Seeing is (Not) Believing: How Viewing Pornography Shapes the Religious Lives of Young Americans (2017)

Soc Forces. 2017 Jun;95(4):1757-1788. doi: 10.1093/sf/sow106.

Perry SL1, Hayward GM2.


Pornography has become increasingly accessible in the United States, and particularly for younger Americans. While some research considers how pornography use affects the sexual and psychological health of adolescents and emerging adults, sociologists have given little attention to how viewing pornography may shape young Americans’ connection to key social and cultural institutions, like religion. This article examines whether viewing pornography may actually have a secularizing effect, reducing young Americans’ personal religiosity over time. To test for this, we use data from three waves of the National Study of Youth and Religion. Fixed-effects regression models show that more frequent pornography viewing diminishes religious service attendance, importance of religious faith, prayer frequency, and perceived closeness to God, while increasing religious doubts. These effects hold regardless of gender. The effects of viewing pornography on importance of faith, closeness to God, and religious doubts are stronger for teenagers compared to emerging adults. In light of the rapidly growing availability and acceptance of pornography for young Americans, our findings suggest that scholars must consider how increasingly pervasive pornography consumption may shape both the religious lives of young adults and also the future landscape of American religion more broadly.

KEYWORDS: early adulthood; pornography; religion; religiosity; young adults; youth

PMID: 28546649

PMCID: PMC5439973

DOI: 10.1093/sf/sow106