was 3.20; for men, it was 2.98. Ancillary analyses demon- different views about the Bible, the 2017 BRS asked:
strated that the difference in means between men and “Which one statement comes closest to your personal
women for sexual satisfaction was significant (see Table 1). beliefs about the Bible?” Possible response options included
“The Bible means exactly what it says. It should be taken
Independent variables of interest. The key independent literally, word-for-word, on all subjects”; “The Bible is
variable of interest concerned the frequency with which parti- perfectly true, but it should not be taken literally, word-
cipants viewed pornography. The indicator used in this analysis for-word. We must interpret its meaning”; “The Bible con-
asked: “How often do you use the Internet to: Visit adult tains some human error”; “The Bible is an ancient book of
websites.” Possible response options included 0 = Never, history and legends”; and “I don’t know.” Following
1 = About once a month or less, 2 = About once a week, Franzen and Griebel (2013), a series of dichotomous vari-
3 = About once a day, and 4 = Several times per day. ables were created with the first response option, biblical
Consistent with previous research, men reported visiting adult literalism, serving as the contrast category.
websites significantly more often than women (see Table 1).
To test hypotheses 2 and 3, the pornography frequency Control variables. Multivariate models controlled for a
variable was interacted with religious service attendance and number of additional measures. Because sexual satisfaction
various views toward the Bible.2 The religious service was the predicted outcome with pornography use frequency
attendance indicator asked: “How often do you attend reli- as a predictor, it is important to limit the possibility that both
gious services at a place of worship?” Responses ranged pornography use and sexual dissatisfaction stemmed from a
from 0 = Never to 7 = Several times a week. Regarding general lack of sex in one’s life or, relatedly, that one is
simply unattached to a romantic partner at the time. Thus,
models included measures for the frequency with which
2
Ancillary analyses (available upon request) examined whether other participants reported having sex (1 = Not at all to
religion measures predicted sexual satisfaction for men or women, includ- 6 = More than once a week) as well as whether they were
ing how religious/spiritual participants felt they were, their prayer fre-
quency, and their frequency of Bible reading. Only frequency of Bible
in a relationship with a romantic partner (1 = Yes, 0 = No).
reading was significantly associated for women, and no category was Religious affiliation was measured using six categories:
significant for men. Because the Bible reading measure is similar enough Evangelical Protestant (contrast category), Mainline
to the biblical literalism measure, the authors opted to use only the more Protestant, Black Protestant, Catholic, Other, and
conventional measures of religious community involvement (attendance)
Unaffiliated. Jewish participants were included in the
and affirming theological beliefs consistent with fundamentalist Christian
communities (literalism). “Other” category given their low numbers. Other

5
ONLY BAD FOR BELIEVERS?

Table 2. Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) Regression Estimates Predicting Sex Satisfaction by Frequency of Pornography Consumption
Among Women and Men

Women Men

Predictors β SE β SE β SE β SE

Porn frequency — — −0.05 0.07 — — −0.09* 0.04


Sex frequency 0.50*** 0.03 0.51*** 0.03 0.59*** 0.03 0.58*** 0.03
Romantic partner −0.09* 0.11 −0.09* 0.11 0.10* 0.11 0.09* 0.11
Religious service attendance 0.14*** 0.02 0.14*** 0.02 −0.01 0.02 −0.02 0.02
Bible inspired −0.02 0.14 −0.02 0.14 −0.04 0.13 −0.03 0.13
Bible errors −0.03 0.17 −0.03 0.17 −0.10* 0.16 −0.09* 0.16
Bible legends −0.01 0.19 −0.02 0.18 −0.11† 0.16 −0.10† 0.16
Bible don’t know −0.02 0.18 −0.02 0.18 −0.11* 0.17 −0.10* 0.17
Mainline −0.03 0.17 −0.03 0.17 0.02 0.18 0.03 0.18
Black Protestant −0.07† 0.19 −0.07† 0.18 −0.04 0.22 −0.04 0.22
Catholic −0.07† 0.11 −0.07† 0.11 0.04 0.13 0.05 0.13
Other −0.05 0.15 −0.05 0.15 0.06 0.19 0.06 0.18
None −0.01 0.15 −0.01 0.16 0.02 0.17 0.04 0.17
Age 0.10* 0.00 0.09† 0.00 0.03 0.00 −0.01 0.00
Child < 18 in home −0.03 0.09 −0.04 0.09 −0.03 0.10 −0.04 0.11
Non-White 0.02 0.10 0.02 0.10 0.01 0.10 0.02 0.10
Education −0.04 0.02 −0.04 0.02 0.03 0.02 0.04 0.02
Income 0.02 0.03 0.02 0.03 0.00 0.03 0.00 0.03
Intercept 1.98*** 2.06*** 1.48*** 1.70***
N 871 871 630 630
Adj. R2 0.181 0.182 0.413 0.417

