Exploring the gay marriage-pornography link

I hadn’t expected two interesting stories about gay marriage to pop up in a single morning, but here’s Paul Bedard at the Washington Examiner on a new scholarly analysis of a phenomenon that he says cannot be discussed delicately: “Exposure to pornography softens opposition to same-sex marriage among the largest group of naysayers, heterosexual men.”

“Our study suggests that the more heterosexual men, especially less educated heterosexual men, watch pornography, the more supportive they become of same-sex marriage,” Indiana University Assistant Professor Paul Wright told Secrets.

Explaining the findings of the analysis published in the authoritative Communication Research journal, Wright said, “Pornography adopts an individualistic, nonjudgmental stance on all kinds of nontraditional sexual behaviors and same-sex marriage attitudes are strongly linked to attitudes about same-sex sex. If people think individuals should be able to decide for themselves whether to have same-sex sex, they will also think that individuals should be able to decide for themselves whether to get married to a partner of the same-sex.”

He added: “Since a portion of individuals’ sexual attitudes come from the media they consume, it makes sense that pornography viewers would have more positive attitudes towards same-sex marriage.”

This is an interesting study even if the hot-button issue of gay marriage is set aside.  If the research holds up, it’s a very clear illustration of the way culture influences political attitudes.  Here you have a rather decidedly un-political, agenda-free form of (ahem) entertainment, made by people who probably aren’t taking the trouble to fill their script with ideological sucker punches or subtle themes.  However, it seems to profoundly impact the attitude of its consumer on the very politicized issue of same-sex marriage.

Having dispensed with all considerations of delicacy for this discussion, Bedard notes that the study’s authors mentioned the popularity of lesbian pornography among heterosexual male viewers, and hypothesized that their comfort level with observing such activity might make them more receptive to the notion of same-sex marriage in general.  This would suggest that some of the subjects’ resistance to gay marriage was based upon “distance” from same-sex intercourse.

As always with sociological studies, however, there are questions of sample size – 500 heterosexual men over the past six years – and the reliability of responses concerning something (the consumption of pornography) that many people are uncomfortable discussing.  Also, there’s the perennial question of cause and effect: did the subjects’ attitudes toward same-sex marriage truly change over time as a direct result of viewing pornography, or are these both indicators of attitudes that were already changing for other reasons?  Might we venture that heavy viewers of pornography probably have extremely relaxed attitudes about sexual fidelity, and are therefore less likely to take marriage seriously… as well as rejecting the social and religious judgments perceived as coming with it?

Traditional marriage was weakening in American society for a long time before the same-sex marriage movement began making serious headway.  Same-sex marriage advocates often mention this, in the course of noting that a society with such a high rate of traditional marriages that end in divorce is on shaky intellectual ground when it insists upon the “sanctity” of such marriages.  It’s not easy to separate the causes of such a profound change from its effects, but if this study survives review, it might shed light on a core truth: the way Americans think about sex changed first, and the way we view marriage and family inexorably followed.

Update: To clarify a point raised above… to the extent that I’m willing to accept the conclusions of this study at all, I’m not proposing that support for gay marriage equates with trivializing marriage.  What I mean is that if a person doesn’t think the restrictions inherent to traditional marriage – most obviously, the required participation of one man and one woman – have great value or moral stature, that person is more likely to view the denial of marriage to same-sex couples as pointless bullying or mindless adherence to meaningless tradition.  If the structure of traditional marriage is arbitrary or irrelevant, then what’s the point of making same-sex couples feel bad by telling them they cannot participate?

That’s more or less the question society at large is asking itself.  Would it be surprising to learn that regular consumers of pornography are more likely to view traditional marriage as something worthy of vigorous defense, at the expense of what is routinely portrayed as the “civil rights” of homosexuals?  Would it be surprising to learn that porno fans are more likely than the general populace to reject appeals to tradition or religious authority out of hand?


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