The Religious Right-Wing’s Sexual Sickness Destroys Their Lives But Remains Central to Their Religion Addiction

A new book by University of Oklahoma sociology of religion professor Samuel L. Perry entitled Addicted to Lust: Pornography in the Lives of Conservative Protestants goes beyond the usual unsurprising studies that show that anti-porn red states use more porn than blue ones. It explores how pornography messes up the lives of those caught up in right-wing Christian ideology.

Without making any moral claims about pornography in general, Perry concludes that pornographic use “seems to be uniquely harmful to conservative Protestants’ mental health, their sense of self, their own identities—certainly their intimate relationships—in ways that don’t tend to be as harmful for people who don’t have that kind of moral problem with it.”

Can we say cognitive/emotional/religious dissonance? And the problem isn’t in the pornography itself. It becomes manifest in conservative Christians’ hypocrisy which is rooted in the poor self images its ideology thrives upon.

Perry: “What I’m able to show is that a lot of that negative association between your porn use and your relationship quality hinges on whether or not you think it’s morally wrong. Or whether you think the Bible is the word of God. Or how often you attend church.”

Right-wing Christian ideology, remember, begins with the lowest of what therapists might call low self-images. You, because you’re a human being are thoroughly sinful and lost – you’re so inherently bad that the model of righteousness and love in the universe (not surprisingly a Heavenly Father) thinks you deserve unimaginable and eternal punishment.

As a reliably common activity, sexual actions are easily used to preach that this is true. Canonized sexual obsession goes as far back as the so-called father of Christian theology, Saint Augustine, who basically recommended repression.

This repression and demonization of sexual activity is a major reason why what many call sexual addiction, or at least the inability to be comfortable with one’s sexuality beyond denial and suppression, is tied to people trying to substitute another addictive activity – religion - to cover over any resulting issues.

The fact that this is just not healthy, and the belief that it evidences how bad one is, lead to obsession with it under the cover of divinely required moral purity. No wonder why those who are most critical of other people’s sexual lives are often exposed as overly-obsessed themselves with the very sex they condemn.

And hypocrisy that condemns others so as not to face the inner demons that plague much of the right-wing is well-known. Harvard Business School’s Benjamin Edelman spoke of this in a 2009 study of pornography users: “Some of the people who are most outraged turn out to be consumers of the very things they claimed to be outraged by.”

The surprise would be that anyone is surprised by that.

His study looked at credit card data from 2006-2007 that indicated online purchases of pornography. Thus, it measured not merely those who consume porn online but those who actually subscribe to it, the more dedicated users

Eight of the top ten pornography subscribing states voted for the Republican presidential candidate. Six of the lowest ten voted for the Democrat. Residents of Mormon-dominated Utah were the largest per capita subscribers to porn.

Residents of twenty-seven states that had gay marriage bans back then had 11% more pornography subscribers than those that didn’t. States where the majority of residents agreed with the statement: “I have old-fashioned values about family and marriage” were higher subscribers than those where the majority disagreed.

Edelman tied the results to previous studies of attitudes toward religion. It was almost humorous to hear that “church-goers” bought less online porn on Sundays whereas their expenditures on other days of the week were in line with everyone else.

It’s not hard to find explanations for the hypocrisy displayed in these and other more recent studies, such as those surveying which states have the highest divorce rates.

Edelman speculated: “One natural hypothesis is something like repression: if you’re told you can’t have this, then you want it more.”

Bingo! As addiction specialists know: “repression leads to obsession.”

In the middle of a culture that’s sick about sexual activity, and a dominant right-wing religious message that sex is dirty (So: “Save it for the one you love.”), there’s much more involved.

Railing against sex is popular. It’s proven religiously lucrative as a result. The cultural sexual anxiety fomented by the right-wing also provides the guilt and shame it needs to recruit its victims.

Religious addiction leads the right-wing to fantasize against all evidence, including their sexual experiences, that abstinence-only education promotes their sectarian values and discourages sex.

Then again, projection of one’s sexual insecurities and shame on others is a time-tested way to suppress ones own issues. Note the simultaneous fundamentalist condemnation of and obsession with same-sex sexual activity.

Religious addiction is also a standard way to repress (not heal) sexual anxiety, guilt, shame, and addiction. Then it labels the sexual activity of those without sexual anxieties sick and sinful.

Amanda Marcotte, in her witty classic It’s a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments, underlined another issue - the main selling-point of straight porn is its basis in gender stereotyping.

It’s geared toward men, not women, and the right-wing’s own worldview tells men to marry a “good girl.” You know she’s “good” because she’s not enthused about sex, especially sexual experimentation.

But males, the gender stereotype continues, are obsessed with sex and experimental sexual behaviors. You can’t do that with your “good” wife. So, you’ve got to turn to the “bad” women online.

For some it goes further, Marcottte notes, with the appeal of porn that shows men insulting, spitting upon, raping, or coercing women. A sexually liberated, feminist culture, she argues, would have less need for huge amounts of porn.

Before that happens, what we’ll continue to see and, I hope, be non-enabling enough to call out, is the scapegoating of everyone else for the sexual sickness of the right-wing. The more miserable they are, the more their denial must, and will, produce lies and hypocrisy.

Now we know that to confront them as an intervention, rather than be enablers, would be the best thing we could do for the right-wing’s own health.

© 2019 Robert N. Minor

Other Issues, Books, Resources

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Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus at the University of Kansas, is author of When Religion Is an Addiction; Scared Straight: Why It’s So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It’s So Hard to Be Human; and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society. Contact him at www.FairnessProject.org


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