Source: 2017 Baylor Religion Survey (weighted MI data).


***p < 0.001; **p < 0.01; *p < 0.05; †p < 0.10.

sociodemographic controls included age (in years), parental presented for the full model predicting sexual satisfaction,
status (1 = At least 1 child under 18 currently living in both with and without the pornography frequency measure,
participant’s home, 0 = No children under 18 in partici- for women and men separately. Table 3 displays the inter-
pant’s home), race (1 = non-White, 0 = White), educational action effects between pornography frequency and the var-
attainment (1 = Eighth grade education or less to ious views of the Bible as well as pornography frequency
9 = Postgraduate or professional degree), and household and religious service attendance for women and men sepa-
income (1 = $10,000 or less to 7 = $150,001 or more). See rately. Figures 1 and 2 graph the significant interaction
Supplementary Tables 2 and 3 for correlation matrixes of all effects found in Table 3 regarding men’s sexual satisfaction,
variables for men and women. pornography consumption, and religiosity.
To account for missing data, multiple imputation (MI)
techniques were employed using SAS 9.3. This procedure
Plan of Analysis generated five imputations using multiple Markov chains
Due to fairly stark differences in the data for men and based on all variables included in the models, resulting in
women in their pornography use and the association an overall N of 7,505 (1,501 × 5). All analyses drew on the
between pornography use and sexual satisfaction, separate MI data sets. The results reported in Tables 2 and 3 were
analyses were conducted for each.3 Table 1 contains the from the MI ANALYZE procedure in SAS. It combined all
descriptive statistics for both women and men. In Table 2, the results from the five imputations generating overall esti-
ordinary least squares (OLS) regression estimates are mates, standard errors, and significance tests. Standardized
beta coefficients are provided in order to examine substantive
3
significance beyond merely statistical significance. These
For women, there was very little variance in their pornography viewing
compared to men, which made cross-product gender interactions unhelpful.
standardized coefficients, as well as the adjusted r-square,
When the pornography use measure is made binary (1 = Yes, 0 = No), thus were averages across all five imputation models. Tests were
removing the distribution issue, there is a significant interaction between also run to ensure the models satisfied assumptions regarding
gender and pornography use predicting sexual satisfaction (p < .01; models OLS regression: the mean of the error residuals was near
available upon request). In addition, zero-order correlations (see zero, the residuals were normally distributed, and the resi-
Supplementary Tables 2 and 3) show an essentially nonexistent correlation
between pornography use and sexual satisfaction for women (r = −.016, p = n.
duals were not correlated with any independent variables.
s.), compared to men (r = −.124, p < .01). Last, a Chow test was run for the full Finally, across all of the models, no variance inflation factor
model with gender specified as the cutoff point for the structural change; the (VIF) score exceeded 4.6, well below the standard cutoff
result was significant (p < .001), indicating that separate models for men and suggesting multicollinearity issues.
women would be preferred because of the differences between the two.

