Religious People More Likely to Think They're Addicted to Porn
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Feel like you're addicted to porn? Your religion could have something to do with your answer.

Compared with their less spiritual peers, people who identified as very religious were more likely to have a perceived Internet pornography addiction, no matter how much porn they actually consumed, according to a new study.

"We were surprised that the amount of viewing did not impact the perception of addiction, but strong moral beliefs did," the study's lead author Joshua Grubbs, a doctoral student in psychology at Case Western Reserve University, said in a statement. [Sex Quiz: Myths, Taboos & Bizarre Facts]

Is porn addiction real?

The rise of pornography on the Internet has been followed by hot debates about what all this widely available explicit material is doing to the hordes people who look at it. Is it encouraging hostility toward women or can it empower them? Does it provide a healthy outlet or is it creating addicts?

Some researchers have proposed that compulsive viewing of Internet pornography could be a subcategory of sex addiction, sometimes called hypersexual disorder. But psychologists have not been able to agree on whether sex addiction (let alone porn addiction) fits the same addiction model that is used to describe people with substance abuse problems, for example. Sex addiction was not recognized in the latest version of the American Psychiatric Association's mental health handbook, the DSM-5, and there is no official diagnosis.

Regardless of whether porn addiction is "real," Grubbs and his co-authors note that perceived addiction has been linked to several real elements of psychological distress, such as depression, compulsive behavior and anxiety.

Grubbs became interested in how religion might impact perceived pornography addiction during his undergraduate days at a conservative university. He had encountered fellow students who felt like there was something terribly wrong with them after they looked at Internet porn, according to a statement from Case Western.

Grubbs had also noticed that simply searching for "pornography addiction" on Amazon.com turned up 1,200 book results, half of which were listed under the religious and spirituality sections. Those titles often detailed accounts of personal struggle. His new papaer, published this week in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, also pointed to a previous study, which found that religious therapists are more likely to diagnose sex addiction than their secular counterparts.

Piety and porn

In three studies, Grubbs polled people about their strength of faith, religious practices, online porn-viewing habits and moral attitudes about porn. He also gave participants a survey to measure their perception of addiction, asking them to rate how much they agreed with statements like: "I believe I am addicted to Internet pornography;" and "I feel ashamed after viewing pornography online."

One study involved 331 undergraduates at a public U.S. university, another focused on 97 students at a religiously affiliated university, and a third involved 208 adults gathered in an online poll. The majority of the participants in each survey were either Christian or Catholic, heterosexual and white. In each of the studies, 26-32 percent reported no religious affiliation. The studies excluded people who had not looked at porn at least once in the past six months.

There was no connection between the religious devotion of the participants and how much porn they actually viewed, the studies showed. However, stronger religious faith was linked with more negative moral attitudes about pornography, which in turn was associated with greater perceived addiction, the study found. [8 Ways Religion Impacts Your Life]

Grubbs and his co-authors speculate that feelings of addiction could be seen as "the religious individual's pathological interpretation of a behavior deemed a transgression or a desecration of sexual purity." The findings could help therapists understand that the perception of addiction might have more to do with religious beliefs than actual porn-watching habits, the researchers said.

"We can help the individual understand what is driving this perception, and help individuals better enjoy their faith," Grubbs said in a statement.

Grubbs' study was part of a $1.4 million project funded by the John Templeton Foundation to study how people develop and cope with spiritual struggles. The project is directed by psychologists Julie Exline, from Case Western Reserve University, and Kenneth Pargament, from Bowling Green State University, who contributed to Grubbs' study.

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