Saturday, April 30, 2016

How do youth view sexual identity, attraction, and behavior?

Christians in the United States continue to write and speak about sexual orientation and same-sex relationships as if condoning or condemning same-sex relationships were the keys to Christian identity.

The terms referring to human sexuality can interfere with communication when people use the terms inconsistently or imprecisely. In addition, new research changes our understanding of human sexuality such that older terms may carry meanings that are no longer substantiated by evidence.

I take a look at some terms and cite a study to illustrate the complexity of sexuality. Given the confusion and misinformation, I hope to return to the topic in other posts.

 In the context of identity, sex refers to a person’s biological status as male, female, or intersex. Intersex is a biological state that includes an infrequent set of features linked to being male or female. The common indicators of biological sex include external genitalia, internal reproductive organs, sex chromosomes, and gonads.

People commonly use the words sex and gender interchangeably. Scientists use gender to refer to a culturally defined set of attitudes, feelings, and behavior linked to biological sex. Thus there are expectations about what it means to be a girl or boy, woman or man. Clearly, in some cases, it will be important to clarify if a person is referring to sex or gender.

Gender Identity
Gender Identity is the personal sense of being male, female, or transgender. A person’s gender identity may or may not match their biological sex.

Sexual Orientation
A consensus has developed that the construct, sexual orientation, is multidimensional. Scientists argue about the dimensions that compose the construct.

Three dimensions were proposed by Laumann, Gagnon, Michael and Michaels (1994). Each of the three can be viewed in terms of a range of values rather than in terms of categories. The three dimensions are Sexual Identity, Sexual Attraction, and Sexual Behavior.
Some people speak about sexual orientation as if there are firm categories. Kinsey, Pomeroy, Martin, and Gebhard (1953) referred to four types of sexual orientation. These terms are in common use (homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, and asexual), although our understanding of sexuality has advanced in the last few decades.

Sexual orientation varies overtime
As youth gain an understanding of their sexuality, they respond to questions suggesting that some of them change their appraisal of their sexuality. Recent findings from a longitudinal study by Rosaro, Schrimshaw, Hunter, and Braun (2006) are helpful.

90% of students identifying as gay or lesbian continued to report that identity
The identification rate was lower for bisexual identity- 60 to 70% continued with that identity.

Research problems that affect our understanding of sexuality

The way questions are phrased can make a difference in how youth respond.
Youth respond based on their personal experience and understanding, which can vary.

Some youth are unable or unwilling to respond for different reasons including a lack of being sure about their identity.

Some researchers include only limited aspects of sexuality e.g., identity as gay or lesbian, which may not yield accurate data when other relevant aspects of sexuality such as attraction and sexual activity or behavior are ignored.
A Survey of Three Dimensions

2013 by Gisela Priebe and Carl Goran Svedin.

I included this survey because the researchers looked at three dimensions of sexual identity in a large sample of 3,432 Swedish High School seniors. The measurements help identify current thinking about sexual orientation and related concepts.

1. Sexual identity. The available choices included heterosexual, homosexual (lesbian, gay) bisexual, unsure and None of these

2. Sexual attraction was assessed in two ways. Emotional Attraction was assessed by asking students to use a 5-point scale rating their attraction to other and same sex persons from No attraction = 1 to Strong attraction = 5.

The other aspect of sexual attraction was Romantic Attraction. This was phrased by asking if the students had ever been in love with a man/boy or woman/girl.

3. Sexual behavior. The researchers asked 6 questions to identify actual behavior of the students. They were asked about oral and anal sex and vaginal intercourse. As you can see, the researchers were able to classify type of sexual experience and relate that to other aspects of sexuality.

Selected Survey Results

Most students responded to the items.

The results are complex because many options were available to understand human sexuality. Overall, 24 categories could be formed.

Those who identified as biologically male or female were different in their responses. As in previous studies, female sexuality was more complex. They varied more on the three dimensions than did male students.

The researchers note that a number of the students had not yet been in love (8%) or had sex (26%). This can influence how students answer questions about sexuality.

Heterosexual identity was most closely linked to romantic attraction and sexual behavior.

Homosexual or bisexual identity was most closely linked to emotional attraction.

An unsure identity was linked to different types of emotional attraction. Most of those reporting “unsure” reported bisexual emotional attraction.

Those reporting an asexual identity were 1.4 % of the sample. As the authors note, the number may not be stable given the life experience of the youth.

See the article if you are interested in more details (reference below).

Thinking about Sexual Orientation, Sexual Identity and Sexual Attraction

People who work with youth will do well to better understand the complexity of human sexuality—especially developmental aspects of sexuality.

How people ask questions about sexuality can make a difference in the answers given. Consider consulting with an expert if you are using or developing questionnaires.

