Abstract

Although pornography consumption has become increasingly pervasive in the USA, few studies have considered the impact that more frequent pornography use may have on the health and character of American religion. This article examines how more frequent consumption of pornography among parents might influence their religious socialization of their children and how this effect might vary across mothers and fathers. Analyses of 2006 Portraits of American Life Study data reveal that pornography consumption is negatively associated with the time parents spend talking or reading about religion with their children, net of relevant religious and sociodemographic characteristics. Moreover, interactions demonstrate that pornography consumption diminishes the positive effects of other religious factors on time spent religiously socializing one's children. Splitting the sample by gender reveals that these effects apply primarily to fathers. Findings suggest that increased pornography consumption itself might threaten the transmission of religious heritage from parents (and particularly fathers) to children.

Pornography1 consumption has become increasingly widespread among Americans, owing in large part to the increased access and privacy provided by the internet (Short et al. 2012). While obtaining solid data on how often Americans view pornography is difficult, various sources indicate that anywhere between one-quarter to over a third of Americans access sexually explicit media once a month or more (Carroll et al. 2008; Edelman 2009; Patterson and Price 2012; Short et al. 2012). As pornography consumption has become more commonplace, a growing research literature has examined the consequences of its use for the health and character of important institutions, and particularly marriage and family relationships (Doring 2009; Manning 2006; Perry 2015; Poulsen et al. 2013). Importantly, however, while a number of studies have considered the ways institutions like religion shape pornography consumption, few if any have considered the impact that pervasive porn use may have on American religion.

Seeking to address this gap, the current study examines the extent to which more frequent consumption of pornography might diminish Americans' propensity to religiously socialize their children, and whether these effects might vary by the gender of the parent. Although porn consumption has become quite pervasive in the USA, its use is generally kept private and is considered somewhat embarrassing or, particularly among religious subcultures, an act of sexual “deviance” and source of shame and cognitive dissonance. Indeed, some studies suggest that more frequent porn use, like participation in other forms of culturally “deviant” behavior, might create distance between intimates and even reduce religious interest (Baltazar et al. 2010; Nelson et al. 2010; Short et al. 2015). Because of the potential religious shame and emotional distance associated with porn use, I propose that parents who are more frequent consumers of pornography, even after controlling for relevant religious and sociodemographic characteristics, will report spending less time engaging in intentional religious socialization with their children. Moreover, I propose that pornography consumption will reduce the influence of other factors associated with greater inclination to religiously socialize one's children. And lastly, because pornography use (and its attendant negative psychic and relational consequences) is more prevalent among males (Baltazar et al. 2010; Doran and Price 2014), I argue that the link between pornography consumption and religious socialization will apply primarily to fathers. I test these arguments using data from the 2006 Portraits of American Life Study.

To better frame the current study, I first provide a brief overview of research on the links between pornography use, religion, gender, and family life, as well as research on primary religious socialization. I draw on this research to generate several hypotheses about how parents' pornography use might influence their religious socialization of their children and how these effects might themselves be moderated by religious characteristics and gender.

BACKGROUND

Pornography Consumption, Religion, and Religious Guilt

The vast majority of research linking religion and pornography focuses on religion as an independent variable, shaping Americans' attitudes toward (Bock et al. 1983; Putnam and Campbell 2010; Sherkat and Ellison 1997) or consumption of pornography. Among studies focusing on religion and porn consumption, data are typically drawn from non-random samples of college students (Abell et al. 2006; Baltazar et al. 2010; Goodson et al. 2001; Nelson et al. 2010; Short et al. 2015) or samples focusing on adolescents (Peter and Valkenburg 2006; Regnerus 2007, 2010). Far fewer studies have given attention to the link between religion and pornography among American adults. Research on the social correlates of viewing pornography consistently finds that pornography is more often consumed by adults who are male, younger, unmarried, sexually active and permissive, higher socioeconomic status (education and income), with more computer access and competency, and who are less religious (Doring 2009; Patterson and Price 2012; Peter and Valkenburg 2006; Poulsen et al. 2013; Stack et al. 2004). With the exception of some small-sample studies of college students that report no significant association between religiosity and internet porn use (Abell et al. 2006; Goodson et al. 2001),2 the majority of studies find that “religious commitment” or “religiosity” (by a variety of different measures) is negatively associated with consuming pornography (Baltazar et al. 2010; Bridges and Morokoff 2011; Doran and Price 2014; Nelson et al. 2010; Patterson and Price 2012; Poulsen et al. 2013; Short et al. 2015; Stack et al. 2004). Scholars theorize that religion may reduce porn consumption to the extent that (1) religious-moral values are actually internalized by adherents, guiding their private behavior, and (2) religious adherents are embedded within networks of accountability (social control) and social support among other coreligionists who probe their private lives and discourage sexual “deviance.”

Because the focus of literature has been almost solely on religion's effect on porn use, only a few studies have considered how religious life itself may actually be shaped by frequent, or at least regular, porn consumption. Among the exceptions, several studies have explored the relationship between religion and pornography among college students. Baltazar et al. (2010) examined the use of pornography among 751 males and females attending a conservative Christian university. The negative spiritual effects of pornography use were felt most severely by males. Among those who viewed pornography, 43 percent of males felt that viewing pornography worsened their relationship with God/Christ, compared with only 20 percent of females. And 20 percent of males reported that porn use contributed to their losing interest in spiritual things, while only 9 percent of females felt this way. Nelson et al. (2010) studied a group of 193 students at a religious university in the Western USA. They note that frequent religious practice was negatively associated with pornography consumption. While acknowledging that religious practice might discourage porn use, the authors also acknowledge the possibility of causality being reversed: “[I]t may be that young people who view pornography feel embarrassed or guilty about their behavior and, therefore, do not participate in religious activities such as attending church or saying prayers” (2010:144). Supporting this idea, Short et al. (2015) studied internet pornography use among a group of 223 male and female college students. The authors found that viewing internet pornography interfered with participants' relationship with God and their spirituality. They theorize, “Perhaps religious individuals experience feelings of scrupulosity when their behaviors (i.e., internet pornography use) do not align with their values (i.e., chastity), because [internet pornography] use is deemed to be unacceptable to their ‘intrinsic’ faith and religious affiliation” (2015:581). The term “scrupulosity” here refers to a psychological disorder characterized by pathological guilt, often about violations of deeply held religious convictions (Miller and Hedges 2008). Scrupulosity impairs social functioning with the result that it “frequently causes patients to withdraw themselves physically and psychologically from close family members and friends” (2008:1047).

