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BYU Study: Pornography use at any level harms romantic relationships


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Here:

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Avoiding pornography is vital to developing a healthy and long-term romantic relationship, says a new study from BYU.

The research, recently published in the Journal of Sex Research, leveraged data from over 3,500 people in committed relationships nationwide to examine pornography usage associations between gender, perceived addiction, and how religious an individual was.

The above link takes you to the study, entitled "Context Matters: Moderating Effects in the Associations between Pornography Use, Perceived Addiction, and Relationship Well-being."  It was authored by Brian J. Willoughby, an Associate Professor in BYU's School of Family Life (and co-authored by a BYU graduate student, Carson Dover).  Prof. Willoughby has a pretty good CV.  I hope that this article reflects the sort of academic effort that Elder Holland has been wanting to see from BYU.

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Researchers didn’t expose participants to pornographic material but asked participants to answer specific questions about pornography viewing as well as questions that measured their sense of satisfaction and stability in their relationship.

While there are complex factors between pornography use, gender, belief regarding addiction, and religion, the research found that pornography use by men or women at any level negatively impacted romantic relationships – with a pronounced negative impact on relationship stability.

This would seem to be almost axiomatic, but it's good to see some substantive research done on this.

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“It’s true that the type of pornographic content may have larger negative effects on relationship well-being than others, and that men who are religious appear to be more impacted by watching pornography due to feelings of being out of harmony with their moral beliefs, but the fact remains that relationship stability is weakened by pornography usage for both men and women,” said Dr. Brian Willoughby, BYU School of Family Life professor and co-author of the study.

I suspect some folks will be critical of the notion of "mean who are religious" feeling more guilt arising from watching pornography.  For some of these folks, I think the answer is not to refrain from viewing porn, but for religious people to abandon moral beliefs that conflict with viewing porn.  I see that as pretty irrational.  

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The findings hold important implications because prior to this study, pornography and its impact on relationship health had been a topic on which scholars and other experts seldom agreed. Many scholars argued that too many competing factors were at play to suggest that pornography use harms healthy relationships – making it difficult for the public and policymakers to get a clear sense of the impact pornography has on relationship health.

I hope further study and inquiry will be forthcoming.

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The research now arms agencies and policymakers with an overwhelming amount of evidence suggesting that regular pornography usage results in poor relational health. “As higher pornography use was reported, lower relationship stability was also reported by men and women,” said Willoughby.

“I think we need to start having a better conversation about pornography use being a risk factor for relationships,” he said. “Most couples are probably unaware that their pornography use may be creating risk or harm in their relationship. I’m hoping that research like this can start conversations for policymakers and others about the need to educate the public about the potential harms of pornography and create better resources for individuals and couples on navigating this topic.”

Well said.

This article offers a fairly acerbic (and perfunctory, and facile) comment on the above research: Big Surprise: Mormon University BYU Says All Porn Is Bad for You

Some excerpts:

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Published in The Journal of Sex Research, the study looked at 3,500 men and women in “committed relationships” around the country. Individuals answered questions about their pornography usage and their satisfaction with their partners to assess the “risk factor” that adult content might pose to relationships. The results? Agencies and policymakers are now “armed” with the “evidence” that “avoiding pornography is vital to developing a healthy and long-term romantic relationship,” as detailed in a press release from BYU News.

Turbo-charging my skepticism of the study is that it was conducted by researchers from the BYU School of Family Life — a program designed to, among other things, “foster commitment” to the principles of a 1995 manifesto published by the Mormon Church that claims “marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.” 

So she starts with a big dose of Ad Hominem.  

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In 2017, another of the School of Family Life’s illustrative studies was released. It looked at the effect the belief of one’s own addiction to porn had on that person’s anxiety around romantic relationships. Psychology Today published a response that explained how “seeing oneself as addicted to porn is far more damaging than actually using pornography,” helping to explain why religious men who watch porn have worse self esteem than their secular counterparts, which was again a conclusion of BYU’s most recent porn study.