Youth may answer the same question in different ways over time because experience and understanding can make a difference. Different answers may reflect confusion or an actual change.

There are variations in sexuality among those we perceive to be in the majority— that is, those with a heterosexual identity.

Sexual minorities are a diverse group of persons. Relying on stereotypes will interfere with understanding a person’s sexual identity.

People refer to sexual orientation, sexual attraction, and sexual behavior in different ways. It’s important to clarify what people mean.

As the study authors note, they did not ask about kissing and sexual touch as a part of sexual behavior. However, these sexual activities are a part of sexual identity formation.

Sexual abuse is common and it is also linked to sexual identity formation. But sexual abuse cannot be identified as a cause in a strict cause-effect relationship.

The way in which people express their sexuality and gender identity depends on a complex interplay between genetic factors, biological status, and life experiences. Research does not offer sufficient evidence to explain the variations in human sexuality. The extant evidence does not support an exclusive role for biology or environmental factors, or personal choice when it comes to variations in human sexuality.

To read more about sexuality and morality in Christian cultures, see A House Divided.


Twitter  @GeoffWSutton 

For a related but different focus on morality and Christian cultures see

  A House Divided.

Also, A House Divided Website
For additional free book reviews and articles

Priebe, G., & Svedin, C. (2013). Operationalization of Three Dimensions of Sexual Orientation in a National Survey of Late Adolescents. Journal of Sex Research, 50(8), 727-738. doi:10.1080/00224499.2012.713147
Rosario, M., Schrimshaw, E. W., Hunter, J., & Braun, L. (2006). Sexual identity development among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youths: Consistency and change over time. Journal of Sex Research, 43(1), 46-58. doi:10.1080/00224490609552298
Related Posts

Sunday, April 17, 2016


Christian groups have protested a portion of the U.S. Health Care law that includes birth control coverage. The groups opposed to providing contraceptives argue their right to deny services based on religious freedom.

The issue is before the U.S. Supreme Court. The article in the Economist (13 April 2016) provides details of the concerns and reports an “extraordinary” effort to find a resolution. The response to this effort appears to require that female employees have separate coverage outside of a Christian organization if they wish to obtain contraceptives and related medical services.

Moral Psychology and the Divide

1. Contraception continues to be a divisive issue for Christians.

Although the current article focuses on contraception in the U.S., Christians around the world are divided over the morality of contraception.

2. Contraceptive issues are not just about abortion.

Some Christians oppose only those means of contraception that interrupt a life that has begun. In this view, the contraceptive method does not prevent conception but ends a life.

But the issue for other Christians is the view that contraception interferes with God’s purpose. The “Purpose Driven Sex Life” stems from the Genesis story where God blesses Adam and Eve and says, “be fruitful and multiply.”

3. Competing rights and moral responses

It appears to me that the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed the rights of women and the rights of religious groups by seeking a way forward. The responses from interested parties reveal differences.

The religious nonprofits argue for a separate system. In effect, this protects the conscience of the employers—allowing them to be true to their faith.

Those opposed to splitting coverage point to the burden on women. The arguments come from a “care-harm” moral perspective.

4. How to protect a minority

Most U.S. women use contraceptives, regardless of religious beliefs. The government has attempted to respect the rights of religious groups. Separatism sometimes works when people form a cultural enclave for example, living in a community where all people share similar morals. I think the Amish communities come close to this separatist model.

In contrast, religious charities within a broad host culture who hire people holding different values from the employer have not separated themselves from the culture. Perhaps some religious groups will need to move toward an Amish-like community where they may have greater religious freedom.

Read more about Christianity, Sexuality, and Morality in
     A House Divided

Buy on Kindle only $9.99

Contact Information

Facebook Page:   Geoff W. Sutton

Twitter   @GeoffWSutton

Website: Geoff W. Sutton

Saturday, April 16, 2016

7 Principles of a healthy marriage


In A House Divided, I write about marriage and other issues about which people hold divided opinions. When I was writing the book, I did not just look at the way people voiced their disagreements. I also examined strategies for healing—ways people might come together to promote a better way of life.

In this post, I look at seven evidenced-based principles of a healthy marriage. I point to the work of John Gottman and his colleagues (e.g., Gottman & Silver, 1999) at the Gottman Institute for my source and for more details about the seven principles, which I summarize below.

1. Enhance your love maps.

Learn the details of your spouse’s life. Know their thoughts, feelings, worries, and hopes. Loving couples keep track of the little things. They remember important events like birthdays and anniversaries, graduations, and so forth. They know each other’s goals. Loving people know each other.

2. Nurture your fondness and admiration.

Demonstrate that your spouse is worthy of being respected. When difficult times arrive, loving couples remember the good times together. It’s important to nurture those fond memories.

