Study: Religion Curbs Sexual Aggression In Men

Jessica Kramer | Contributor

College men with some religious affiliation are less likely to be sexually violent and aggressive toward women, a study suggests.

The 2018 study Religiosity Reduces Sexual Aggression and Coercion in a Longitudinal Cohort of College Men: Mediating Roles of Peer Norms, Promiscuity, and Pornography, compiled by researchers Timothy Hagen, Martie Thompson, and Janelle Williams and published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, surveyed 795 college men at a public university. The study found religious men are also less likely to engage in sexually promiscuous behavior, make coercive sexual advances toward women and consume pornography, according to PsyPost.

One factor the researchers attribute to this result is that men with a religious affiliation tend to drink less alcohol — which has been linked to increased aggressive and violent behavior, including that of a sexual nature. Another factor shows that religious men tend to befriend like-minded peers and follow peer norms. “College men who reported participating in religious activities more often were less likely to say their current set of friends approved of forcing a woman to have sex,” PsyPost reported.

“[R]eligiosity offers a protective effect against sexual aggression by college men through the indirect pathway of reducing associations with peers who approve of sexual aggression and by reducing promiscuity,” Hagen told PsyPost. He added:

We thought that having friends who approved of sexual aggression would in turn encourage individuals to perpetrate sexual aggression and technology-based coercive behavior because peer norms have been found to powerfully impact norms and behavior. Likewise, we hypothesized that pornography, which can provide depictions of violent sexual acts, may encourage sexual aggression and, as it is often provided via electronic means, may habituate consumers to seek satisfaction of their sexual impulses online, perhaps extending also to technology-based coercive behavior.

“Furthermore, we thought that people who are promiscuous would habituate themselves to sexual encounters with less emotional intimacy and therefore be more likely to engage in sexual aggression or technology-based coercive behavior, as both behaviors are devoid of love, if we define love as concern and action for the well-being of the other,” Hagan said.

Researchers concluded that being religious did not necessarily reduce sexual perverse or immoral behavior, only that the chance was to a lesser degree. (RELATED: WaPo Opinion Writer Says Catholic Church Has A Gay Priest Problem)

Another portion of the study worth noting is that the propagating of religion for the sake of combating sexual transgressions can actually cause a worse outcome, according to PsyPost.

“Religiosity that is not intrinsically motivated is actually a positive predictor of intimate partner violence,” Hagan explained, citing a 2015 study from the Journal of Family Issues.

“Thus we cannot recommend that individuals engage in religious behavior for extrinsic reasons,” Hagan said, according to PsyPost. “We would hypothesize, in light of our study and literature, that only religious behavior that is intrinsically motivated would offer the protective effects we found.”

The researchers believe after reviewing their findings that colleges should be more welcoming to religious groups on campus, especially since “hostility to such groups may be counter-productive to reducing sexual violence on campuses,” Hagan said.

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