Taken together, this research suggests that more frequent porn consumption, especially for religious persons, is associated with guilt and embarrassment, and hurts one's relationship with God or interest in spiritual things, while also potentially creating feelings of scrupulosity that may influence individuals to withdraw from family. While religiosity may certainly discourage the use of pornography, more frequent pornography consumption could also have a reciprocal dampening effect on religious interest, possibly due to the “cognitive dissonance” in the minds of religious persons who believe porn viewing to be wrong, yet still do it anyway (Nelson et al. 2010). Previous work on religiosity and other forms of culturally “deviant” behavior supports this line of argument. Numerous studies by Benda and his colleagues (Benda 1997; Benda and Corwyn 1997, 2000), for example, show that not only does religiosity diminish participation in various forms of “deviant” behavior like binge drinking, smoking marijuana, and criminal activity, but there are reciprocal effects, with these sorts of behaviors reacting back on actors, diminishing their religiosity, and commitment to religious beliefs. Thus, among religious parents, the shame, cognitive dissonance, and scrupulosity involved in more frequent porn use might discourage their religious interactions with their own children, thereby diminishing the likelihood of their transmitting religious values to their children. Supporting this theory, below I present research on how pornography use shapes family relationships.

Pornography Consumption and Family Life

Research examining how pornography may influence family life has focused almost completely on marriage relationships. In general, research finds that more frequent pornography consumption is negatively associated with marital quality and stability (for reviews, see Doring 2009; Manning 2006; Short et al. 2012). Most interesting for this study, researchers have shown that more frequent pornography use is associated with decreased feelings of intimacy between partners (Bergner and Bridges 2002) and lower commitment to the relationship itself (Doran and Price 2014; Lambert et al. 2012; Maddox et al. 2011).3

Relatively little research has been conducted on the relationship of pornography use to parenting. Studies on cybersex addiction suggest that porn viewing might harm the parent–child relationship in a practical way by diverting parents' attention away from the children either by focusing on the computer or conflict arising from one partner's cybersex addiction (Schneider 2000). Parents' more frequent consumption of pornography might also create distance between parent and child due to parents' hope to protect the child from exposure to the parent's pornography use (Corley and Schneider 2003; Manning 2006). Verifying the negative effects of porn use on the parent–child relationship, recent research by the author (Perry 2015) finds that more frequent porn viewing among parents is strongly associated with less frequent communication with children, less frequent meals with children, yelling at children more often, and (especially for fathers) diminished feelings of closeness to the children.

Primary Religious Socialization

Primary religious socialization involves the transmission of religious beliefs, practices, identities, and values from parents to children. While other factors (e.g., culture, socioeconomic situation, social networks) influence religious beliefs and behaviors across the life course, parents' religious socialization is of primary importance to the perpetuation of religious faith in that it establishes within young people a worldview and channels them into worldview-sustaining communities (Cornwall 1987, 1989; Perry, 2014a, 2014b; Smith and Denton 2005). Research on religious socialization consistently shows that parents' religiosity (in terms of actual practice) is the most important predictor of children's religious identity and behaviors later on (Denton and Culver 2015; Kelley and De Graaf 1997; Kenkel et al. 1965; Myers 1996; Petts 2015; Smith and Denton 2005). Smith and Denton (2005) insist that, for effective religious socialization to take place, the religiosity of parents must go beyond verbal assent to certain beliefs, but rather must be lived out on a consistent basis (see also Bader and Desmond 2006; Putnam and Campbell 2010). Smith and Denton also point out that parents who are more theologically conservative (e.g., conservative Protestants, Mormons) have demonstrably greater success at religiously socializing their children compared with parents who are more theologically liberal. This trend is likely due to conservative parents' greater adherence to scriptural commands to perpetuate the faith and raise faithful children. Other studies add that children are more likely to adopt the religious and social values of parents when parents are in agreement about religion, family structure is more traditional (i.e., mother is around the children more, both biological parents are present, family avoids major disruptions), and the parent–child relationship is stronger (Denton and Culver 2015; Hoge et al. 1982; Myers 1996; Petts 2015). In summary, parents who are themselves faithfully religious, theologically conservative, and who have better quality relationships with their children are more likely to transmit religious heritage to posterity.

Summary and Hypotheses

To sum up relevant findings discussed thus far, research on religion and pornography use finds that more frequent porn use among religious persons is associated with guilt and diminished feelings of closeness with God or interest in spiritual things. Within the family, more frequent porn use is associated with lower levels of relationship commitment and intimacy between romantic partners as well as lower levels of closeness and interaction between parents and children. And lastly, religious socialization more effectively takes place when parent–child relationships are stronger, and parents are not only vocal about their religious convictions, but are faithfully living those out in front of children. In light of these findings, it would be reasonable to expect that the guilt and emotional distance between parents and children created by more frequent porn viewing would result in parents less frequently engaging in direct religious socialization of their children. Stated more formally, I predict that:

Hypothesis 1 Among parents, more frequent pornography consumption will be associated with less frequent religious socialization of their children, net of other factors.

Because the stigma and shame associated with more frequent porn consumption would be particularly salient among persons who are already religiously committed and theologically traditional or conservative (Baltazar et al. 2010; Nelson et al. 2010; Patterson and Price 2012; Short et al. 2015), it would also be reasonable to expect that those who are more religious and conservative by various measures will be more strongly affected by porn use in the frequency, with which they religiously socialize their children. Correspondingly, the negative influence of more frequent pornography consumption among religious persons would likely have the result of weakening, or even negating, the positive relationship between certain religious factors and parents' religious socialization. Thus, I expect:

Hypothesis 2a Among parents, the negative effects of more frequent pornography consumption on religious socialization will be stronger for those who are more religiously committed and conservative.

And as a corollary to this expectation, I predict:

Hypothesis 2b Among parents, more frequent pornography consumption will negate the positive effects of religious commitment and conservatism on their religious socialization.