“I’ve found 94 percent of the time that couples who put a positive spin on their marriage’s history are likely to have a happy future as well.” (Chapter 4)

3. Turn toward each other instead of away.

Learn to recognize “bids” for attention, affection, humor, and support. Learn to recognize those “bids” for attention. A request for help, time together, support, and recognition. For some reason, women make more bids than men do and men do not always pick up on “bids.” Bids can be subtle: “How do I look?” “I talked to (name) today.”  “Did I tell you about…?”

In a research study, Gottman followed newlyweds. Those that remained married six years later were good at turning towards rather than away from each other 86% of the time compared to 33% for those who divorced.

4. Let your partner influence you.

Although it is not true of all wives and husbands, wives tend to let husbands influence them but many husbands have not learned this important skill. The focus here is on listening to the opinions and beliefs of your spouse and letting those opinions and beliefs influence what you say and do.

Some Christian men have difficulty with this suggestion because they assume leadership means making decisions for the couple without consulting their wives. Even in Christian marriages that are egalitarian, the tendency can be for one partner to make decisions without considering the other.

5. Solve your solvable problems.

Couples have conflicts. And conflicts divide relationships. Conflicts can explode beyond the couple to affect other family members and friends. Conflicts may occur over small things or over differences in personality traits and life interests. Learn to recognize common sources of conflict in a relationship. Gottman has suggestions for managing conflicts by focusing on problems that can be solved.

Here are five strategies for solving everyday relationship problems.
·         Use a soft rather than a harsh start to conversations e.g., I think or I feel. Learn effective repair attempts like agreeing on rules and boundaries.
·         Monitor physiological warning signs like distress and do something to calm down.
·         Learn to compromise by considering the merits of a spouse’s ideas—share your relationship dream together. 
·         Increase tolerance of imperfections.
·         You do not always have to solve every issue.

6. Overcome gridlock

 Recognize those hidden dreams and aspirations each spouse has that can lead to gridlock. Learn to discuss them in a way that removes the pain from issues that may never be completely resolved. Spouses can be seriously divided over several lifelong dreams.

Here’s some examples. How many children do we want to have? How should we discipline our children? What role should faith have in our lives and the lives of our children? Differences over faith commitments are common and those who prefer different commitments can be made to feel spiritually inferior. Should I return to college? Many have a lifelong dream to complete a degree or earn an advanced degree. I have always wanted to live in… Some people have always dreamed of being somewhere else.

Overcoming gridlock requires a gentle sharing of dreams and values and finding the core values that cannot be compromised. Search for areas of flexibility. Find ways to compromise at least for a time.

7. Create shared meaning.

Getting married represents a creative act. Two people create a new relationship when they marry. Just living happily maybe enough for some couples. Many couples enjoy raising children and caring for grandchildren. Some seek a deep, spiritual dimension to their relationship. A couple can create a microculture rich in stories and rituals. There are so many ways to create and maintain traditions like revisiting a special place at the same time every so many years or having a special treat on a specific holiday.

Read more about Christianity, Sexuality, and Morality in A House Divided

Contact Information

Facebook Page:   Geoff W. Sutton

Twitter   @GeoffWSutton

Website: Geoff W. Sutton


Gottman, J. M. & Silver, N. (1999). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert. New York: Three Rivers Press.

Sutton, G. W. (2016). A house divided: Sexuality, morality, and Christian cultures. Eugene, OR: Pickwick.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Rape is a weapon of war

Refugee camp Kenya

“Rape is a weapon even more powerful than a bomb or a bullet… At least with a bullet, you die. But if you have been raped, you appear to the community like someone who is cursed. After rape, no one will talk to you. No man will see you. It’s a living death.”

Jeanna Mukuninwa

Aryn Baker’s disturbing report in TIME (April 18, 2016) is mental torture for anyone possessing at least an average amount of empathy and compassion. Instead of the dulling statistics sometimes—but not always— added to death tallies in war reports, Baker confronts us with real people who suffer horrors worse than death. Children and women, young and old, share the deep wounds of their souls accompanied by bodies that cannot be repaired, despite the work of dedicated physicians.

Any solution will involve changing the attitudes men hold toward women. Some efforts are directed to this goal according to Matthew Clark (CS Monitor).

Baker’s scenes take place in far flung places like the Congo. But we would be wrong to think that children and women in Europe, Asia, and the Americas are safe from male predators. The context of war has always unleashed the destructive powers of some men to a greater degree than others.

Women are traditional spoils of war.

