A new study found watching pornography part way through one's marriage can potentially double the chances of divorce, with people who don't attend church faring worse than those who do. Not everyone is buying the results.
Critics have pointed to some factors they thought should have been considered in the study but weren't, and at least one op-ed argued pornography has a "holistic side" that can lead to better intimacy.
Before we go further in addressing those critiques, though, let's explore what the researchers say they uncovered. To begin, the study is noteworthy, as past research has been able to give only small snapshots of the potential impacts of pornography use on marriage.
This study, "Til Porn Do Us Part? Longitudinal Effects of Pornography Use on Divorce," takes a deeper look, according to Science Magazine.
Conducted by sociology professors Samuel Perry and Cyrus Schleifer of the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma, the study used responses and data from the General Social Survey to explore changes in attitudes over time.
Because the GSS allows researchers to question the same people in different study waves over time, the survey offers a unique opportunity to explore changing trends in specific individuals' lives.
Using data collected between 2006-2014, Perry and Schleifer included respondents who had offered up a marital status, while also reporting they had watched an X-rated film in the past year.
As it turned out, 1,681 people of the 5,698 surveyed reported watching pornography in the past year, with 373 of them saying they had done so for the first time. The researchers found those who started consuming porn were more likely to break up with their partners as the study progressed.
The impact was big for both men and women, with the chances of divorce increasing for both sexes, according to Science Magazine.
"Beginning pornography use between survey waves nearly doubled one's likelihood of being divorced by the next survey period, from 6 percent to 11 percent, and nearly tripled it for women, from 6 percent to 16 percent," Perry said. "Our results suggest that viewing pornography, under certain social conditions, may have negative effects on marital stability."
The research also found something when it came to the potential impact of religion: those who attend church at least weekly saw almost no increase in divorce probability after starting to view pornography, according to the American Sociological Association.
The finding begs the question: Does faith offer a protective buffer when it comes to porn consumption?
"Several previous studies finding a negative association between pornography use and marital quality showed the effect was stronger for frequent churchgoers," Perry explained.
Until now, the thought was pornography has greater costs in communities — such as religious groups — that often stigmatize it, but the idea in this study is faith, which typically heralds the importance of marriage, might help keep people together, regardless of the negative impact of porn.
"Our findings suggest that religion has a protective effect on marriage, even in the face of pornography use," Perry continued.
Interestingly, those who did not report going to church at least once weekly saw an increase in potential divorce ticking up from 6 percent to 12 percent.
Some critics have attempted to poke holes in the study, though, with libertarian blog Reason noting there could be other explanations for the supposed connection between pornography use and divorce.
"Perhaps for those who don't watch porn when they first get married, taking up the habit signals something going wrong in the relationship — a lack of sexual satisfaction, more time being spent alone, etc.," wrote Reason's Elizabeth Nolan Brown. "In this scenario, viewing porn and divorce are both symptoms of marital unhappiness."
She went on to say perhaps people watching porn simply struggle more with monogamy or have other personal traits that more readily lead to divorce. Others offered similar critiques.
Neuroscientist Nicole Prause suggested employment status is one factor she would have controlled for in the study, seeing as having more free time could impact consumption. Additionally, she said the study doesn't take into account the amount of time people watched pornography.
"Having accidentally opened an internet window versus viewing 20 hours per week are very different, and this study pretended like they were the same," she told Vocativ.
The results of the study were presented at the 111th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association this month. Read more about the research here.
This is hardly the first time research has indicated potentially problematic side-effects to pornography consumption.
As Deseret News National previously reported, a study in 2013 indicated compulsive porn users have similarities in their brains to people who are addicted to alcohol and drugs.
Josh McDowell Ministry, a Christian organization, recently conducted a massive study on pornography consumption, leading ministry founder Josh McDowell to speak out.
"Pornography violates all relational values between the individual and self, the individual and society, the unity of our families and our moral fabric and fiber as a nation," McDowell said. "When we objectify and demean life by removing the sanctity of the human person, our future is at risk."