“Out of fear of rejection, many people keep their pornography use secret, particularly when they are from religious, and especially Christian, communities or backgrounds,” according to psychologist David J. Ley. Ironically, Ley found that BYU’s study supported the idea “it’s not porn use, but rather the belief in porn addiction and the conflict with religion, which predict porn-related problems.”

The above-linked article, co-authored by Prof. Willoughby, is here: Damaged Goods: Perception of Pornography Addiction as a Mediator Between Religiosity and Relationship Anxiety Surrounding Pornography Use

The article had several hypotheses:

  • 1) More frequent pornography use will be associated with higher levels of relationship anxiety surrounding pornography use.
  • 2) Higher extrinsic and intrinsic religiosity will be associated with higher levels of relationship anxiety surrounding pornography use.
  • 3) Higher perceived pornography addiction will be associated with higher levels of relationship anxiety surrounding pornography use.
  • 4a) Perception of pornography addiction will mediate the association between pornography use and relationship anxiety surrounding pornography use.
  • 4b) Perception of pornography addiction will mediate the association between religiosity and relationship anxiety surrounding pornography use.

The results:

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Our first, second, and third hypotheses were confirmed, as bivariate associations showed that higher pornography use, perception of pornography addiction, and religiosity were all associated with heightened relationship anxiety surrounding pornography use, with the perception of pornography addiction having the strongest bivariate association with relationship anxiety surrounding pornography use.
...
However, the results associated with our fourth hypothesis showed that the simultaneous evaluations of these constructs gives further insight into the nuances of these associations. The first portion of our fourth hypothesis was partially supported, as pornography use was positively associated with relationship anxiety indirectly, by going through perception of pornography addiction. However, pornography use had a slightly negative direct association with relationship anxiety surrounding pornography use when all variables were entered into the mediation model. According to these results, those who use pornography are unlikely to feel anxious in their relationships because of their use, unless they believe themselves to have a compulsive, distressing pattern of use.

Some apparent implications:

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These findings have important implications for relationship formation patterns. Considering that dating discomfort was a subsidiary construct to relationship anxiety surrounding pornography use, individuals who believe themselves to have compulsive, distressing pornography use may be particularly reluctant to seek out dating partners. This is likely due to the feelings of powerlessness (Butler et al., Citation2015) and hopelessness (Philaretou et al., Citation2005) that often accompany the perception of addiction. Those who believe themselves to have a compulsive pattern of pornography use, regardless of level of religiosity, seem to believe they hold a perpetual undesirable trait and may consider themselves to be “damaged goods” in the dating market. This belief of being “damaged goods” in the dating market could heighten feelings of loneliness (Ernst & Cacioppo, Citation1999), which could create a cycle that makes it more difficult for those who believe themselves to have a compulsive, distressing pattern of pornography use to overcome their perceived addiction (Yoder, Virden, & Amin, Citation2005).

In addition, those who believe themselves to be addicted to pornography have higher communication anxiety concerning the topic, which could have important implications for individuals who move forward in their committed relationships and fail to disclose their pornography use to their significant other. As mentioned, dishonesty regarding pornography use may contribute more to relationship dissatisfaction than pornography use itself (Resch & Alderson, Citation2014). Furthermore, some individuals frame pornography use as infidelity and a major violation of relationship boundaries (Whitty, Citation2003). Among such individuals, the discovery of secretive pornography use, when labeled as infidelity, may be grounds for relationship dissolution in the eyes of the nonusing partner (Allen & Atkins, Citation2012). Finally, although we were unable to test overall sexual communication as an outcome, those who believe themselves to be addicted to pornography may also have greater difficulty in their general sexual communication patterns, which may lead to added difficulty in the sexual relationship with their partner (Kelly et al., Citation2004; Wheeless & Parsons, Citation1995). Assessing the link between pornography use, perception of pornography addiction, and general sexual communication could be a profitable area for future research.