There’s a long tradition that women are the spoils of war. Even the Bible illustrates the troubling attitudes toward women (e.g., Judges 21:10-24; Numbers 31:7-18). The rape of Europe by Nazi and Soviet troops is well known (Telegraph, 2015). But they are not the only offenders. And the topic is controversial and the number contested (NBC).

As Mary Louise Roberts writes in What Soldiers Do, U.S. brothels were set up in France to provide an organized way for GIs to have sex within a month of the D-Day invasion. She quotes Patton’s infamous phrase, “if they don’t f**k, they don’t fight.” She opined, “In the army officer’s view, the necessarily complete command of the GI’s body gave them dominion over the French woman’s body as well.” (See pp. 159-160; Also, NPR story).

The point of including Robert’s book is not to equate the sexual exploitation of French women by U S soldiers to the horrors of the women in Baker’s story. The point is to show that male warriors have a long history of destroying women’s lives—often leaving them with a fate worse than death.

Also, sad to say, even peacekeepers have been accused of raping girls (NY Daily News, 2016).

Who provides services?

Christians are not divided about the evils of rape. Nor do they refrain from offering care and support in an effort to bridge the chasm between victim and survivor. But Christians are divided about some aspects of care. As you probably know, Christians are divided over birth control and abortion. The divides make a difference in who gets what type of care in refugee camps and clinics in war torn areas. That said, Christian organizations are present and providing services to highly traumatized and fragile people.
Read more about Sex-related morality in A House Divided

Contact Information

Facebook Page:   Geoff W. Sutton

Twitter   @GeoffWSutton

Website: Geoff W. Sutton

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Sex and Government Intimacy


“The Time Ted Cruz Defended a Ban on Dildos”

The headline is from a motherjones story by David Corn 13 April 2016. Clearly, U.S. politicians are under scrutiny for their present and past acts. What's relevant about this story for my blog is the identification of sexual acts, moral judgments, and the role of government. 

Surely others are more focused on how the views of this U.S. politician may affect what he does were he to be elected. I don't discount the importance of that focus. Nevertheless, in A House Divided, I write about the divide between Christian cultures. And Cruz provides evidence of a strong conservative moral perspective that has links to laws that purport to limit the sexual behavior of others.

As you see in the story, "The Texas Penal Code prohibits the advertisement and sale of dildos, artificial vaginas, and other obscene devices" but does not "forbid the private use of such devices."

The story discusses individual rights and government rights, which are clearly important concerns when it comes to any aspect of life, including sexuality.

Moral emotions at work

From a moral psychology perspective, I notice an effort to create associations that might sway a target audience. For example, the use of the sexual devices was compared to “hiring a willing prostitute or engaging in consensual bigamy.” Setting aside any analysis of the analogy, we see a common political strategy of linking something deemed “evil” such as prostitution with something at least some may consider neutral, a “sexual device.”

The word obscene also adds a negative feeling despite the problem with defining this vague concept used to describe many things people simply don’t like. Of course, I realize it has been used in legal contexts but that does not always mean the definition is clear. Laws against obscenity are important. Obscenity must be clearly defined in order to be applied. Using obscenity in political rhetoric is often like a trick to produce a favorable emotional response.

Morals and harm

In the decision from the court of appeals, we see a different argument based on harm concerns. The court identified the sexual devices as “safe,” which made me wonder if they might have concerns if the devices caused identifiable harm. Here again we are left to consider what safety means—presumably they focused on bodily harm yet many of the arguments one hears against noninterpersonal sex have to do with emotional well-being.

Morality of “Purpose Driven Sex”

Another aspect of the decision challenged a role of government in “sexual gratification unrelated to procreation.” It is of course a religious notion that sex ought to be for procreation with ideas of God’s blessing on the first couple of the Genesis story. Yet even religious persons likely would not insist that people not have sex if they are past child bearing age or unable to have children.

Again, the logic is not my concern here but rather the type of thinking that links sexuality to procreation as if pleasure must take a back seat to procreation.


1. At least some U.S. leaders are very concerned about the private ways people have sex. Presumably, if you limit sales, you so some sort of good. Harm is usually associated with a progressive or liberal reason to consider something as wrong or worthy of a limitation. In general, the principle of “do no harm” is helpful but surely not a deal-breaker as one can think of the harm caused by years of smoking tobacco—future harm is hard to predict—so often we are making probabilistic statements. 

Arguments based on harmful effects can be a useful way to build a consensus provided there's evidence of harm. Identifying the harmful effects of a sexual practice can bring divided groups together to support a ban. Harm need to be overtly physical to be real. Psychological harm is important too.

2. When Christians take their faith to work and a sex-related issue arises, they seem to think about sex in moral terms. Conservative Christians may attempt to condemn some acts or sex-related issues not in the Bible (e.g., sale of vibrators) by linking them to acts that many deem immoral or even disgusting such as hiring a prostitute.

