People in red states are significantly more likely to subscribe to internet pornography. At least this seems to be the upshot of a recent study by Harvard economist Benjamin Edelman (here) [and blogged by Professor Ann Bartow here].
According to Ederlman’s data, Utah is the national leader in digital porn purchases, and 8 out of the top ten web-porn states (per 1000 broadband users) voted for McCain and Palin in 2008. The Edelman study is based on the zip codes of credit card users who patronized one the leading purveyors of online adult entertainment over a period of two years in 2006-08.
Although Professor Ederlman’s results may or may not surprise you, accounting for them is another matter. One theory is that people in red states are not as tech-savvy as their more liberal compatriots, so they don’t know how to find all the free stuff. (Dubious.) Another theory is that aggressive enforcement in red states makes it harder to get traditional ink-on-paper. Then there’s the fact that porn subscriptions tend to be more numerous in the states where more people reported in a Pew survey:”I have old-fashioned values about family and marriage.”Is there a causal connection there, do you think?
Of course the most intriguing possibility is that the red state demand for online erotica is somehow causally connected with the conservative bent of the people who live there. Since their special version of”family”values has such a prominent place in the conservative mentality, one can hardly help but think there’s got to be a connection in there somewhere. But even if there is, which way would the causal arrows go?
Does sexual repression breed desire, as some might want to maintain? Or does the fear of guilt from lustful thoughts motivate calls for repression, like Odysseus demanding to be tied to the mast? Or is it some other kind of weirdness altogether?
And there’s still more to ponder. Edelman recites stats indicating that 36% of internet users visit pornographic sites at least monthly, making an average of 7.7 visits per month. Yet, the average time for each visit is only 11.6 minutes.
And then there’s this: Divorce rates are lower when subscription rates are higher, but then too, so are marriage rates. If anything, porn appears to help keep married people married and single people single.
Regrettably, the zip code data did not allow Professor Edelman to do an analysis by gender.