One possible mechanism that could explain the association between perceived addiction and relationship anxiety surrounding pornography is perceived social support, as previous research suggests perceived addiction is associated with lower perceived social support (Wang & Zhang, Citation2015), and that lower perceived social support is associated with higher general relationship anxiety (Riggio, Citation2004). Considering the shameful nature of perceived pornography addiction (Gilliland, South, Carpenter, & Hardy, Citation2011), our findings are also congruent with previous research showing that outcome expectations (e.g., whether someone expects a confidant to be supportive) mediates the negative association between shame and disclosing a shameful secret (DeLong & Kahn, Citation2014). Those who believe themselves to have compulsive, distressing pornography use may fear a negative response from a prospective romantic partner and are thus less likely to pursue the relationship and disclose their perceived compulsive and distressing use. Perception of support should be specifically evaluated as a mediator in future research to potentially explain our findings.

Interesting stuff.

Back to the original article:

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While the mainstream porn industry is undeniably rife with exploitation and abuse, the flattening of all porn to a demonic force of relationship-sabotaging smut seems to extend more from a disapproval of any sexual expression that exists outside the bonds of marriage between a man and a woman, rather than the ills of the for-profit, often misogynistic porn machine. On my list of people I would rather seek relationship advice from than the Mormon Church? Cole Sprouse, Stormy Daniels and all the drag queens in Florida.

Um, not sure what to say to this last bit of vitriol.  Let's break it down:

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While the mainstream porn industry is undeniably rife with exploitation and abuse,

I read this and thought "Huh, it sounds like she is teeing up some sort of partial defense of pornography."  

I think the interesting thing about this concession is that the "exploitation and abuse" is, I think, not a byproduct of the "porn industry," but is instead an inherent and substantive component of the actual "product" of that industry.

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the flattening of all porn to a demonic force of relationship-sabotaging smut

This is a pretty big strawman.  The BYU articles are pretty clinical.

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seems to extend more from a disapproval of any sexual expression that exists outside the bonds of marriage between a man and a woman, rather than the ills of the for-profit, often misogynistic porn machine.

Well, yes.  Constraining sex to marriage is an entirely reasonable point of view.  This seems odd, as the articles are assessing the use of pornography, not critiquing its production

As it turns out, the author, Emma Glassman-Hughes, authors a "Sex & Dating" column, and has elsewhere apparently written quite a bit extolling the virtues of "ethical" porn.

Thanks,

-Smac

Link to comment

And the actual study is behind a paywall so we have the abstract and a few quotes.

And the adversarial piece you decided to deconstruct wasn’t an academic rebuttal but just an anti-BYU hate piece so why is it relevant? Just an easy straw man to pummel?

It is not “ad hominem” to doubt the research coming from a very biased source especially when you can’t see the research. Or do you sincerely believe that BYU would have published the study if the data showed that porn use increases relationship stability? I don’t believe it does but I also don’t believe it would be announced in the Church News or published at all if the study had shown that.

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I guess the take away is if you use pornography, you shouldn't expect to get into or continue in a relationship, this furthering your need for pornography. I guess though all the talks, articles about overcoming porn is garbage. Someone could lie, steal, cheat, abuse but it's porn that is the deciding factor for a healthy or unhealthy relationship

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I recall another study out of BYU a few years ago (I believe Willoughby was also an author on that study) that showed a positive correlation between women's porn use and relationship satisfaction. I have seen other studies make similar claims. In general, it seems that different studies come to different conclusions.

The LDS Newsroom article for this used words like "overwhelming" when describing the strength of the correlations this new study claims to show. I know I have seen criticisms leveled against some of these studies in the past that question the strength of the correlation. As noted, the actual study is (understandably) behind a paywall, so none of us can readily check the actual statistics. My main question at this point is how strong are the correlations, really. With 3500 respondents (is that considered a large N?), it might be relatively easy (if large N) to show statistical significance even when the correlation is relatively weak. In these cases, I find people talking about the difference between "statistically significant" and "practically significant."

