Personal Health

Have People Really Sworn Off Internet Porn for Lent?

Add a new popular pleasure to the penance list.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/ jwblinn

Since Lent kicked off on Ash Wednesday, February 14, millions of Catholics have given up their favorite thing for the 40 days of penance before Easter weekend. Chocolate, booze, swearing: these are the sorts of pleasures that are typically abandoned for the duration of the observance. But in the digital age, another apparent favorite might be making its way onto the list of things Christians are temporarily denying themselves: Internet porn.

In fact, a new survey suggests, the number of Lent observers giving up virus-laden internet porn may be so large it’s made a measurable dent in the number of infections plaguing America’s computers. According to Enigma Software Group, which conducted the survey, “[m]alware infections have dropped 17 percent in the United States since the start of the Lenten season.”

Of course, that could just mean people are going on a tech-fast as part of their religious experience, and going online less than they normally do. But considering that hackers often target porn sites and users, the malware decline seems to point to Lent observers shying away from specific online materials.

Don't let big tech control what news you see. Get more stories like this in your inbox, every day.

"It's very common for people who participate in Lenten activities to curtail usage of things like social media and technology in general in the weeks leading up to Easter," ESG spokesperson Ryan Gerding said in a statement about the findings. "They may also reduce the amount of time spent on adult websites, which are common sources of malware infections. We think all of those activities together help to explain why infections are dropping during Lent.”

Gerding noted that malware infections similarly declined 14 percent during Lent last year. “In 2017, infections jumped back up to pre-Lent levels within a couple days of Easter Sunday,” ESG pointed out in a media release.

Cities with large numbers of Catholics saw particularly precipitous drops in infections. In Boston, malware infections since Lent kicked off have plummeted by more than one-third, at 36 percent. Infections in New York have fallen 31 percent. Pittsburgh’s infection rate is down 38 percent, and both Chicago and Los Angeles are home to 23 percent fewer infections right now than normal. In Las Vegas, infections fell 21 percent.

"Is the drop in infections in these cities solely because of people giving up technology for Lent? Probably not," Gerding said. "But any time there is a change in computer habits, we generally see a change in infections. For example, during the holiday shopping season when more people are engaging in online commerce, infections jump."

Not to mention research has shown Christians of all stripes are pretty big consumers of porn. A 2016 study from Barna, which studies trends in faith and culture, found “[m]ost pastors (57 percent) and youth pastors (64 percent) admit they have struggled with porn, either currently or in the past.” They also found that “12 percent of youth pastors and 5 percent of pastors say they are addicted to porn.” (Shame factored in hugely here. Of the pastors who view porn, 87 percent said they “feel a great sense of shame about it” and 55 percent “say they live in constant fear of being discovered.”) Another 2014 survey found 64 percent of Christian men say they view pornography at least once a month. (Among those 18-34, 18-30 years old, that number shoots up to 77 percent, and 36 percent “look at porn at least daily.”) That same study found that “34 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 30 view pornography at least monthly; 8 percent of women between the ages of 31 and 49 view pornography at least monthly; and 10 percent of women between 50 and 68 looks at porn monthly.”

Lent ends on March 29.

Kali Holloway is a senior writing fellow and the senior director of Make It Right, a project of the Independent Media Institute.