Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Guess What May Help Change Conservatives’ Minds About Sex

Porn viewing by conservatives is associated with more liberal sexual beliefs.

Sex can bring great pleasure. It can also cause real problems. Those who recognize the problems but believe sex is mostly pleasurable are sexual liberals, while those who nod to pleasure but believe sex is mostly problematic are sexual conservatives.

However, sexual attitudes are not set in stone. Depending on their life experiences, over time some liberals become more conservative and some conservatives become more liberal. A recent study by Canadian psychologists identifies one element associated with conservative attitudes trending toward greater liberalism—porn.

More Porn, More Liberal

The researchers at the University of Western Ontario in London and Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta, mined the responses of 25,646 U.S. adults (11,658 men, 13,988 women) from the General Social Survey (GSS), the largest ongoing study of Americans’ attitudes and behavior.

Overall, the GSS data show that increasing religiosity—prayer, church attendance, and self-identification as religious—is significantly associated with social and sexual conservatism: hostility to abortion and opposition to women working outside the home and holding positions of power.

But after controlling for age, education, and other demographic variables, religious respondents who admitted viewing pornography expressed more liberal social and sexual attitudes—greater support for abortion and women holding jobs and positions of power.

Now this association may or may not be causal. It's possible that viewing porn actually coaxes conservatives toward greater liberalism. It's also possible that more liberal conservatives are the ones who gravitate toward porn. But either way, when conservatives admit viewing porn, their sexual attitudes trend more liberal.

Other studies support this association:

• Indiana University researchers surveyed sex and gender attitudes in a large group of young adults, students, and non-students, and then showed them one hour of pornography a week for six weeks. Afterward, the participants expressed greater support for premarital and casual sex and more egalitarian attitudes toward women.

• University of Oklahoma researchers compiled data from 2,610 respondents to the Portraits of American Life Study. Among those calling themselves religious, increasing porn viewing was associated with decreasing religiosity.

Cognitive Dissonance

These studies demonstrate the impact of what psychologists call cognitive dissonance—situations where people’s beliefs conflict with their actions. Such conflicts can be resolved in two ways—changing beliefs or altering behavior. When it comes to social/sexual attitudes and porn, these studies suggest that self-identified conservative religious porn viewers don’t change their actions. They continue to view porn. Instead, they appear to change their beliefs by embracing more liberal attitudes. Or perhaps porn watching is a marker for secret liberalism among conservatives.

Either way, these studies suggest that committed conservatives may oppose porn in part because they realize it either changes minds or reinforces nascent liberalism.

Ironically, these findings also suggest that feminists and pro-choice activists just might gain converts among social and religious conservatives by encouraging them to view porn.

What do you think?


Perry, S.L. “Does Viewing Pornography Diminish Religiosity Over Time? Evidence from Two-Wave Panel Data,” Journal of Sex Research (2017) 54:214.

Rasmussen, K.R. and T. Kohut. “Does Religious Attendance Moderate the Connection Between Pornography Consumption and Attitudes Toward Women?” Journal of Sex Research (2019) 56:38.

Zillman, D. and J. Bryant. “Effects of Prolonged Consumption of Pornography on Family Values,” Journal of Family Issues (1988) 9:518.

More from Psychology Today

More from Michael Castleman M.A.

More from Psychology Today