Slamming prostitution is an old political strategy. Find a group of people despised in society. Link something neutral to that group. Gain support for your cause. It works. Unfortunately, many people in sex work (prostitution) are not there due to choice. Sex workers need government protection from exploitation rather than government condemnation.

3. Some Christians think God’s view of sex is for procreation. This belief obviously has an impact on those that work to control behavior via creating or supporting laws limiting sexual activity (or in this case limiting the sale of objects aiding sexual activity). 

In my experience, even conservative Christians are willing to celebrate the Joy of Sex (it’s the title of an old book). There’s something a bit too cognitive about this kind of procreation-purpose language—people feel attracted to others and strong feelings mix with a biological drive to have sex.

One way contemporary Christian clinicians speak about sex is to call it “God’s gift.” Presumably, all sex is God’s sex, as long as a couple is married.

Read more about Sex-related morality and Christian cultures in A House Divided

Contact Information

Facebook Page:   Geoff W. Sutton

Twitter   @GeoffWSutton

Website: Geoff W. Sutton

Monday, April 11, 2016

Protesting circumcision

Revised 19/Feb/2018


Iceland has proposed a ban on circumcision of boys in 2018, which resulted in protests from Muslims and Jews. They banned the circumcision of girls in 2005 but had no laws banning circumcision of boys, according to an article in The Independent.

Circumcision protesters are on the move across the U.S. They showed up in Springfield MO on 7 April 2016—not surprisingly, their graphic fake blood on clothes grabbed attention and made the local news (KSPR).

Protests about circumcision have usually been about the horror of cutting young girls. And that’s something considered a problem in other countries— not the western democracies like the U.S.

This U.S. protest was about male circumcision. The placard carriers are against cruelty to boys—torture is their word. They view the procedure as optional and thus one that should be left to the individuals to decide when they are older.

The reframing of the issue from as a moral concern rather than a medical procedure deserves some attention. One moral foundation I discuss in my recent book, A House Divided, is the harm-care dimension. There is no doubt the cutting hurts. Is there any justification in the form of benefits due to circumcision?

The Mayo Clinic cites reasons for circumcision and notes it is part of Jewish and Islamic religious practice.

Here’s the Mayo Clinic opinion:

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says the benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks. However, the AAP doesn't recommend routine circumcision for all male newborns. The AAP leaves the circumcision decision up to parents — and supports use of anesthetics for infants who have the procedure.

So what about the morality issue?

Christians were divided over circumcision early on. Essentially, Christian converts were not required to follow this Jewish practice despite the biblical basis for the procedure. Instead, circumcision became metaphorical—a matter of the heart (See Acts 15; 1 Corinthians 7).

Secular medical practice provides reasons why circumcision is worth the pain and notes the pain can be reduced with an anesthetic.

A libertarian argument favors letting the individual choose.

We live in a time when old traditions are being challenged. But many people, if not most, are sensitive to practices that produce harm—especially when alternatives are available.

Read more about Sex-related morality, including circumcision, in chapter 6 of A House Divided


Free exam copies to professors

Contact Information

Facebook Page:   Geoff W. Sutton

Twitter   @GeoffWSutton

My Website: Geoff W. Sutton

Marriage Divorce Remarriage

“At times we have also proposed a far too abstract and almost artificial theological ideal of marriage.”
 Pope Francis, 2016

Decades after Jesus’ ministry on earth, Mark’s Gospel appears to shine a new light on how to understand the laws of Moses. Then as now, and in the time of Moses, it seems people wondered about the right thing to do when ending a marriage. It seems all are aware that divorce ought to be an exception. In Mark 10 and Matthew 19, Jesus is pressed about the legitimate way out of a marriage. Jesus pushes people back to God’s plan for an enduring relationship. He mentions an exception for adultery. Remarriage is not available in his words.

I noticed the language of Jesus. In the context of making the point about what the Creator intended, Jesus refers to Moses act as a situational compromise—Moses wrote that a man ought to give his wife a written certificate of divorce because of the hardness of their hearts (verse 5). A couple of Bible scholars informed me that the Jewish culture would have seen the words of Moses as the words of God, remember Sinai? One said.

But Mark seems to be writing to people following Jesus’ way—not those following old ways—at least not the old interpretations of The Law. Mark may even be writing after the Romans destroyed the Jewish rebellion and erased the Temple. Time and time again we learn Jesus’ new way of viewing the old interpretations. In not so subtle ways, Mark makes it clear Jesus is superior to Moses. He does this in Mark 1:11 and again in the story of the transfiguration (Mark 9: 2-10), which just precedes this story about marriage and divorce. Mark reminds the readers-- listen to Jesus--not John, not even Moses or Elijah--the proxies for the Law and the Prophets.

