Watching Pornography May Help Religious Christians Change Their Minds About Abortion

Church in Chablis, France. Christian Hartmann/Reuters

Watching pornography can taint how men see women, but the effect may sometimes be different than assumed. A new study from Canada suggests that viewing pornography is actually associated with treating women with greater tolerance, especially if these men are religious.

Two psychologists, one from Mount Royal University and the other from the University of Western Ontario, wanted to investigate whether—and how—men's attitudes toward women might be tied to pornography and/or religion. They used a survey of 11,658 men and 13,988 women about their church attendance, how often they had viewed an X-rated film in the past year, and attitudes toward women. These answers came from the General Social Survey, an annual study of attitudes in the U.S. population, Psy Post reported. Most of the respondents were white, married, and Christian, with an average age of 44.

The survey asked participants about the following: whether they agreed that women should take care of their homes and leave running the country up to men; whether they would vote for a woman nominated for president; and if they believed that men are better suited emotionally for politics. They were also asked about their attitudes toward women working outside the home and toward abortion.

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Together, study authors Kyler R. Rasmussen, who specializes in social psychology at Mount Royal University, and Taylor Kohut, a professor of psychology at the University of Western Ontario, found that more pornography use was associated with more accepting attitudes toward women—but only in some respects.

For example, higher levels of pornography use were linked to more accepting attitudes toward abortion, such as thinking that abortion should be legal under all circumstances, including in cases of rape, for women who are unmarried, and for women who want one for any other personal reason. However, pornography use regardless of religious inclination was not related to more positive attitudes toward women working outside the home or toward women in power.

Demonstrators protest at abortion rights rally in Chicago on January 15. Kamil Kraczynski/Reuters

Rasmussen highlighted that the study does not show that pornography itself was responsible for modifying men's attitudes, only that there appears to be a link between the two. "We're still not sure that porn is a causal factor here," he said.

But there is some reason to think that consuming X-rated material altered beliefs among men who adhered strictly to religious practices. According to the report, more church attendance—defined as attending a religious service at least once a month—was associated with the belief that women should not have abortion rights, should not work outside the home, and should not hold political office. But men who went to church andused pornography did not display the same negative attitudes toward women. Men who may have been predicted to hold certain beliefs about abortion based on their religious practice fell into a different category of beliefs when porn consumption was added to the mix.

Rasmussen emphasized that the effects were small and therefore say little about how the attitudes of specific individuals would be affected by pornography use. But, he said, they do give insight to how pornography may affect us as a group.

"On a societal level [the results] could be potentially interesting, especially since it tipped religious people across the threshold toward favoring abortion, on average," said Rasmussen.

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Rasmussen suggests that the dissonance, or internal conflict, religious men experience while watching porn may explain the link between pornography consumers who are religious and increased tolerance towards women.

A man's religious beliefs may lead him to believe that sexual promiscuity is wrong and therefore watching explicit material is sinful. At the same time, he may enjoy the content, which may weigh on his conscience.

It's these conflicting ideas that could lead religious men to change their views toward pornography. "Religious men are motivated to reduce that discomfort. One way they can do so is by changing their attitudes toward pornography—if porn isn't wrong, then they no longer have to feel uncomfortable," Rasmussen told Newsweek. However, according to the researcher, changing attitudes towards porn can have unexpected results, and sometimes change attitudes toward other beliefs, including those towards women overall.

The results do not mean that religious men who watch pornography are more tolerant towards women than non-religious men with the same habits. The researchers explained that non-religious men likely don't hold these traditional gender beliefs to begin with, so porn would have little effect on their attitudes towards women in this respect.

Rather, Rasmussen explained the study's ultimate results show that porn does not make everyone more egalitarian, or inclined to think that all people should be treated equal, just some people.

"Our results actually limit that association to just religious people—if you look closely, you'll notice that less-religious people who watch porn are actually slightly less egalitarian." In other words, it appears that viewing pornography may have the opposite effect on less religious men than it does on more religious men.