Lastly, research consistently shows that pornography use is more pervasive and frequent among males (Doring 2009) and thus the negative social or psychic consequences of porn use are often felt most strongly by men (Baltazar et al. 2010; Doran and Price 2014; Patterson and Price 2012; Perry 2015). This would lead us to expect, therefore, that the theorized negative effect of more frequent porn consumption on parents' engaging in religious socialization with their children would be experienced more strongly for fathers than mothers. Therefore, I predict:

Hypothesis 3 Among parents, the negative effects of pornography consumption on religious socialization will be stronger for males than for females.

METHODS

Data

I test the above hypotheses using data from Wave 1 of the Portraits of American Life Study (PALS), which was fielded in 2006. PALS is a nationally representative panel survey with questions focusing on a variety of topics including social networks, moral and political attitudes, and religious life. The PALS sampling frame includes the civilian, non-institutionalized household population in the continental USA who were 18 years of age or older at the time the survey was conducted. Surveys were administered in English or Spanish. From April to October 2006, face-to-face interviews were conducted with 2,610 respondents in their homes. Interviewers used audio computer-assisted self-interviewing (ACASI) for more sensitive questions (e.g., how often they view pornography). The response rate was 58 percent. PALS data include sampling weights that, once applied, bring the PALS sample in line with the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey (ACS) 3-year average estimates for 2005–2007 (Emerson et al. 2010). These weights are used in all analyses. Because this study focuses on parent–child relationships, only respondents who had children at the time of the study are included in the analytical sample. The full models ultimately use data from 1,501 respondents who provided valid responses to focal measures used in the analyses.4

Religious Socialization

The outcome of interest for this study is how often parents religiously socialize their children. I operationalize this outcome using a PALS question about how often respondents talk or read about religion with their children. PALS asked respondents: “How often do you talk or read about religion, God, or spirituality with your child or children?” Responses ranged from 1 = never to 7 = more than once a day. Respondents with higher scores on this measure are understood to more frequently engage their child(ren) with intentional reading and conversations about their religious faith, and thus, this is a helpful measure of proactive religious socialization. Because the measure has seven values, I use ordinary least squares (OLS) regression to estimate multivariate models.5

Pornography Consumption

The focal independent variable is respondents' frequency of pornography consumption in the previous year. To measure frequency of porn use among American adults, PALS asked respondents, “In the past twelve months, how often have you viewed pornographic materials?” Responses ranged from 1 = once a day or more to 8 = never. I reverse coded the responses so that higher values indicate more frequent porn viewing. I include this measure as a continuous-level variable in the multivariate analyses. To be sure, social desirability could prevent honest answers given that porn consumption in larger amounts is still viewed as morally objectionable, particularly for religious persons (Baltazar et al. 2010; Doran and Price 2014). Emerson et al. (2010) explain that for questions like this, each PALS respondent wore earphones to hear the questions prerecorded, and then entered their responses directly into the computer apart from the knowledge or help of the interviewer. This procedure would help obviate social desirability bias for this question.

Religious and Sociodemographic Controls

Sociodemographic controls include the following. Age is measured in years, from 19 to 80. I constructed dichotomous dummy variables for gender (male = 1), whether respondents were married (yes = 1), whether respondents had children in the home (yes = 1), whether respondents had children not in the home7 (yes = 1), education (bachelor’s degree or higher = 1), region (South = 1), and political affiliation (republican = 1), and a series of dummy variables were used for race (white = reference). Household income is measured in categories from (1) less than $5,000 to (19)$200,000 or more. For descriptive statistics on all variables, see Table 1.

TABLE 1

Descriptive Statistics, Mean Comparisons, and Bivariate Correlations

Variables Description Full (N = 1,501)

Females (N = 833)

Males (N = 667)

Mean or % SD Corr. w/DV Mean or % SD Corr. w/DV Mean or % SD Corr. w/DV
Talk or read about religion/god/spirituality w/children Never = 1, More than once a day = 7 3.2 1.7  3.4a 1.7  2.9 1.6
Pornography consumption Never = 1, Once a day or more = 8 1.7 1.3 −.08*** 1.3a .7 .05 2.1 1.8 −.08*
Religious service attendance Never = 1, Several times a week = 8 3.9 2.2 .35*** 4.1a 2.2 .33*** 3.7 2.2 .35***
Evangelical Protestant (ref.) Evangelical Protestant = 1 30%  .13*** 28%b  .09** 32%  .19***
Mainline Protestant Mainline Protestant = 1 15%  −.06* 16%c  −.04 14%  −.09*
Black Protestant Black Protestant = 1 6%  .08** 8%b  .09** 5%  .05
Other Protestant Other Protestant = 1 4%  −.01 3%  .02 4%  −.05
Catholic Catholic = 1 29%  −.03 28%  −.03 29%  −.02
Jewish Jewish = 1 2%  −.01 2%  −.02 1%  −.02
Other religion Other Religion = 1 5%  −.03 4%  .00 6%  −.07+
Unaffiliated Unaffiliated = 1 10%  −.12*** 10%  −.13*** 10%  −.12**
Scriptures fully inspired Scriptures Fully Inspired = 1 65%  .25*** 66%b  .25*** 64%  .25***
Religion's influence on childbearing None = 1, Most Important Influence = 5 1.6 1.1 .25*** 1.6b 1.1 .27*** 1.5 1.1 .21***
Age In years from 19 to 80 49 14.7 −.29*** 48c 15.1 −.34*** 49 14.3 −.21***
Male Male = 1 44%  −.17***
Married Married = 1 70%  −.03 64%a  −.05 78%  .07
Lives with child(ren) Lives with Child(ren) = 1 63%  .32*** 65%a  .37*** 61%  .24***
Child(ren) not living in household Child(ren) not living in Household = 1 60%  −.26*** 58%a  −.34*** 64%  −.15***
Bachelors or higher Bachelors or Higher = 1 25%  .05 22%b  .05 28%  .08*
Household income Less than $5,000 = 1,$200,000 or more = 19 9.6 4.6 .02 9.2b 4.6 .02 10.1 4.4 .06
South South = 1 33%  .07** 32%  .05 33%  .10**
White (ref.) White = 1 71%  −.14*** 70%  −.15*** 72%  −.13***
Black Black = 1 11%  .09*** 13%  .10** 10%  .05
Hispanic Hispanic = 1 13%  .12*** 12%  −.02 14%  .14***
Asian Asian = 1 5%  −.02 4%  −.01 5%  −.02
Native American Native American = 1 1%  −.01 1%  −.01 1%  −.01
Republican Republican = 1 30%  .05* 28%c  .06 32%  .06
Variables Description Full (N = 1,501)