And, of course, there is always the "correlation is not causation" discussion. We often talk as if porn uses causes the relationship problems, but could it be that those with relationship problems are more likely to go to porn rather than resolve issues?

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50 minutes ago, Duncan said:

I guess the take away is if you use pornography, you shouldn't expect to get into or continue in a relationship, this furthering your need for pornography. I guess though all the talks, articles about overcoming porn is garbage. Someone could lie, steal, cheat, abuse but it's porn that is the deciding factor for a healthy or unhealthy relationship

As if any sane person would suggest that lying, stealing, cheating and being abusive isn’t just as deadly to the health of relationships as pornography? This is the kind of muddy, illogical, poorly thought out thinking that happens when the petulant take plainly evident truth is to be hard.

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5 minutes ago, teddyaware said:

As if any sane person would suggest that lying, stealing, cheating and being abusive isn’t just as deadly to the health of relationships as pornography? This is the kind of muddy, illogical, poorly thought out thinking that happens when the petulant take plainly evident truth is to be hard.

but it is not "vital" as the authors suggest. Talk about the dimwitted taking the truth to be hard, if they can understand it all

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2 hours ago, smac97 said:

Here:

The above link takes you to the study, entitled "Context Matters: Moderating Effects in the Associations between Pornography Use, Perceived Addiction, and Relationship Well-being."  It was authored by Brian J. Willoughby, an Associate Professor in BYU's School of Family Life (and co-authored by a BYU graduate student, Carson Dover).  Prof. Willoughby has a pretty good CV.  I hope that this article reflects the sort of academic effort that Elder Holland has been wanting to see from BYU.

This would seem to be almost axiomatic, but it's good to see some substantive research done on this.

I suspect some folks will be critical of the notion of "mean who are religious" feeling more guilt arising from watching pornography.  For some of these folks, I think the answer is not to refrain from viewing porn, but for religious people to abandon moral beliefs that conflict with viewing porn.  I see that as pretty irrational.  

I hope further study and inquiry will be forthcoming.

Well said.

This article offers a fairly acerbic (and perfunctory, and facile) comment on the above research: Big Surprise: Mormon University BYU Says All Porn Is Bad for You

Some excerpts:

So she starts with a big dose of Ad Hominem.  

The above-linked article, co-authored by Prof. Willoughby, is here: Damaged Goods: Perception of Pornography Addiction as a Mediator Between Religiosity and Relationship Anxiety Surrounding Pornography Use

The article had several hypotheses:

  • 1) More frequent pornography use will be associated with higher levels of relationship anxiety surrounding pornography use.
  • 2) Higher extrinsic and intrinsic religiosity will be associated with higher levels of relationship anxiety surrounding pornography use.
  • 3) Higher perceived pornography addiction will be associated with higher levels of relationship anxiety surrounding pornography use.
  • 4a) Perception of pornography addiction will mediate the association between pornography use and relationship anxiety surrounding pornography use.
  • 4b) Perception of pornography addiction will mediate the association between religiosity and relationship anxiety surrounding pornography use.

The results:

Some apparent implications:

Interesting stuff.

Back to the original article:

Um, not sure what to say to this last bit of vitriol.  Let's break it down:

I read this and thought "Huh, it sounds like she is teeing up some sort of partial defense of pornography."  

I think the interesting thing about this concession is that the "exploitation and abuse" is, I think, not a byproduct of the "porn industry," but is instead an inherent and substantive component of the actual "product" of that industry.

This is a pretty big strawman.  The BYU articles are pretty clinical.

