A recent study claiming that pornography could be contributing to lower marriage rates made a lot of headlines. Two researchers at the Institute for the Study of Labor in Germany used data from the General Social Survey to determine how many hours participants spent on a variety of online activities each week. People who used the Internet more tended to be unmarried, and those who visited pornographic sites had were even less likely to be married.

It’s pretty hard to prove that there is causation and not just correlation at work here. People who tend to be unmarried may be more likely to resort to using pornography, just as people may remain unmarried because they are perfectly satisfied using pornography as a substitute.

Some researchers have questioned the methodology of the survey as well. But whatever one can say about the numbers, the paper contains an interesting survey of the research literature on pornography—mentioning, for instance, papers on the relationship between watching X-rated movies and happiness in a marriage (it gets lower) and on the consumption of pornography and the likelihood that one would hire a prostitute or engage in adultery (it gets higher).

It is also, not surprisingly perhaps, less likely that consumers of porn will attend church. Again it is hard to sort out correlation from causation. If you’re not a strong believer, you may not see anything particularly wrong with watching pornography. But you also may see watching pornography as a reason not to attend church. When I was researching a book on young adults and religion, I talked to one researcher who said that many young adults see faith as a jacket. Once you start doing something that runs contrary to the tenets of your faith, you put the jacket in the corner and you don’t want to put it back on again until you are back to following all the rules.

The problem for believers and religious communities is that you may never get to that point, and the less you have the support and instruction of your religious community, the less likely you are to ever change your behavior. Because pornography use is solitary and secretive, it exacerbates many of the tendencies that we already see among young adults—particularly young men. They are moving further and further away from communities, from institutions (religious and otherwise), even from regular work. In his new book Andrew Cherlin refers to this as “casualization” of the lives of these men (particularly the working class).

It is easy to see how long hours spent online (looking at pornography and other websites) or watching TV can contribute to a kind of aimlessness. Time for these men will just drift away. Getting on a path to an education or a career or marriage will take a backseat to whatever is on the screen. A recent New York Times piece on how nonemployed, prime-age people spend their time showed that 41 percent of men in that category, but just 17 percent of women, devote more daytime hours to watching TV and other forms of leisure than to any other activity.

It’s tempting to just assume that some woman will eventually step in and “be enough” to bring a man in this situation back into the folds of society. But that’s putting an awfully big burden on some chance romantic encounter. What these men may need instead are other men—mentors in the community, people who will draw them into religious life, reintroduce them to the joys of family, and help them move toward education and regular employment.

In a column he wrote before becoming the head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Russell Moore explained, “In our time, pornography is the destroying angel of (especially male) Eros, and it’s time the Church faced the horror of this truth.”

Despite the best efforts of religious leaders to attract young singles, religious life is still largely a family affair. To the extent that pornography both undermines the motivation to get married and settled down and introduces more marital instability, Moore is right. Religious communities, though, have the opportunity to be part of the solution.