6
PERRY AND WHITEHEAD

Table 3. Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) Regression Estimates Predicting Women’s Sex Satisfaction With Frequency of Pornography
Consumption and Religion Variables Interactions

Women Men
Attendance Bible Views Attendance Bible Views

Predictors β SE β SE β SE β SE

Porn Frequency −0.05 0.10 −0.03 0.14 −0.02 0.06 −0.33* 0.04
Porn × Attendance 0.00 0.03 — — −0.11* 0.02 — —
Porn × Bible inspired — — −0.03 0.19 — — 0.15† 0.16
Porn × Bible error — — −0.06 0.21 — — 0.09 0.18
Porn × Bible legends — — −0.02 0.20 — — 0.27* 0.16
Porn × Bible don’t know — — 0.01 0.22 — — 0.02 0.18
Sex frequency 0.51*** 0.03 0.51*** 0.03 0.58*** 0.03 0.58*** 0.03
Romantic partner −0.09* 0.11 −0.10* 0.11 0.09* 0.10 0.10* 0.10
Religious service attendance 0.14*** 0.02 0.13** 0.02 0.02 0.02 −0.03 0.02
Bible inspired −0.02 0.14 −0.02 0.14 −0.02 0.13 −0.02 0.15
Bible errors −0.03 0.17 −0.01 0.17 −0.08† 0.17 −0.06 0.22
Bible legends −0.02 0.19 −0.03 0.17 −0.09 0.16 −0.15* 0.19
Bible don’t know −0.02 0.18 −0.01 0.18 −0.09* 0.17 −0.03 0.21
Mainline −0.03 0.17 −0.02 0.16 0.03 0.18 0.02 0.14
Black Protestant −0.07† 0.19 −0.08† 0.18 −0.04 0.22 −0.02 0.21
Catholic −0.07† 0.11 −0.07† 0.12 0.05 0.13 0.05 0.11
Other −0.05 0.16 −0.05 0.16 0.06 0.18 0.07† 0.17
None −0.01 0.16 0.00 0.16 0.02 0.17 0.05 0.14
Age 0.09† 0.00 0.09† 0.00 −0.01 0.00 −0.02 0.00
Child < 18 in home −0.04 0.09 −0.04 0.10 −0.03 0.11 −0.04 0.10
Non-White 0.02 0.10 0.02 0.10 0.03 0.10 −0.01 0.10
Education −0.04 0.02 −0.04 0.02 0.04 0.02 0.04 0.02
Income 0.02 0.03 0.01 0.03 −0.01 0.03 0.00 0.03
Intercept 2.06*** 2.12*** 1.61*** 1.66***
N 871 871 630 630
Adj. R2 0.182 0.179 0.422 0.439

Source: 2017 Baylor Religion Survey (weighted MI data).


***p < 0.001; **p < 0.01; *p < 0.05; †p < 0.10.

Results (β = −.09; p < .05), which supported the first hypothesis.


While the association was not particularly large, pornogra-
Results from Table 2 show that increasing frequency of phy use was still among the top three predictors of sexual
pornography consumption was not significantly associated satisfaction behind greater sex frequency (β = .58; p < .001)
with women’s sexual satisfaction. The strongest significant and equal to viewing the Bible as containing human error
associations with sexual satisfaction appeared to be sex (β = −.09; p < .05). Unlike women, men in a romantic
frequency (β = .51; p < .001) and religious service atten- relationship tended to report greater sexual satisfaction
dance (β = .14; p < .001), where increases in either were (β = .09; p < .05), and religious service attendance was
linked to greater satisfaction. Women who were in a roman- not significantly associated with sexual satisfaction.
tic relationship also tended to report lower (β = −.09; Among men, it also appeared that those who believed the
p < .05) sexual satisfaction.4 Turning to men, their fre- Bible contains human error and those who do not know how
quency of pornography consumption was significantly and they view the Bible tended to report lower levels of sexual
negatively associated with their sexual satisfaction satisfaction compared to biblical literalists.
Table 3 displays the interactions between frequency of
pornography consumption and views of the Bible as well as
4
This was a curious finding that contradicts previous research. In
frequency of pornography consumption and religious service
ancillary analyses, we examined models without the sexual frequency
measure. While there were no substantive differences for men, for women attendance for women and men. There were no significant
the romantic partner measure became significantly and positively associated interactions between the various religiosity measures and por-
with sex satisfaction (results are available upon request). Thus, the negative nography consumption for women. As in the full model for
association could be due to a suppressor effect, with sex frequency mediat- women in Table 2, sex frequency and religious service atten-
ing the positive link between being in a relationship and women’s sexual
dance maintained the strongest positive associations with sex-
satisfaction, causing the former to flip its sign from positive to negative (see
MacKinnon, Krull, & Lockwood, 2000 for their explanation of suppression ual satisfaction while romantic partnership maintained a
effects). negative and significant association across all models.