Well, yes.  Constraining sex to marriage is an entirely reasonable point of view.  This seems odd, as the articles are assessing the use of pornography, not critiquing its production

As it turns out, the author, Emma Glassman-Hughes, authors a "Sex & Dating" column, and has elsewhere apparently written quite a bit extolling the virtues of "ethical" porn.

Thanks,

-Smac

I saw the article headline and browsed when this came out. How did they determine the arrow of causality? Does strife in a relationship result in an increase in porn use or vise versa? Seems like determining this should be done before drawing any substantive conclusions. YMMV. 

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3 hours ago, jkwilliams said:

Maybe I’m reading it wrong, but it sounds like they are saying porn is more of a problem when you think it is a problem. If you think it’s bad, whether for religious reasons or fear of addiction, it tends to loom larger than it really is. The guilt/shame cycle tends to repeat itself because people become overly consumed with guilt, which leads to feeling worse, and porn is an instant way of feeling “better.”

The other night I was talking to an ex-Mormon friend who just got engaged. After his divorce a number of years ago, he started looking at porn. The predictable guilt/shame cycle ensued. When he talked about it with his now-fiancée (also a former member), she said it wasn’t a big deal, and they talked about what interested him sexually. That broke the cycle, and he said he hasn’t looked at pornography in a long time. 

I’ve never been a regular user myself, but I did experience that cycle of shame,  partly out of residual religious guilt but also because I was afraid of addiction. I even went to an LDS 12-step meeting for about a year (all I can say is “yikes”—definitely not helpful). My therapist helped me see I wasn’t an addict and should stop feeling the crushing guilt. That broke the cycle for me, and it’s been years since I even thought about it. 

I think you nailed it, and I believe some couples can use soft porn or Netflix to help their situations. There's a lot of LDS or religious women and maybe men that struggle with sex because of the shame that's been behind it. And it may help women become aroused for their husband or else it's just all one sided. Some women can't get in the mood without some type of visual and when they are older, sex is painful without it.

I remember finding a playboy underneath my parent's bed. And my mom said it's the neighbor's and she was reading an article. I don't think she was lying, haha. But I do believe she left some info out, I was maybe 8 or 9 years old. 

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4 hours ago, jkwilliams said:

Maybe I’m reading it wrong, but it sounds like they are saying porn is more of a problem when you think it is a problem.

Yes, that is what it boils down to.  Porn is not the root problem, it is the symptom.  Until we understand that, treating it as the problem will only create more fuel for the fire.  When people stop beating themselves up over this issue, recovery becomes a lot easier and relationships can be saved when it is properly understood. 

The difficulty is that I think there are genuine problems with pornography in and of itself, but we need to remove the stigma and shame from it.  I don't think we want our kids to be viewing it, but we certainly shouldn't be shaming them for it either.  

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15 minutes ago, Hamilton Porter said:

It…inhibits you from making real connections with women.

I think it can lead to the objectification of women which can inhibit genuine connections, but I think the problem is largely the other way around.   It is the isolation and lack of connections/intimacy (not just with women) that is actually the fuel for the fire of pornography.    It ends up being a cycle that feeds on itself with devastating consequences, but the root causes usually develop before puberty even happens.

Edited by pogi
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19 minutes ago, pogi said:
32 minutes ago, Hamilton Porter said:

It…inhibits you from making real connections with women.

I think it can lead to the objectification of women which can inhibit genuine connections, but I think the problem is largely the other way around.   It is the isolation and lack of connections/intimacy (not just with women) that is actually the fuel for the fire of pornography

That's definitely true. When I'm getting a lot of affection from women, I don't get horny.

But if you masturbate to porn every day, there's no incentive to go out and make real connections.

This is why successful people tend to have stronger than have average libidos.

 

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34 minutes ago, Hamilton Porter said:

That's definitely true. When I'm getting a lot of affection from women, I don't get horny.

But if you masturbate to porn every day, there's no incentive to go out and make real connections.

This is why successful people tend to have stronger than have average libidos.