Females (N = 833)

Males (N = 667)

Mean or % SD Corr. w/DV Mean or % SD Corr. w/DV Mean or % SD Corr. w/DV
Talk or read about religion/god/spirituality w/children Never = 1, More than once a day = 7 3.2 1.7  3.4a 1.7  2.9 1.6
Pornography consumption Never = 1, Once a day or more = 8 1.7 1.3 −.08*** 1.3a .7 .05 2.1 1.8 −.08*
Religious service attendance Never = 1, Several times a week = 8 3.9 2.2 .35*** 4.1a 2.2 .33*** 3.7 2.2 .35***
Evangelical Protestant (ref.) Evangelical Protestant = 1 30%  .13*** 28%b  .09** 32%  .19***
Mainline Protestant Mainline Protestant = 1 15%  −.06* 16%c  −.04 14%  −.09*
Black Protestant Black Protestant = 1 6%  .08** 8%b  .09** 5%  .05
Other Protestant Other Protestant = 1 4%  −.01 3%  .02 4%  −.05
Catholic Catholic = 1 29%  −.03 28%  −.03 29%  −.02
Jewish Jewish = 1 2%  −.01 2%  −.02 1%  −.02
Other religion Other Religion = 1 5%  −.03 4%  .00 6%  −.07+
Unaffiliated Unaffiliated = 1 10%  −.12*** 10%  −.13*** 10%  −.12**
Scriptures fully inspired Scriptures Fully Inspired = 1 65%  .25*** 66%b  .25*** 64%  .25***
Religion's influence on childbearing None = 1, Most Important Influence = 5 1.6 1.1 .25*** 1.6b 1.1 .27*** 1.5 1.1 .21***
Age In years from 19 to 80 49 14.7 −.29*** 48c 15.1 −.34*** 49 14.3 −.21***
Male Male = 1 44%  −.17***
Married Married = 1 70%  −.03 64%a  −.05 78%  .07
Lives with child(ren) Lives with Child(ren) = 1 63%  .32*** 65%a  .37*** 61%  .24***
Child(ren) not living in household Child(ren) not living in Household = 1 60%  −.26*** 58%a  −.34*** 64%  −.15***
Bachelors or higher Bachelors or Higher = 1 25%  .05 22%b  .05 28%  .08*
Household income Less than $5,000 = 1,$200,000 or more = 19 9.6 4.6 .02 9.2b 4.6 .02 10.1 4.4 .06
South South = 1 33%  .07** 32%  .05 33%  .10**
White (ref.) White = 1 71%  −.14*** 70%  −.15*** 72%  −.13***
Black Black = 1 11%  .09*** 13%  .10** 10%  .05
Hispanic Hispanic = 1 13%  .12*** 12%  −.02 14%  .14***
Asian Asian = 1 5%  −.02 4%  −.01 5%  −.02
Native American Native American = 1 1%  −.01 1%  −.01 1%  −.01
Republican Republican = 1 30%  .05* 28%c  .06 32%  .06

Source: 2006 PALS.

aDifference between males and females significant at .001

bDifference between males and females significant at .01.

cDifference between males and females significant at .05.

+p ≤ .10; *p ≤ .05; **p ≤ .01; ***p ≤ .001 (two-tailed tests).

Plan of Analysis

The analysis proceeds as follows. Along with descriptive statistics for the whole sample, Table 1 presents mean comparisons for males and females on all measures in the analysis along with zero-order correlations between the religious socialization measure and all independent variables for the full sample and for males and females separately. Table 2 presents OLS regression models predicting religious socialization. Model 1 provides a baseline and includes all control variables without the measure of pornography consumption. Model 2 adds pornography consumption. Models 3 and 4 include significant interaction terms between pornography consumption and belief in scriptural inspiration (Model 3) and religion's influence on childbearing (Model 4). Table 3 presents OLS models predicting religious socialization with the samples split by gender. I also include a third model in which I present a significant interaction effect between pornography consumption and religion's influence on childbearing for males.

TABLE 2

OLS Regression Predicting Frequency of Talking or Reading About Religion/God/Spirituality with Children

Predictors Model 1

Model 2

Model 3

Model 4

b SE β b SE β b SE β b SE β
Pornography consumption    −.078** .029 −.063 −.020 .040 −.016 .033 .047 .027
Religion controls
Religious service attendance .236*** .019 .307 .232*** .019 .301 .230*** .019 .299 .231*** .019 .301
Mainline Protestanta −.383*** .116 −.082 −.381*** .116 −.082 −.380*** .116 −.082 −.371*** .116 −.080
Black Protestanta −.136 .204 −.020 −.164 .205 −.024 −.143 .205 −.021 −.130 .205 −.019
Other Protestanta −.179 .201 −.020 −.169 .201 −.019 −.162 .200 −.018 −.170 .200 −.019
Catholica −.630*** .103 −.170 −.619*** .103 −.167 −.606*** .103 −.164 −.604*** .103 −.163
Jewisha −.320 .298 −.024 −.296 .298 −.022 −.317 .298 −.024 −.285 .297 −.021
Other religiona −.462* .195 −.059 −.437* .195 −.056 −.466* .195 −.059 −.422* .194 −.054
Unaffiliateda −.454*** .139 −.082 −.451*** .139 −.081 −.451*** .139 −.081 −.453*** .138 −.082
Scriptures fully inspired .308*** .083 .088 .281*** .084 .080 .482*** .126 .137 .292*** .083 .083
Religion's influence on childbearing .239*** .034 .158 .239*** .034 .158 .239*** .034 .158 .349*** .049 .231
Porn cons. × scripture fully inspired       −.114* .054 −.081
Porn cons. × rel. influence on childbearing          −.072** .024 −.129
Sociodemographic controls
Age −.018*** .003 −.163 −.020*** .003 −.177 −.019*** .003 −.171 −.020*** .003 −.173
Male −.390*** .073 −.116 −.318*** .077 −.095 −.323*** .077 −.096 −.321*** .077 −.096
Married −.199* .086 −.054 −.201* .086 −.055 −.208* .086 −.057 −.185* .086 −.051
Lives with child(ren) .703*** .101 .203 .707*** .101 .204 .713*** .101 .204 .723*** .101 .205
Child(ren) not living in household −.138 .099 −.041 −.140 .099 −.041 −.145 .099 −.042 −.134 .098 −.039
Bachelors or higher .154 .096 .040 .160+ .096 .041 .170+ .096 .044 .166+ .096 .043
Household income .017+ .010 .045 .018+ .010 .050 .019+ .010 .053 .016 .010 .044
South .120 .077 .034 .127 .077 .036 .126 .077 .035 .122 .077 .034
Blackb −.043 .161 −.008 −.001 .162 .000 −.007 .162 −.001 −.012 .162 −.002
Hispanicb .464*** .121 .094 .465*** .122 .093 .469*** .122 .094 .463*** .122 .093
Asianb −.277 .195 −.034 −.312 .195 −.038 −.301 .195 −.036 −.306 .195 −.037
Native Americanb .331 .463 .015 .340 .462 .016 .353 .462 .016 .337 .461 .016
Republican −.113 .085 −.031 −.119 .085 −.033 −.115 .085 −.031 −.116 .085 −.032
Constant 2.344*** .289  2.527*** .299  2.657*** .255  2.604*** .254
Adjusted R2 .335   .337   .339   .341
N 1,506   1,501   1,501   1,501
Predictors Model 1