7
ONLY BAD FOR BELIEVERS?

3.50

3.00 2.91
2.87 2.75
2.83 2.58 2.59

Sexual Satisfaction
2.50 Frequency
2.41 2.29 of Religious
Service
2.00 1.99 Attendance
Low
1.50 Med
High
1.00

0.50

0.00
Low Med High
Frequency of Pornography Consumption

Figure 1. Interaction effect for frequency of pornography consumption and religious service attendance for men’s sexual satisfaction. Note. All other
variables in model set to their means. Low, med, and high are computed using the mean as the medium value, one standard deviation above the mean as high,
and one standard deviation below the mean as low. This roughly corresponds to men never attending (low), attending several times a year (med), and attending
two to three times a month (high).

3.50

3.01
3.00

2.61
2.60 2.62
2.50
Sexual Satisfaction

2.27
2.00

Biblical Literalist
1.50 1.53
Bible Legends

1.00

0.50

0.00
Low Med High
Frequency of Pornography Consumption

Figure 2. Interaction effect for frequency of pornography consumption and low view of Bible for men’s sexual satisfaction. Note. All other variables in
model set to their means.

Table 3 also contains the interactions between frequency pornography consumption and sexual satisfaction was more
of pornography consumption and religious service attendance pronounced. Simple slopes tests (available upon request)
as well as frequency of pornography consumption and views revealed that the significant moderating effect of religious
of the Bible for men. Here, a different story emerged with a service attendance on pornography consumption and sex
significant and negative interaction between religious service satisfaction was statistically significant at all levels of reli-
attendance and frequency of pornography consumption on gious service attendance, but the relationship was stronger for
men’s sexual satisfaction (β = −.11; p < .001), which was the higher levels of attendance (Preacher, Curran, & Bauer,
second strongest predictor in the model. It was apparent in 2006). Thus, men who attended services regularly but also
Figure 1 that the association between men’s frequency of reported more frequent pornography consumption reported
pornography consumption and their sexual satisfaction was the lowest levels of sexual satisfaction. This supported the
conditionally related to their frequency of religious service second hypothesis.
attendance. For those who reported attending religious ser- Table 3 also shows that the “Bible legends” interaction
vices infrequently or never, pornography consumption was term was significant and positive (β = .27; p < .05). In this
weakly associated with their sexual satisfaction. For those particular model, the significant and negative pornography
men who attended religious services at least two to three frequency lower- order effect represented the association
times a month, however, the negative association between between frequency of pornography consumption and sexual

