Nobody is as successful at failing to live up to the expectations that they hold others to quite like religious conservatives. It’s been a public secret for a long time that the folks from the deep red states of the Bible Belt are among the most frequent consumers of adult materials; study after study has confirmed this. So while they’re telling women to keep their knees closed and pretending that their teenage daughters aren’t out rolling in the hay with a handsome boy, they’re also clocking in the hits on those . . . shall we say, adult-oriented sites.
The answer, it seems, may have something to do with psychological defense mechanisms.
In October, two Toronto researchers, Cara MacInnis and Gordon Hodson, published a study that correlated the popularity of sex and adult material-related search terms across various regions or states with information from a Gallup pool asking about religious and political attitudes. Their study design involves a number of different comparisons and considered the effects of poverty, population, and other variables.
Unsurprisingly, higher levels of religiosity and conservatism correlated higher search rates sexual content — specifically, it meant more searches for phrases like “sex,” “gay sex,” or “sex images.”
While aggregate data can’t be used to draw conclusions about individual behavior and is open to alternative interpretations, it fits with information from other sources. For instance, Business professor Benjamin Edelman at Harvard found that states that place a higher esteem on traditional gender roles and sexuality have higher rates of paid subscriptions for adult materials — which seems to imply they have no idea how the Internet works in these states, as well.
It dovetails with claims made by strip club owners that they make up to three times as much during Republican conventions than Democratic conventions or even the Superbowl. MacInnis and Hodsen quote an exotic dancer named Layla Love who said in 2001 that the arrival of the RNC brought with it “15 to 17 hour shifts, every day” until the convention ended. She added that “So, for basically seven days straight, I will be in the club, every day, day shift and night shift.”
So we’ve stated the obvious; what’s this got to do with defense mechanisms?
There are several that are relevant to this discussion:
- Denial means simply refusing to acknowledge that some event or pattern is real.
- Repression involves pushing uncomfortable thoughts and feelings to the far recesses of the subconscious mind.
- Reaction formation is saying or doing the opposite of what you really want but won’t allow yourself to express.
- Projection means assuming that others share the impulses, feelings, and vices that you find unacceptable in yourself.
We’ve all encountered at least one of these before when dealing with a religious conservative: for instance, the Religious Right projects more than an IMAX theater. When factored into this discussion, however, it becomes easy to picture a group of so-called “Values Voters” at the convention after a night painting the town (Republican) Red:
Projection: Godless liberals are destroying this country—feminazi sluts demanding sex with no consequences and faggots pushing their gay agenda on our children.
Reaction formation: This town is full of trashy dancers who wag their big tits and tight asses at honest businessmen. We should lock them up and throw away the key.
Denial: Real Christians, through prayer, have the power to resist temptation. Only righteous men in public office can stop the moral decay of this sex-obsessed country.
Repression: Did you say something?
We all have our failings; nobody is perfect. But if you’re going to demand perfection from others and make no allowances for failure, you better damn well be perfect yourself. Not just “saved” — perfect. Conservatives have an extremely creepy attitude towards sex, basing their policies on antiquated, paternalistic “virginity codes” and purity myths that have harmful effects on not just their own warped self-image, but their children as well. For instance, it’s hypocritical and harmful to spend more than a decade forcing abstinence-only education on teens, insisting that hormone-addled teens say “no” when they can’t even do that themselves.
Sex is a fact of life. The sooner we grow up as a culture and admit that sex is part of our biology, and start portraying sex for what it really is, rather than idealized versions of what it’s not, the better off we’ll all be.