Model 2

Model 3

Model 4

b SE β b SE β b SE β b SE β
Pornography consumption    −.078** .029 −.063 −.020 .040 −.016 .033 .047 .027
Religion controls
Religious service attendance .236*** .019 .307 .232*** .019 .301 .230*** .019 .299 .231*** .019 .301
Mainline Protestanta −.383*** .116 −.082 −.381*** .116 −.082 −.380*** .116 −.082 −.371*** .116 −.080
Black Protestanta −.136 .204 −.020 −.164 .205 −.024 −.143 .205 −.021 −.130 .205 −.019
Other Protestanta −.179 .201 −.020 −.169 .201 −.019 −.162 .200 −.018 −.170 .200 −.019
Catholica −.630*** .103 −.170 −.619*** .103 −.167 −.606*** .103 −.164 −.604*** .103 −.163
Jewisha −.320 .298 −.024 −.296 .298 −.022 −.317 .298 −.024 −.285 .297 −.021
Other religiona −.462* .195 −.059 −.437* .195 −.056 −.466* .195 −.059 −.422* .194 −.054
Unaffiliateda −.454*** .139 −.082 −.451*** .139 −.081 −.451*** .139 −.081 −.453*** .138 −.082
Scriptures fully inspired .308*** .083 .088 .281*** .084 .080 .482*** .126 .137 .292*** .083 .083
Religion's influence on childbearing .239*** .034 .158 .239*** .034 .158 .239*** .034 .158 .349*** .049 .231
Porn cons. × scripture fully inspired       −.114* .054 −.081
Porn cons. × rel. influence on childbearing          −.072** .024 −.129
Sociodemographic controls
Age −.018*** .003 −.163 −.020*** .003 −.177 −.019*** .003 −.171 −.020*** .003 −.173
Male −.390*** .073 −.116 −.318*** .077 −.095 −.323*** .077 −.096 −.321*** .077 −.096
Married −.199* .086 −.054 −.201* .086 −.055 −.208* .086 −.057 −.185* .086 −.051
Lives with child(ren) .703*** .101 .203 .707*** .101 .204 .713*** .101 .204 .723*** .101 .205
Child(ren) not living in household −.138 .099 −.041 −.140 .099 −.041 −.145 .099 −.042 −.134 .098 −.039
Bachelors or higher .154 .096 .040 .160+ .096 .041 .170+ .096 .044 .166+ .096 .043
Household income .017+ .010 .045 .018+ .010 .050 .019+ .010 .053 .016 .010 .044
South .120 .077 .034 .127 .077 .036 .126 .077 .035 .122 .077 .034
Blackb −.043 .161 −.008 −.001 .162 .000 −.007 .162 −.001 −.012 .162 −.002
Hispanicb .464*** .121 .094 .465*** .122 .093 .469*** .122 .094 .463*** .122 .093
Asianb −.277 .195 −.034 −.312 .195 −.038 −.301 .195 −.036 −.306 .195 −.037
Native Americanb .331 .463 .015 .340 .462 .016 .353 .462 .016 .337 .461 .016
Republican −.113 .085 −.031 −.119 .085 −.033 −.115 .085 −.031 −.116 .085 −.032
Constant 2.344*** .289  2.527*** .299  2.657*** .255  2.604*** .254
Adjusted R2 .335   .337   .339   .341
N 1,506   1,501   1,501   1,501

Source: 2006 PALS.

aEvangelical Protestant is reference category.

bWhite is reference category.

+p ≤ .10; *p ≤ .05; **p ≤ .01; ***p ≤ .001 (two-tailed tests).

TABLE 3

OLS Regression Predicting Frequency of Talking or Reading About Religion/God/Spirituality with Children Across Gender

Predictors Females

Males

Males (with interaction)