8
PERRY AND WHITEHEAD

satisfaction for those who identified as biblical literalists. associated with lower sexual satisfaction, but only for
The significant and negative lower-order coefficient for those who would be violating religious sanctions against
Bible legends represented the association between believing it. This suggests moral incongruence plays a key role in
the Bible is a book of history and legends for those who explaining the connection between pornography consump-
reported no pornography consumption. Figure 2 graphs the tion and sexual satisfaction among American men.
interaction to provide a clearer picture of these relationships. The findings of this study contribute to our understand-
For those with a lower view of the Bible—it is merely a ing of religion, pornography use, and sexual life in several
book of history and legends—frequency of pornography important ways. First, it affirms findings from previous
consumption was essentially unassociated with sexual satis- studies with a national probability sample that men who
faction. For those with a higher view of the Bible—those use pornography more often tend to report lower sexual
who believe that the Bible means exactly what it says and satisfaction (Wright, Tokunaga, et al., 2017). But this
that it should be taken literally, word for word, on all study’s findings suggest it is not necessarily pornography
subjects—the association between increased pornography use per se that negatively influences sexual satisfaction. If
consumption and sexual satisfaction was much more pro- that were strictly the case, the negative association
nounced. Maintaining a higher view of the Bible while also between pornography use and sexual satisfaction would
consuming pornography with increased frequency was sig- have held regardless of participants’ religious characteris-
nificantly associated with much lower levels of sexual satis- tics. But the fact that the association was contingent on
faction (1.53) compared to those with a high view of the participants’ religious belonging and belief suggests that
Bible but low reported levels of pornography consumption moral incongruence is an important factor to consider.
(3.01). Simple slopes tests (available upon request) showed This study’s findings in this regard are also consistent
that there was a significant negative relationship between with the antecedents-contexts-effects (ACE) paradigm for
pornography consumption and sexual satisfaction for bibli- understanding the link between pornography use and rela-
cal literalists (−.369; p = .03), but the relationship between tionship outcomes proposed by Campbell and Kohut
pornography consumption and sexual satisfaction for people (2017). In this case, the specific moral context of the
who believed the Bible is merely a book of history and pornography use matters for understanding its potential
legends was not significant (−.004; p = .970), as evidenced association with sexual satisfaction.
by the essentially flat line in Figure 2 (Preacher et al., 2006). Previous research on pornography use and religion has
The third hypothesis was thus supported. suggested that religious persons who use pornography often
report feeling considerable guilt and cognitive dissonance
for violating their moral convictions about chastity and
“lusting” (Baltazar et al., 2010; Grubbs et al., 2015;
Discussion and Conclusion
Grubbs & Perry, 2018; Perry & Hayward, 2017; Thomas
This study sought to understand how religious factors et al., 2017). Religious pornography users are more likely to
moderate the persistent association between pornography evaluate their lives more negatively than nonreligious users
use and sexual satisfaction, particularly among men, using (Grubbs et al., 2015). Thus, it is likely that men who attend
a national random sample of American adults. Consistent worship services more often (indicating greater attachment
with previous research, main effects models showed that to a religious community) or have a higher opinion of the
more frequent pornography use was negatively associated Bible (indicating it serves as a source of moral authority in
with sexual satisfaction for men but not for women. While their lives) but also view pornography fairly regularly are
the beta was not particularly large, this association held more likely to experience guilt and shame that potentially
even after controlling for sex frequency and relationship colors their evaluation of their own sex lives. This helps
status, suggesting that the connection between viewing por- explain why the negative association between pornography
nography and lower sexual satisfaction is not spurious stem- consumption and overall happiness (Patterson & Price,
ming from low frequencies of sex or no sexual 2012), marital quality (Doran & Price, 2014; Perry, 2016),
companionship. Indeed, this association for men existed or parent–child relationship quality (Perry & Snawder,
across their relationship statuses, as the sample included 2017) has tended to be stronger for those who are more
65% who were in a relationship and 35% who were not.5 closely attached to religious others.
Consistent with the moral incongruence hypothesis, how- Conversely, American men who are less connected to a
ever, interaction effects showed that the negative association religious community and less apt to view the Bible as
between pornography use and sexual satisfaction among authoritative show little to no connection between their
men did not seem to apply to those who were unattached sexual satisfaction and pornography use. This finding also
to a religious community or held a low opinion of the Bible. helps to qualify the few studies that have reported several
In other words, viewing pornography seemed to be benefits of pornography use to viewers’ sexual relationships.
Research has shown that pornography use in isolation tends
5
Ancillary analyses (available upon request) tested for interactions by
to be more negatively associated with sexual and relation-
pornography use and relationship status; none was significant for men or ship satisfaction compared to coupled pornography use
women. (Campbell & Kohut, 2017; Maddox et al., 2011; Minarcik