For millennia, men have sought ways to break marriages. In an age of polygamy, men could add a wife so no divorce was needed when they desired someone else. In an age of monogamy, men looked for reasons to move on to a new relationship. Interestingly, Mark writes as if women have the right to obtain divorce as well men (Mark 10: 12). Change is in the air. But it will be centuries until women have the political rights, religious blessings, and the economic means to free themselves from abusive relationships.

Unfortunately, when it comes to marriage, many couples have not persevered through difficult times. Individual rights have taken precedence over the importance of commitment to a spouse and to children. Additionally, churches have failed to find effective ways to support relationships and families. And churches have failed in finding ways to support those who were in abusive relationships or welcoming those who found survival in new relationships.

I’m not a Bible scholar nor am I a Roman Catholic but I see the words of Pope Francis as an attempt to deal with the ambiguities that Jesus dealt with in front of those who seek to argue about rules and traditions rather than focus on the plight of the people who bear the brunt of ill-conceived applications of old laws and traditions. Like Jesus, the Pope holds up the ideal of marriage yet encourages mercy in dealing with “real families.”

Marriages are the building blocks of society. Of course, not all couples have children but when they do, families can expand a nation’s foundation beyond that of a stable couple to a stable family group. The church can do much to support marriages and families. And this should not be taken to demean those who live single lives. All people are welcome in the kingdom as Mark also tries to make clear in the same chapter (e.g., verses 13-31).

To read more about biblical marriage, divorce, and remarriage, see chapter 8 in A House Divided.

Contact Information

Facebook Page:   Geoff W. Sutton

Twitter   @GeoffWSutton

Website: Geoff W. Sutton

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Perceptions of Porn Addiction

Cover of Time April 2016

TIME’s recent “Porn” cover story describes a perceived relationship between internet porn use and reports of young men experiencing erectile dysfunction (Buscombe, 2016). Some have been motivated to create strategies to help others reduce porn use. Buscombe writes: “Of course there are much broader concerns about porn’s effect on society that go beyond the potential for sexual dysfunction, including the fact that it often celebrates the degradation of women and normalizes sexual aggression.” Later Buscombe mentions the lack of definitive research establishing negative effects of porn.

Having just published a book about sexuality, morality and Christian cultures (A House Divided), I checked to see if there was some new research. It turns out, there are a lot of hypotheses and very little scientific evidence connecting pornography to harmful effects. But there are some promising ideas—whatever the science reveals, there’s no doubt people in general, and Christians in particular, are troubled by pornography. Here’s my list.

1. Defining pornography continues to be a problem but it is relevant.
The word pornography carries a negative connotation to be sure. Pornography has become a generic term for depictions of nudity and sexually explicit behavior (e.g., Wright, 2013). Some writers include a reference to the motivation of the producer (e.g., to stimulate sexual arousal) but that makes no sense. Think about it—how do you know anyone’s motives? If something is morally wrong or illegal or harmful, who cares about the motive? Shouldn’t we be concerned about the thing that is morally wrong, illegal, or harmful?

The problem with a definition is important because it can lead to action.  In relatively free societies like democracies, people argue for rights of expression. When people agree to be a part of organizations that set restrictions on nudity and sexuality, the criteria are more precise. For example, R-rated movies require justification for viewing and nudes are not permitted in art classes at some Christian colleges and universities (Huffington Post). We could extrapolate from these rules to assume that nudity is porn. This seems pretty restrictive compared to what seems like an “anything goes” philosophy at state universities. However, compared to the modesty evident in Amish and Muslim clothing for women, the level of exposure of a woman’s body on Christian campuses appears risqué. (Nobody seems to care much about menswear.)

2. Porn addiction is pervasive?
Actually, reports of porn addiction are commonplace despite the lack of scientific evidence. You won’t find features of a mental disorder termed “porn addiction” or even "sexual addiction" in the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (2013). But on page 481 you will see a note explaining the problem of insufficient evidence.

Stephanie Montgomery-Graham and her colleagues at Western University, London, Ontario examined the media problem of rushing to judgment about pornography and relationships (2015). They identified common themes in popular media and compared them to academic research. The conclusion, as you might imagine, is that popular stories lag behind science. Popular stories report about porn addiction. And websites propose cures. But the science is not conclusive.

Alex Kwee and his colleagues writing in the Journal of Psychology and Christianity (2007) recognize the problem of defining sexual addiction (which includes porn use) but proceed to discuss the distress experienced by men at the Christian college where they work. They report that 66% of men who saw a counselor about “sexual concerns believed or suspected that they struggled with sexual addiction, whether or not they were actually assessed to have an addiction. (p. 4).” Later the authors discuss their view of the pressures from the “purity movement” and associated abstinence teaching on these men. They note that the concept of “sexual purity” is vague and adds to distress. They express concerns about the combination of Christian teaching, “pornography dependence and compulsive masturbation (p.11).”

