Abstract: Hiding Pornography Viewing: Sexual Values and Shame (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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674P Hiding Pornography Viewing: Sexual Values and Shame

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Brian Droubay, PhD, LCSW, Assistant Professor, University of Mississippi, University, MS
Kevin Shafer, PhD, Associate Professor, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT
Rashun Miles, MA, MSW, Doctoral Research Assistant, University of Mississippi, University, MS
Rob Butters, PhD, LCSW, Assistant Professor, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT
Joshua Grubbs, PhD, Assistant Professor, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH
Background: The effects of pornography viewing have received heightened scrutiny in the digital age. One thread of literature has focused on its impacts on relationships. While viewing is associated with decreased relationship satisfaction overall, this association is contextual. Male pornography viewing, for example, is associated with decreased satisfaction, while female viewing is not. Another important contextual variable is partner communication. Deception and secrecy are harmful to relationships.

Another thread suggests that how individuals interpret their viewing is embedded in personal values. Moral incongruence related to viewing is predictive of self-perceived addiction and distress. This may especially be true for individuals who are prone to shame. This paper, incorporating two studies, integrates these threads of literature to examine how personal values and shame impact hiding one’s pornography consumption.

Methods: The data for Study 1 came from a 2017 nationally representative sample of U.S. adults who view pornography (n=894). The outcome variable was derived from an item assessing whether participants hide their viewing from others. The primary predictor variables were taken from items assessing moral disapproval of pornography and related shame. Demographic variables and frequency of viewing were included as controls. OLS regression was utilized to conceptualize the relationship between these variables.

The data for Study 2 were gleaned from a survey administered through Amazon Mechanical Turk. Participants were U.S. adults in committed relationships (n=383). Several scales were used to assess the main variables: sexual conservatism (α=.96), moral incongruence related to viewing (α=.96), perception that pornography causes serious harms (α=.86), shame-proneness (α=.70), and hiding viewing from one’s partner (α=.92). We constructed a path model to conceptualize the relationships between these variables. Tests of mediation were conducted using the bootstrapping method (n=2,000).

Results: As hypothesized, results from Study 1 suggest that moral disapproval of pornography (b=.35, p<.001) and shame (b=.51, p<.001) were significantly associated with hiding viewing from others.

In Study 2, all hypotheses were supported. Increased sexual conservatism (total effect=.05, p<.001), moral incongruence (b=.07, p=.01), and perception that pornography harms (b=.13, p<.001) were significantly associated with hiding viewing. The positive relationship between sexual conservatism and hiding was mediated by both moral incongruence and perception that pornography harms (p<.05). The relationship between moral incongruence and hiding was moderated by shame-proneness (b=.01, p=.01).

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that sexual values may not only impact how consumers interpret their viewing, but also their subsequent behavior. Both studies suggest that individuals who have moral qualms with pornography—but view it anyway—are more likely to hide it.

In Study 2, individuals who perceive that pornography causes harms were more likely to report hiding their viewing. This is noteworthy in that the items for this construct echo the language of resolutions that several states have recently passed declaring pornography a public health crisis. This suggests that individuals who internalize such messaging may be more likely to hide their viewing, which could paradoxically harm relationships, in a self-fulfilling prophecy. These findings speak to the importance of social workers being sensitive about messaging in both clinical and macro settings.