9
ONLY BAD FOR BELIEVERS?

et al., 2016). Because religious proscriptions against view- Schleifer, 2017a, 2017b; Wright, 2013; Wright et al., 2013),
ing pornography would likely preclude devout couples from it was limited by the fact that it did not elaborate on what
incorporating mutual pornography use into their lovemaking constitutes an “adult website.” Studies have shown that
practices, it is likely that relatively irreligious couples would definitions of “pornography” can vary across groups
be comparatively more likely to view pornography together, (Willoughby & Busby, 2016), and it is possible that deeply
or at least would be more understanding of a partner’s religious persons in particular may expand the definition of
pornography use (Perry, 2016). Persons who are less “adult website” (e.g., to include the websites for Victoria’s
attached to religion, in other words, would be more apt to Secret or Maxim) beyond what less religious persons would.
view pornography in the way that studies suggest can be Ultimately, dyadic data (or at least an indicator of whether
beneficial to sexual relationships (i.e., together), whereas participants viewed alone or with a partner) with more
religious persons would be more apt to do so in isolation, precise definitions of what exactly is being viewed would
which would more likely result in relational tensions sur- be ideal to mitigate these issues.
rounding hiding, lying, and possible discovery (Bridges, At present, it remains unclear how the connection between
Bergner, & Hesson-McInnis, 2003; Stewart & Szymanski, religion, pornography use, and sexual satisfaction in the United
2012; Zitzman & Butler, 2009). States will change in the future. On one hand, pornography use
Curiously, this study’s finding that religious factors mod- is increasing, both among the general population and particu-
erated the link between pornography use and sexual satis- larly among younger Americans (Perry & Schleifer, 2017a;
faction for men contradicted those of Cranney and Stulhofer Price, Patterson, Regnerus, & Walley, 2016; Regnerus,
(2017), who reported a similar finding but for women in Gordon, & Price, 2016). If Americans’ attachment to religion,
their Croation sample. While our gender-specific finding and with it traditional sexual mores, remains roughly constant,
was consistent with other studies using American samples it is possible that the connection between pornography use and
(Doran & Price, 2014; Perry, 2016); the discrepancy sexual satisfaction will intensify, as Americans experience
between our findings and those of Cranney and Stulhofer greater religious guilt. Conversely, if young Americans’ insti-
(2017) may point to differences between the two national tutional religious participation or belief in the authority of the
samples or a different combination of controls. Cross- Bible is declining, as many suggest that it is (Chaves, 2017), it
national data exploring similar questions would ultimately is possible that average pornography users will feel less con-
help resolve the issue. flicted about their use and more open to sharing this with a
Several data limitations should be acknowledged to con- partner or spouse, who may also be more understanding or
sider future avenues for research in this area. First, the BRS even interested in mutual use. One future line of research, then,
data were cross-sectional and thus causal direction could not would be to assess the changes in the association between
be definitively determined. While numerous longitudinal and these variables over time to examine how broad cultural trends
experimental studies have shown that pornography use can influence their relationship.
precede and influence sexual satisfaction (Wright, Tokunaga,
et al., 2017), other studies have also shown that pornography Supplemental Material
use can stem from sexual dissatisfaction as well (e.g., Peter &
Valkenburg, 2009). Though this study did control for sex Supplemental data for this article can be accessed at www.
frequency and romantic relationship involvement, and thus it tandfonline.com/HJSR.
is less likely that sexual dissatisfaction (as a result of too little
sex) was itself causing the pornography use, future research on
this topic would ideally use longitudinal or experimental data
to demonstrate causal direction more clearly. References
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