b SE β b SE β b SE β
Pornography consumption −.036 .072 −.015 −.082* .033 −.089 −.074 .053 .081
Religion controls
Religious service attendance .227*** .025 .290 .235*** .028 .320 .229*** .028 .312
Mainline Protestanta −.169 .153 −.037 −.620*** .180 −.133 −.577*** .179 −.124
Black Protestanta −.036 .271 −.006 −.402 .316 −.055 −.291 .315 −.040
Other Protestanta .184 .276 .020 −.469 .295 −.055 −.474 .292 −.056
Catholica −.490*** .145 −.131 −.786*** .149 −.223 −.761*** .148 −.216
Jewisha −.031 .365 −.003 −.974+ .540 −.061 −1.100* .536 −.069
Other religiona −.527+ .275 −.062 −.433 .283 −.062 −.376 .280 −.054
Unaffiliateda −.478* .189 −.086 −.391+ .208 −.074 −.383+ .206 −.074
Scriptures fully inspired .384*** .114 .108 .241+ .126 .072 .281* .125 .084
Religion's influence on childbearing .246*** .044 .166 .229*** .054 .152 .432*** .077 .287
Porn cons. × rel. influence on childbearing       −.099*** .027 −.244
Sociodemographic controls
Age −.017*** .005 −.153 −.022*** .005 −.196 −.021*** .005 −.190
Married −.339** .114 −.097 −.004 .135 −.001 .046 .135 .012
Lives with child(ren) .703*** .140 .199 .750*** .151 .229 .776*** .149 .237
Child(ren) not living in household −.403** .138 −.118 .144 .143 .043 .180 .141 .054
Bachelors or higher .051 .131 .012 .260+ .146 .073 .280+ .144 .079
Household income .035** .013 .097 .003 .016 .009 −.001 .015 −.003
South .021 .105 .006 .250* .118 .073 .239* .117 .070
Blackb −.014 .220 −.003 .019 .245 .004 −.022 .243 −.004
Hispanicb .456** .169 .089 .494** .178 .106 .510** .177 .109
Asianb −.217 .266 −.025 −.384 .293 −.051 −.359 .290 −.047
Native Americanb .254 .567 .013 .723 .811 .029 .713 .803 .029
Republican −.261* .118 −.069 −.007 .126 −.002 −.004 .125 −.001
Constant 2.648*** .347 −.015 2.405*** .374  1.988*** .387
N 833   667   667
Predictors Females

Males

Males (with interaction)

b SE β b SE β b SE β
Pornography consumption −.036 .072 −.015 −.082* .033 −.089 −.074 .053 .081
Religion controls
Religious service attendance .227*** .025 .290 .235*** .028 .320 .229*** .028 .312
Mainline Protestanta −.169 .153 −.037 −.620*** .180 −.133 −.577*** .179 −.124
Black Protestanta −.036 .271 −.006 −.402 .316 −.055 −.291 .315 −.040
Other Protestanta .184 .276 .020 −.469 .295 −.055 −.474 .292 −.056
Catholica −.490*** .145 −.131 −.786*** .149 −.223 −.761*** .148 −.216
Jewisha −.031 .365 −.003 −.974+ .540 −.061 −1.100* .536 −.069
Other religiona −.527+ .275 −.062 −.433 .283 −.062 −.376 .280 −.054
Unaffiliateda −.478* .189 −.086 −.391+ .208 −.074 −.383+ .206 −.074
Scriptures fully inspired .384*** .114 .108 .241+ .126 .072 .281* .125 .084
Religion's influence on childbearing .246*** .044 .166 .229*** .054 .152 .432*** .077 .287
Porn cons. × rel. influence on childbearing       −.099*** .027 −.244
Sociodemographic controls
Age −.017*** .005 −.153 −.022*** .005 −.196 −.021*** .005 −.190
Married −.339** .114 −.097 −.004 .135 −.001 .046 .135 .012
Lives with child(ren) .703*** .140 .199 .750*** .151 .229 .776*** .149 .237
Child(ren) not living in household −.403** .138 −.118 .144 .143 .043 .180 .141 .054
Bachelors or higher .051 .131 .012 .260+ .146 .073 .280+ .144 .079
Household income .035** .013 .097 .003 .016 .009 −.001 .015 −.003
South .021 .105 .006 .250* .118 .073 .239* .117 .070
Blackb −.014 .220 −.003 .019 .245 .004 −.022 .243 −.004
Hispanicb .456** .169 .089 .494** .178 .106 .510** .177 .109
Asianb −.217 .266 −.025 −.384 .293 −.051 −.359 .290 −.047
Native Americanb .254 .567 .013 .723 .811 .029 .713 .803 .029
Republican −.261* .118 −.069 −.007 .126 −.002 −.004 .125 −.001
Constant 2.648*** .347 −.015 2.405*** .374  1.988*** .387
N 833   667   667

Source: 2006 PALS.

aEvangelical Protestant is reference category.

bWhite is reference category.

+p ≤ .10; *p ≤ .05; **p ≤ .01; ***p ≤ .001 (two-tailed tests).

RESULTS

Looking at the mean comparisons for males and females in Table 1, several differences are worth noting. Males tend to engage in reading or conversations with their children about religion less frequently than females while also looking at pornography more frequently on average. Males also tend to be less religious than females across the board in that they attend church less frequently, hold less faith in full scriptural inspiration, and were less influenced by religious factors in their decisions about childbearing. The bivariate correlations for the full sample indicate that pornography consumption is significantly and negatively associated with the frequency with which parents talk or read about religion, God, or spirituality with their child(ren). Although the correlation is not particularly large (r = −.08), it is statistically significant at the .001 level. When the sample is split up by gender, only males show a significant correlation between porn consumption and parents' talking or reading about religion with their children (r = −.08, p < .01). For females, the correlation is actually positive, but statistically insignificant (r = .05, p = ns). These bivariate findings would lend initial support to Hypotheses 1 and 3.

Turning to the multivariate analyses, Model 1 in Table 2 indicates that a variety of religious and sociodemographic factors are strongly associated with the frequency with which parents talk or read with their children about religion. Unsurprisingly, religious commitment and conservatism are strongly associated with religious socialization. Parents who attend religious services more often, believe in the full inspiration of their sacred text, and were highly influenced by religion in their childbearing decision all talk or read with their children more frequently about religion. Parents who are evangelicals tend to talk or read with their children about religion more often than all other religious faiths, but this difference is only significant for mainline Protestants, Catholics, people of other religious faiths, and the unaffiliated. Looking at significant sociodemographic predictors, parents who are older, male, and married all tend to talk or read about religion with their children less often, while parents who live with their children, have higher household incomes (marginally), and are Hispanic (versus white) talk about religion with their children more often. The significant effects observed in Model 1 generally remain throughout all models in the analysis.

Model 2 introduces the measure for frequency of pornography consumption, which is negative and statistically significant at the .01 level. Thus, even while controlling for relevant factors, including respondents' religious identification, religious commitment (in terms of practice), theological conservatism, and previous influence of religion in childbearing decisions, parents who more frequently view pornography tend to talk or read with their children about religion, God, or spirituality less frequently.8 The first hypothesis is thus supported.