As you can see, porn use can be bound up with beliefs about sexual addiction and masturbation.

3. “Perceived Addiction” is a helpful concept

Joshua B. Grubbs and several researchers (2015) reported the results of two studies that might help understand the “addiction” problem. As an aside, they provide some stats noting that in the U.S. close to 87% of young men and 34% of young women use internet pornography. They note what others have—mental health workers’ belief in the problem of pornography and the lack of research.

Here’s the helpful idea. Instead of focusing on the problem of addiction, they consider the impact of “perceived addiction.” That is, the authors look at how individuals interpret their feeling of being addicted to pornography. This perception includes three key concepts: A perception of compulsive behavior that is out of control, a perception that they are letting pornography interfere with their daily routines, and the presence of emotional distress—feelings of guilt, shame, and regret. The results of two studies supported their idea that perceived addiction to internet pornography explained the emotional distress. The distress did not appear related to the level of pornography usage.

4. Pornography and sexual violence toward women

Evangelical Christians and feminists seem like odd partners in any cause. But they might sometimes focus on an issue of concern to both groups--the idea that pornography leads to sexual violence against women.

What Jodie L. Baer and her co-investigators (2015) found might help understand this perceived connection. They tested the “Confluence Model.” This model suggests that any link between pornography and sexual aggression needs to be understood in a context of other factors—Hostile Masculinity (HM) and Sexual Promiscuity (SP). In their study they looked at how these factors related to sexual coercion.

Here’s a quote from the discussion (p. 168): “Consistent with previous Confluence Model research, the current study found that pornography use was associated with sexually coercive acts among males who were predisposed toward high sexual risk, that is, those who were both high in HM and high in SP.” They add an important qualification. The men scoring high on their ratings of Hostile Masculinity and Sexual Promiscuity were users of violent sexual media compared to the men at low sexual risk.


Helping people who feel distressed is a good idea.

The notion of “perceived addiction” can be useful to health care professionals if the focus can be on helping the person seeking treatment discover ways to reduce their distress.

Communities like Christian colleges and universities have a measure of control over access to porn on their networks. But, people usually find ways to access anything that’s prohibited thus an important focus ought to be on evidence-supported ways to help with perceived addiction and the accompanying emotional distress. Codes of sexual conduct and an understanding of Christian teaching about sexual purity are well known. There’s no evidence that more teaching or preaching about purity will solve the problem—perhaps these activities make things worse.

People with strong religious beliefs and values about sexuality may have more distress than others.

An awareness of how people understand what their faith teaches about sex is important to understanding their distress and need for forgiveness and assistance. Recognize there is a wide range of what constitutes “pornography” among Christians—you won’t know until you ask. One person's porn is another person's art.

Harm may be a moral foundation for restricting some forms of pornography.

The finding that certain types of pornography (violent acts toward women) may interact with other factors like hostility and low control of sexual behavior might be more helpful in understanding actual sexual violence against women. Considering the reported high rates of pornography use, it seems the rates of sexual violence would be even higher if pornography, defined as including nudity, was the only cause of sexual violence.

An awareness of whatever harms a significant number of people without conferring any benefit might be a useful basis for making changes in democratic societies. This won’t satisfy either extreme libertarians or those wanting to ban every portrayal of nudity. But studies linking depictions of sexual violence and the degradation of women and other persons suggest a way forward.

Some counselors or therapists may not know what they are doing.
A person in distress over pornography may be the victim of useless treatment if the clinician touts treatment for porn addiction. The reason of course has to deal with the lack of scientific evidence for the condition without considering how to treat the condition. But the idea of treating a perceived addiction and focusing on distress along with the ideas presented in Kwee's report may be helpful.

READ MORE about Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures in A House Divided

For ideas on helping Christians, see Alex Kwee's page.

Contact Information

Facebook Page:   Geoff W. Sutton

Twitter   @GeoffWSutton

Website: Geoff W. Sutton

Friday, April 1, 2016

Gays Sodom and Homosexuality

Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
John Martin 1789-1854

Sexual Exploitation

The biblical story of Sodom found in Genesis 19 is a story about men seeking sex. And it’s a story about a gross violation of the way one ought to treat guests.

For centuries people interpreted the story as being about men who wanted to have sex with men. Based on the story, such men were known as sodomites and laws were established in various places prohibiting male-male sex labeled as sodomy. But Bible scholars make important points about this text that many people either ignore or fail to consider, which is why I include them here.

Who is a Sodomite?

