Purpose: This research integrates these disparate strands of literature to better explain persons’ distress related to their pornography viewing. Consumers’ subjective distress is critical to examine because distress is a key reason why individuals seek professional help.
Methods: Cross-sectional surveys (n=616) were administered through Amazon Mechanical Turk. Eligible participants included English-speaking U.S. adults who endorsed having viewed pornography in the past month. The main variables in the model were sexual desire, self-perceived dysregulation (related to pornography use), moral incongruence, and subjective distress. Sexual desire was measured via a subscale (α=.85) of the Sexual Desire Inventory-2. Self-perceived dysregulation and subjective distress were measured via the compulsivity (α=.93) and emotional distress (α=.92) subscales of the Cyber Pornography Use Inventory-9, respectively. Moral incongruence was assessed via four questions (α=.97) adapted from a short scale measuring moral disapproval of pornography viewing. We constructed a path model to conceptualize the relationships between variables. Tests of mediation were conducted using the bootstrapping method (n=5,000). Moderated mediation was assessed via Hayes’ (2015) index of moderated mediation.
Results: As hypothesized, individuals with higher sexual desire were significantly more likely to endorse subjective distress related to pornography use (b=0.11, p=.001), and this relationship was mediated by self-perceived dysregulation, evidenced by a significant indirect effect (95% BCa CI= 0.16, 0.23). In fact, once self-perceived dysregulation was included in the model, the direct effect between sexual desire and subjective distress became negative (b= -0.11, p<.001). Additionally, the significant positive relationship (p<.001) between sexual desire and self-perceived dysregulation was moderated by moral incongruence, evidenced by a significant interaction term (p<.001). Further, the index of moderated mediation (point estimate=.01, 95% BCa CI= 0.01, 0.02) suggests the aforementioned indirect effect was significantly moderated by moral incongruence.
Implications: Our results point to the integral role that moral values play in how individuals experience their pornography use and, perhaps, interpret their sexual desire. Individuals with high levels of sexual desire appear more likely to feel distressed by their pornography viewing only if they feel it is dysregulated, which is crucially impacted by feelings of moral incongruence. These findings speak to the importance of practitioners taking a person-in-environment perspective when assessing clients with related concerns and point to potential targets for future intervention research.