Virginia & Maryland In Top 10 Porn-Rich States
Ask most folks which population is most likely to buy a lot of pornographic material and the near-universal response will be people not like themselves. Just the other day, a religious Christian in Virginia made the case to me that your heavy porn users are your social liberals, seeing as how they think anything goes. From the other side of the red-blue divide, secular types in the District argue that of course it's the conservatives who keep the porn industry going, because their public quest to impose one set of morals on others is driven by their knowledge of their private shortcomings.
Now comes a study by, of all things, a Harvard Business School professor, looking at just who really does keep pornographers in their special status as just about the only folks other than gambling magnates who've mastered the art of making big money selling original content on the Internet. (A whopping 36 percent of Internet users visit at least one adult web site a month, according to the study, visiting a porn site an average of eight times a month, at about 11.6 minutes per visit.) Benjamin Edelman, a professor of business administration, acquired a database of zip codes for all customers of one of the country's Top 10 porn sellers. By mining that data from a two-year period between 2006 and 2008, the professor was able to create something of a demographic profile of pornography subscribers. (pdf file)
His chief finding is that pornography is popular everywhere. No one region of the country dominates. But within that relative consistency, there are differences. In Utah, the most porn-dense state in the survey, 5.5 of every 1,000 broadband-equipped households subscribed to this one company's offerings. At the other end of the ranking, in Montana, only 1.9 of every 1,000 households had a subscription. (Utah and Hawaii are your top two in the hit parade--that ought to give folks from every possible political persuasion ammo to attack the other guys.)
Maryland hit #4 on the chart of most subscribers per thousand people. Virginia is at #10. The District does not appear to be broken out separately in the study.
I asked Edelman to break his findings down to a more local level, and he kindly gave me breakout numbers for a selection of zip codes around the Washington area. At the top of the list: Old Town Alexandria (22314) and central Bethesda (20814), where 7.1 and 6.9 of every thousand people, respectively, are subscribers. At the bottom: Oakton (22124), with 2.3 per thousand and Woodbridge (22193) in Prince William County with 2.6.
It's hard to draw meaningful explanations for the local zip code results. Just across the D.C.-Maryland line from Bethesda, folks in the similarly affluent and well-educated Chevy Chase section of the District are way down near the low point of porn subscribing, at 2.8 per thousand. But overall there does seem to be a higher subscription rate in wealthier areas than in more middle-class environs (the rate in Temple Hills in Prince George's County is below that in Sterling in Loudoun County, which in turn is well below the taste for online porn in Annandale.) That pattern tracks well with the larger national picture.
Edelman notes that affluence tends to correlate with porn subscriptions: "A $1,000 increase in average household income in a zip code is associated with a 0.36 percent increase in subscriptions," he writes. Similarly, college education seems to be a factor; the more college graduates there are in a given zip code, the more likely that area is to have slightly more subscribers than other areas. Both of those factors would help account for Maryland and Virginia's strong showing. But don't take that one too far: Graduate degrees cut the other way, perhaps explaining that unusually low number for Chevy Chase D.C.
Now here's one that could throw a wrench in some common assumptions: The study finds no significant difference in porn use between areas with high densities of people who regularly attend religious services versus places where most folks don't go to services. There is one fact about religion, though, that does leap out of the study: In regions with lots of folks who go to church, the number of porn subscriptions that start on Sundays is significantly smaller. God's day, and all that. (This fits with another study that Edelman cites that found that religious people are not more charitable than others--except on Sundays, when they are.)
If you insist on drawing political conclusions from the study, note this: Eight of the top 10 porn-consuming states gave John McCain a victory in last November's election, while six of the least porn-rich states went for Barack Obama.
Edelman writes that he tried to find a correlation between voting in the 2004 presidential election and the geographic pattern of porn subscription, but he came up empty. Another study, however, found that "adult escort sites are more popular in 'blue' states that voted for Kerry in 2004, while visitors from the 'red' states that voted for Bush in 2004 are more likely to visit wife-swapping sites, adult webcams, and sites about voyeurism." Go figure.
And there does seem to be something to the idea that states with dense populations of social conservatives are also heavy porn-using states. In the 27 states that have laws banning gay marriage, there were 11 percent more porn buyers than in states without such a ban, the study found. And in states where most residents agreed in a separate study that "I have old-fashioned values about family and marriage," people bought considerably more subscriptions per capita than in states where most people disagreed with that statement.
"One natural hypothesis is something like repression: if you're told you can't have this, then you want it more," Edelman told New Scientist magazine.
What do you make of all this? Does it tell us anything about who we are or how we behave?
By Marc Fisher |
March 10, 2009; 8:21 AM ET
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