So if you get affection from women you don’t get horny. So successful people who get affection don’t get horny and somehow have a higher than average libido?

Not only is this a pop-culture myth it is also contradictory.

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50 minutes ago, The Nehor said:

So successful people who get affection don’t get horny and somehow have a higher than average libido?

You have causal arrows pointed in the wrong direction.

Successful people have stronger than average libidos. If you jack off to porn, your libido won't be very high.

Loneliness (along with boredom and stress) can trigger your libido. If you harness it as a drive to connect with women or get things done, then great. Or you can douse it by jacking off to porn.

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12 minutes ago, Hamilton Porter said:

You have causal arrows pointed in the wrong direction.

Successful people have stronger than average libidos. If you jack off to porn, your libido won't be very high.

That is not having a low libido.

15 minutes ago, Hamilton Porter said:

Loneliness (along with boredom and stress) can trigger your libido. If you harness it as a drive to connect with women or get things done, then great. Or you can douse it by jacking off to porn.

So you should cultivate loneliness to increase your libido to get sexual partners and accomplish things?

Are you in one of those weird “no fap” cults that think you get superpowers through harnessing sexual energy?

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It's been empirically demonstrated that ambition is linked to sex drive. You've been hearing fairy tales.

https://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/19/fashion/scholars-discuss-weiners-behavior.html

4 minutes ago, The Nehor said:

That is not having a low libido.

So you should cultivate loneliness to increase your libido to get sexual partners and accomplish things?

Are you in one of those weird “no fap” cults that think you get superpowers through harnessing sexual energy?

If you jack off to porn several times a day, of course you that'll drain your libido.

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34 minutes ago, Hamilton Porter said:

It's been empirically demonstrated that ambition is linked to sex drive. You've been hearing fairy tales.

https://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/19/fashion/scholars-discuss-weiners-behavior.html

Really? A discussion of Anthony Weiner? Did you choose that for the phallic pun?

37 minutes ago, Hamilton Porter said:

If you jack off to porn several times a day, of course you that'll drain your libido.

Libido isn’t drained. It is how often you experience sexual desire. The fall off after sexual activity exists but the thing you are blaming on porn also happens after sex.

Porn can be harmful but you just keep throwing out pseudoscience about it.

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Dario, I am confused why you are downvoting people today.  I am trying to better understand what you are thinking about the topics we are discussing because I like to learn about others’ ideas and beliefs, so I decided to ask for more information so I can better understand your posts. 
 

For example, you downvoted my request for information about evidence for the claim that porn causes impotence. I am not disagreeing or agreeing with the comment that porn causes impotence, just wondering if it is the writer’s opinion or if the writer has research that has shown this, what is the foundation for his statement.  

If I claimed caffeine has caused problems for people with sleep disorders, I would happily provide the research to anyone asking me if there was evidence to support my statement so more could learn from the research.  That was all I was asking for here, I would like to see the research to learn what it says in detail.

And what Rain has said in her posts elsewhere about masculinity labels agrees a great deal with what you have said in some of your posts.  She is encouraging caution in making claims about so called masculine traits, not supporting what the video says. Her husband isn’t getting ads because he likes the video. Sounds more like he would be laughing at it if he bothered to watch it. 
 

Rain’s last post (here:  https://www.mormondialogue.org/topic/75188-the-problem-w-ldsmen/?do=findComment&comment=1210141967 ) is supporting changes the Church has made to demonstrate that marriage is an equal partnership and women should not be subservient to men. You downvoted her post even though you condemned the idea in the next post that only men should be the leaders and women followers in a marriage.  

Like Rain, I don’t worry about downvotes, but if I am confused by one, I will ask for clarification because I want to understand others’ POV. I am very confused by some of your more recent downvotes and so I am hoping you will share more of your thinking so I can better understand you. I enjoy finding out more about people, especially what they think about. 

 

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