Just wondering… I turned to an American dictionary to check on current usage. Sure enough, sodomite is still a word used in the traditional way: “a person who has anal sex with another person: someone who practices sodomy” (Retrieved April 1, 2016

Briefly, the Sodom Story

Genesis 19 records the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Two angels visited Lot in Sodom to warn him of the pending destruction. Showing hospitality, Lot offered his home.  But the men of the city came to the house and demanded sex with his guests. Lot protested and offered two virgin daughters instead. Lot and his family were saved by the angels and the city was destroyed.

What’s sex got to do with Sodom?

Of course the story included a demand for sex. But what’s the point of the story? Was Sodom destroyed for the voiced intent to have sex with Lot's guests?

God considered the city wicked and already planned to destroy the city before the angels visited it (Genesis 13:13 and 18:20). Asking for people to sexually abuse is surely an example of their depravity but it does not appear as the primary reason for the destruction.

Isaiah Chapter 1 condemns the people of Judah for sins like those of Sodom but does not mention same-sex activity.

Jeremiah 23:14 condemns the prophets of Jerusalem for sins like those of Sodom but does not mention same-sex activity.

 Ezekiel explains the sin of Sodom as a failure of hospitality (Ezekiel 16:49-50).

Matthew 10: 5-15. Jesus uses Sodom as an example of punishment upon those who do not welcome his disciples.

2 Peter 2:6-9.  Readers are warned to avoid the sins of Sodom, which included sexual sins and other acts.

Jude (6-7) warns of punishment by reference to the angels and Sodom and sins of immorality as well as going after strange or different flesh. Knust (2011) takes this to be a reference to Genesis 6:1-4-- the story about the sons of God having sex with the daughters of men-- the mixing of humans and angels.
How Many Sodomites were Homosexual?

Why ask? Well, people have linked the word sodomite with the people of Sodom as if all the men of the town were attracted to men. The Genesis text identifies those present at Lot’s house as all the men of the town. In the U.S. population, about 4-5% identify as LGBT. Of that a smaller percentage would be gay or bisexual. Though arguably not definitive, it seems unlikely the entire village was occupied by gay men.

And consider, why would gay men want to have sex with women? Observe that Lot offered his daughters to the men of the city.

What’s going on in this story?

Think about how you feel when you read it. Can you imagine that scene at Lot’s house? He tries to fend off gangsters who threaten him so they can rape his guests. Then Lot offers his daughters to the would be rapists.

This story is about rape. If you even feel some sense of disgust, then the story has offered a moral lesson. The men of Sodom violate all sense of decency and respect. Sex is a weapon. Sex is a part of what they do to destroy the lives of others.

And who can imagine a loving father willing to hand over his daughters to the rapists? Not only are men degraded but women, as if often the case in history, are treated like bargaining chips—there is no humanity for them.


I understand the desire of Christians to be faithful to scripture. Yet I get concerned when people get lost in a forest of words and miss the pain and suffering of real people—ancient or contemporary.

Times have changed. A more flexible group of Christians has emerged—those who respect the biblical texts but don’t ignore science and reason. Still others look for ethical principles that transcend ancient tribal cultures.

Some embrace a loving God and seek ways to love others. And some will choose their words carefully so they can show hospitality rather than rejection; Kindness rather than hatred.

It doesn’t mean there are no rules. It means the Sabbath was made for man. And woman. Rest becomes a principle. And being guided by love, compassion, humility, gratitude, and other virtues allows people to embrace those in pain and stand against those who would exploit, damage, and harm the neighbors in one’s life.


The beliefs of translators influence their choice or words. You will find sodomites in the King James Bible. The selection of adequate American words for ancient Hebrew words is not an easy task. For more about word choices for Sodom and sodomites see Coogan (2010)

Cite the blog post

Sutton, G. W. (2016, April 1). Gays, Sodom, and homosexuality. [Web log post]. Retrieved from 

Learn more about the Bible, Sex, and Culture

BUY THE BOOK A House Divided 

Post Notes

For more on rape and sexual assault, which harms so many women and men see MedlinePlus.

Anti-sodomy laws in the USA. The US Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a sodomy law in Georgia in a 1986 ruling, Bowers v. Hardwick.  In Lawrence v. Texas, (2003) the U S Supreme court found a Texas anti-sodomy law unconstitutional.

There’s a similar story to the Sodom story found in Judges 19 often referred to as a Levite and His Concubine.

Coogan, M. (2010). God & Sex. NY: Twelve. Click for a Time Magazine interview with Michael Coogan.

Knust, J. W. (2011). Unprotected texts. NY: HarperOne. Website for Jennifer Knust.

This post is an update of one I wrote in 2013.



Twitter  @GeoffWSutton