Models 3 and 4 include significant interaction terms. I tested for interactions between pornography consumption and all religious measures, as well as some important sociodemographic factors, but only two were significant. Model 3 includes the interaction term for porn use and belief in full scriptural inspiration. While belief in scriptural inspiration is strongly and positively associated with religious socialization in Model 2, the interaction term in Model 3 is significant and negative. This indicates that pornography consumption has a stronger negative effect on religious socialization among those who believe in full scriptural inspiration. This also indicates that pornography consumption negates some of the positive effect of belief in full scriptural inspiration on the frequency with which parents religiously socialize their children.

Reflecting a similar pattern, Model 4 includes the interaction term for porn use and religion's influence on the childbearing decision. Although the coefficient for religion's influence on childbearing is strongly positive in Model 2, the interaction term in Model 4 is significant and negative. This indicates that more frequent pornography consumption more strongly reduces the frequency of religious socialization among those whom were more strongly influenced by religion in their childbearing decisions, and weakens the positive effect of this measure on religious socialization. These findings affirm the second set of hypotheses.

To understand how these effects may differ for fathers and mothers, Table 3 presents OLS models predicting religious socialization with the sample split by gender. For females, pornography consumption does not have a significant effect on the frequency with which they talk or read about religion, God, or spirituality with their children. For males, however, the effect of pornography consumption on their religious socialization of their children is negative and significant at .013. The difference between males and females on this effect is even more pronounced considering the analytic sample for females is a good deal larger than that for males.

When I tested for significant interactions between pornography consumption and relevant correlates of religious socialization, none were significant for females. For males, however, there was a strongly significant interaction effect between pornography consumption and how strongly religion influenced their decision about how many children to have. As for the full sample, the negative interaction term indicates that more frequent pornography consumption had a stronger negative effect on fathers' religious socialization of their children for those fathers who were more influenced by religion in their childbearing decision. This also indicates that porn viewing weakens the positive effect of religion's influence on childbearing on the frequency with which fathers talk or read about religion with their children.

Figure 1 illustrates how more frequent pornography consumption moderates the link between religion's influence on childbearing and religious socialization for fathers. Among fathers who rarely or never view pornography, those who were highly influenced by religion in their childbearing decision tend to talk or read about religion with their children far more often than those who were not influenced by religion at all. As fathers view pornography more often, however, those who were strongly influenced by religion in their childbearing decision decline in the frequency with which they talk to their children about religion to the point where they are indistinguishable from fathers who were uninfluenced by religion in their childbearing at all. Thus, not only is more frequent pornography consumption negatively related to respondents' religious socialization of their children, even after controlling for religious characteristics, but pornography consumption seems to diminish the strong effects of theological conservatism and religion's influence on childbearing on parents' religious socialization as well, and particularly that of fathers.

FIGURE 1

Predicted Values of Talking or Reading about Religion/God/Spirituality with Children on Pornography Consumption and Religion's Influence on Childbearing (Males Only).

FIGURE 1

Predicted Values of Talking or Reading about Religion/God/Spirituality with Children on Pornography Consumption and Religion's Influence on Childbearing (Males Only).

DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS

As pornography consumption has become increasingly commonplace in the USA, there is a greater need to understand how its pervasive use might shape important institutions including both the family and religion. As a step toward addressing this need, the current study examined the extent to which more frequent porn viewing might influence parents' religious socialization of their children, and how this effect might vary between mothers and fathers. Drawing on data from the 2006 PALS and focusing on the frequency with which parents read or talk about religion with their children as a measure of religious socialization, the analyses demonstrate that parents who more frequently consume pornography tend to less frequently engage their children with reading or discussion about religion, even after controlling for relevant religious and sociodemographic predictors. Moreover, significant interaction effects indicate that pornography consumption also reduces (even negates) the effect of several religious factors (theological conservatism and religion's influence on childbearing decisions) that strongly influence parents' to talk about religion with their children. Lastly, dividing up the sample by gender indicates that the observed negative effects of pornography consumption on parents' religious socialization of their children apply primarily to fathers.

Before further discussing the implications of this study, several limitations should be acknowledged in order to establish directions for future research. First, the 2006 PALS data are cross-sectional and thus I am unable to make stronger causal arguments about pornography's relationship to parents' religious socialization of their children. Yet there are good reasons to hold the directional relationship assumed here. First, previous experimental and qualitative studies of pornography use and romantic/marriage relationships suggest that it is more often porn consumption that affects relationship outcomes rather than vice versa (Bergner and Bridges 2002; Lambert et al. 2012; Zillmann and Bryant 1988), and thus there is stronger precedent for the causal model supposed here. Second, given that the analysis controls for parents' religious characteristics (identity, commitment, theological conservatism, influence on childbearing), it makes more intuitive sense to argue that more frequent pornography consumption influences parents' religious socialization of their children rather than the reverse: that parents' less frequent religious socialization of their children somehow stimulates more frequent pornography use. Nevertheless, future studies would obviously do well to make use of available longitudinal data and/or qualitative studies that would allow researchers to establish temporal precedence.

A second possible limitation is the measure for pornography consumption. While the PALS measure is helpful in that it is straightforward and includes a range of “pornography” viewing (“never” to “once a day or more”), it is limited in that it does not indicate what types of pornography are consumed. Viewing sexually explicit media that mainstream culture would define as “standard fare” (e.g., adult heterosexual sex) might have a different influence on one's religious socialization of one's children than media containing more culturally “deviant” sexual activities (e.g., sex with multiple partners, younger partners, various fetishes). To the extent that fathers view sexually explicit media that is more “hardcore” or “deviant” than mothers, they might be more strongly affected by shame and cognitive dissonance, and thus, this might help explain the stronger relationship observed between their pornography consumption and religious socialization of their children. Future research on this topic would thus benefit from using measures of pornography that provide greater detail about what types of sexually explicit media are typically used. Qualitative interviews that allow parents to elaborate on their pornography consumption would help address this issue as well.

And lastly, while this study focuses the frequency with which parents talk or read about religion with their children as a measure of their religious socialization, I am unable to account for the ways parents might influence their children's religious lives in other important ways such as faithfully practicing religious attendance, prayer, or sacred text reading, or channeling their children into social networks of committed coreligionists. Moreover, I do not measure how religious the children turn out to be later on. Though I am unaware of available data, future studies could approach this topic in a more comprehensive way by examining the religious lives of the children of frequent pornography users over the life course.

