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BYU researchers say religious porn users are more likely to mess up relationships

Group says sex, porn not addictive in response to Utah's porn public health crisis. (KUTV)

(KUTV) A religious person is more likely to call themselves a porn addict and compound problems in relationships because of the shame of being seen as damaged goods, according to new research coming out of Brigham Young University in Provo.

“The way the person is thinking about this influences the way they are thinking of themselves in regards to potential longterm relationships,” BYU researcher Nathan D. Leonhardt told 2News in a phone interview.

There is a wide spectrum of how often people use porn, he said. While there are a very high amount of people who have had some experience with pornography, about 5 to 20 percent of people experience an extreme use of pornography and deal with compulsive addictive behavior.

Leonhardt, the lead author on the study, says since people who are religious aren't that good at understanding the wide spectrum of porn use, they are likely to label any use of porn as addictive and this can amplify problems in relationships that are associated with guilt or shame.

The purpose of the study conducted by three BYU researchers wasn't to determine if pornography was addictive or if it alone destroyed relationships, but rather to figure out how unmarried individuals who used pornography viewed themselves during the early stages of dating in regards to dating and communicating with their potential partner about their pornography use.

A year-long study, published in a peer-reviewed journal in March, showed faithful followers who viewed pornography had a higher likelihood of keeping it secret and were less likely to pursue relationships because of their perceived addiction, compared to those who weren't religious. These people were less likely to pursue relationships and would shy away from talking about their pornography use.

“That's actually one of the worst things possible that they can be doing to overcome a problematic use that they have,” Leonhardt said. “So that's a huge concern.”

Leonhardt, Brian J. Willoughby & Bonnie Young-Petersen, who wrote the research paper titled, "Damaged Goods: Perception of Pornography Addiction as a Mediator Between Religiosity and Relationship Anxiety Surrounding Pornography Use," discovered how a person views addiction will predict negative outcomes that extend far beyond the use of pornography, according to the study recently published in The Journal of Sex Research.

Pornography dominates the internet. Porn sites get more monthly traffic than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined. It has become an increased concern in Utah in recent years with a special emphasis displayed by local politicians.

Last April, the Utah State Legislature made international headlines by supporting a state resolution calling pornography a public health crisis.

“Pornography is a public health crisis.” said Gov. Herbert at the bill signing in April 2016. “The problem is rampant, yet it thrives in secrecy and silence. Today’s bills will start an open discussion, bringing its very real dangers to light.”

Willoughby, a P.h.D., and Assistant Professor in the School of Family Life at BYU was one of the experts who presented other research during the 2016 non-binding anti-pornography declaration with Gov. Gary Herbert.

Previous research discovered if a religious person used pornography every few months, compared to a non-religious person doing the same thing, then the religious person would be more likely to report they are addicted regardless of how often they use it.

The study, using a sample of 686 unmarried adults, expanded on previous research to see how those who maintain a strong religious belief will experience relationship anxiety surrounding pornography.

“We wanted to build on that and see specifically how that might apply to this relationship formation stage,” Leonhardt said.

So far, there has been a mixed reaction to the published findings.

There have been mostly positive reactions to the study, Leonhardt adds saying he has received emails from people thanking the researchers for bringing understanding to the nuisances of the effects of pornography.

“While they still may recognize that pornography is a problem, it has helped them feel more comfortable in their interpersonal relationships and not viewing themselves as damaged goods,” Leonhardt said.

There have been some “general misunderstandings” about the research as well, Leonhardt says. In an article on Psychology Today, an author made his own assertion about the study and overstated the findings by stating that the shame needed to be treated, not the porn addiction.

“There was this idea that pornography, in and of itself, is a not a problem ­ and that is not what we ourselves are claiming.”

He says there is plenty of research out there to show the negative impact pornography use alone can have on a person. Regardless of moral approval, he says research shows using pornography does influence how people view sexuality and likely influences the objectification of other human beings. In some extreme cases addicts will feel intense shame and become trapped in consistent addictive behavior.

Leonhardt said they concluded their research with the understanding that there is still a lot to learn on the topic.

He hopes the findings will help counselors, church leaders, family members, and those dealing with an addiction to pornography to better understand it and the best way to get help.

“There are a lot of different reasons that people get trapped with viewing pornography,” Leonhardt said. “Hopefully, this is a chance to increase discussion and understanding surrounding the topic and to help people better understand what some people may be going through and some of the ways we can reach out to help these people who are really struggling.”

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