Red Tide Rising: Online Erotica in Conservative America

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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.  

-John Humbach

 

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5 Responses to Red Tide Rising: Online Erotica in Conservative America

  1. Ann Bartow says:

    Another theory is that aggressive enforcement in red states makes it harder to get traditional ink-on-paper.

    Aggressive enforcement of what, exactly?

  2. Ann Bartow says:

    Also, here is an excerpt from Edelman’s study at page 215 (bolding mine) that makes your queries somewhat specious:

    Controlling for broadband access, states show remarkable similarity in their subscription quantities, as shown in Table 2. Dividing state subscription counts by the FCC’s Broadband Deployment quantities, the most-subscribing state is Utah (where 5.47 of every 1,000 broadband households subscribed to the service at issue), while the least-subscribing state is Montana (1.92 per 1000 broadband households). The ratio of these extremes is just 2.85:relatively small in comparison to states’ diversity in other respects.”

    I noted in my post, which you linked to:

    “Based on about two years of credit card data from 2006 to 2008 that included a purchase date and each customer’s postal code, the study found that after controlling for differences in broadband internet access between states and adjusting for population, there is a relatively small difference between states with the most adult purchases and those with the fewest.”

  3. Jhumbach says:

    Yes, reading statistics can certainly be a Rorschach test (though that’s not the same as”specious”).

    Anyway, it looks to me like a broadband user in Utah is nearly three times more likely to subscribe to an adult”paysite”than one in Montana. Some may say a nearly 300% difference is”relatively small,”but I’ve always tended to feel otherwise.

    A totally alternative way to read the data is that, even in Utah, the proportion of porn-subscribing households is way less than 1%. So maybe whole great tizzy about online porn is just another one of these moral panics that seem to get a grip on people, who probably have more important things to worry about.

  4. Ann Bartow says:

    Utah has the highest rate of subscribers of all 50 states, to one particular porn service only, with 5.47 out of 1000, while Montana had the very lowest at 1.92. The AUTHOR OF THE STUDY says “The ratio of these extremes is just 2.85:relatively small in comparison to states’ diversity in other respects.”

    My post also noted that:

    “Number 10 on the list was West Virginia at 2.94 subscriptions per 1000, while number 41, Michigan, averaged 2.32, a very small statistical span.”

    That is taken directly from the study, and support’s Edelman’s position that the difference between states is not significant.

    You write “A totally alternative way to read the data is that, even in Utah, the proportion of porn-subscribing households is way less than 1%.”

    Wrong. The study tracked subscriptions to ONE PARTICULAR porn vendor only, which Edelman describes as “a top-10 seller of adult entertainment.” So the study shows nothing at all about either the total number or proportion of porn subscribing households in Utah or anywhere else. Nor does it track or quantify non-subscription porn purchases (downloaded or pay per view), or use of free pornography, which Edelman notes is copiously available.

  5. Jhumbach says:

    Point well taken. It is indeed possible that the study shows “nothing at all” about either the number or proportion of porn subscribing households.

    As I stated earlier, reading statistics can be a Rorschach test.

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