Despite these limitations, the findings of this study are an important step in understanding not only how religion shapes Americans' attitudes toward and consumption of pornography, but also how the increasing availability and use of pornography might react back on religion in important ways. Pornography has become particularly common among adolescent males, both religious and irreligious (Baltazar et al. 2010; Nelson et al. 2010; Short et al. 2015). As these adolescents grow up, engage in romance, and become parents, it is reasonable to expect that they would carry their consistent pornography use into these romantic and parenting relationships. For those who are particularly religious, their use of pornography would more likely be accompanied by religious guilt and shame, cognitive dissonance, and even scrupulousness, influencing them to withdraw and be less inclined to engage in spiritual activities with their partner and children.

The implications of these findings for the future of religion in the USA are important to consider. Pornography is becoming more and more accessible and its use more accepted within broader society. Yet conservative religious subcultures still consistently oppose the use of pornography as sexually “deviant” and sinful (Putnam and Campbell 2010). The increasing availability and use of pornography in correspondence with religious proscriptions and community opposition to its use could be a source of increasing tension, shame, and cognitive dissonance among religious spouses and parents, influencing them to disengage from religious interaction due to shame and scrupulousness, or perhaps just be too preoccupied with their pornography habit to interact with others. This situation could in some ways contribute to the decline of religious identification and commitment through generations. As several scholars of religious transmission and socialization have emphasized (e.g., Bader and Desmond 2006; Smith and Denton 2005; Putnam and Campbell 2010), religious belief and conviction are more effectively transmitted to children when parents are consistently heard and seen living out their faith convictions. The less parents, and particularly fathers, are seen and heard living their religion, the less religious future generations will likely be.

An alternative possibility is that pornography use will become increasingly normalized (or at least rationalized) to the point where its habitual use is no longer associated with guilt or withdrawal, even among religious persons. Indeed, some scholars point out that religious men occasionally justify their frequent pornography use as preferable to promiscuity or infidelity. Such persons, they argue, can still be highly devout and still view pornography in private in similar frequencies to irreligious persons (Abell et al. 2006; Goodson et al. 2001). In this scenario, religious socialization will be less effected by more frequent pornography use as religious fathers rationalize or accept its use as a minor vice rather than a shameful act of sexual deviance.

As an area of future research to explore, within the past two decades a number of evangelical organizations such as XXXChurch.com or Covenant Eyes have developed “accountability software” (for free or for pay) in an attempt to discourage young men, husbands, and fathers from accessing internet pornography and potentially damaging their families and/or faith (Behun et al. 2012). These organizations, as well as other concerned Christian leaders, have also developed training materials and other literature to support this cause (e.g., Driscoll 2009). Although the author is unaware of available data on the topic, future studies could explore the efficacy of such efforts at curbing the influence of pornography in the lives of religious persons and the negative consequences for religious transmission within families.

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1
While “pornography” is notoriously difficult to define, studies and national data sets (e.g., the General Social Surveys, Portraits of American Life Study, Baylor Religion Surveys) still ask questions about “pornography” attitudes and consumption, and thus I use the term here. Throughout this study, pornography will be understood as visual material (magazines, movies, internet images) intended to sexually arouse the viewer. I use the terms “pornography” and “porn” interchangeably.
2
To explain their findings, these scholars propose that, because pornography consumption is typically done in private, religious persons (and especially males) might justify its use as preferable to sexual promiscuity, and thus, such persons can be very religious while still viewing pornography in private in similar frequency to irreligious persons.
3
To be sure, many of these studies are cross-sectional, and thus, marital troubles could also lead to greater porn consumption. However, qualitative and experimental studies suggest that it is more often porn consumption that leads to relational problems (Bergner and Bridges 2002; Lambert et al. 2012; Zillmann and Bryant 1988).
4
Although the 2012 Wave 2 of PALS is available, the data do not contain a measure of pornography use and thus I am unable to discern whether a change in pornography consumption between 2006 and 2012 led to a change in parents' religious socialization in 2012. Additionally, the 6-year difference between waves makes it difficult to argue that pornography consumption in 2005 (the 12 months prior to Wave 1) led to changes in parent–child interaction in 2012. Consequently, I use only the 2006 wave of PALS.
5
Because of the 7-value coding of the dependent variable, I also ran models using ordered logistic regression and tobit regression (available upon request). The results were virtually identical in both substantive effect and statistical significance. However, the data failed to meet the proportional odds assumption of ordered logistic regression and the dependent variable was not left or right censored in the sense that typically requires tobit regression. Consequently, I decided to utilize OLS as the most appropriate model estimation procedure.
6
PALS included other measures of theological conservatism including the extent to which respondents believe in a literal 6-day creation account (indirectly measuring belief in Biblical literalism) or the extent to which they believe their sacred text had spiritual/moral errors or scientific/historical errors (measuring belief in scriptural inerrancy). These measures yielded similar results to the measure for scriptural inspiration and did not influence the important substantive findings regarding the focal independent variables.
7
Unfortunately, 2006 PALS only includes yes/no-type measures for whether a respondent had children in the home or out of the home. In future studies on this topic, it would be helpful to also know how many children the respondent had in the home as well as the children's ages, since the frequency with which parents religiously socialize their children would likely vary by these factors, and these factors could even moderate or mediate the relationship between more frequent pornography consumption and parents' religious socialization. The author thanks an anonymous reviewer for pointing out this need.
8
In supplementary analyses (not shown), I also experimented with various binary codings of the pornography consumption measure to discern if there was a noticeable threshold of pornography viewing that correlated most strongly with parents' tendency to religiously socialize their children. Ultimately, the only significant binary coding was between parents who reported that they ever viewed pornographic materials in the previous 12 months vs. those who stated that they never viewed pornography. However, this is likely due to the smaller numbers of PALS respondents who report that they view pornography at the highest frequencies. In contrast, predicted values for the continuous-level coding of pornography consumption on parents' religious socialization shows a more consistent decline in parents' religious socialization as pornography consumption increases.

Author notes

*
Direct correspondence to Samuel L. Perry, Department of Sociology, University of Oklahoma, 780 Van Vleet Oval, Kaufman Hall, Norman, OK 73019, USA. E-mail: samperry2011@gmail.com. Data and coding specifications for the purposes of replication are available from the author upon request.