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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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Please email us to report offensive comments.

so marc, are you talking about kerry in 2004 statistics, or gore in 2000, because something is wrong in your write-up there at the end...

Posted by: IMGoph | March 10, 2009 9:29 AM

Old Town at the top. Aren't they the people all up in arms about the new sex shop in their neighborhood? Oh the irony!

Posted by: | March 10, 2009 9:39 AM

The whole thing brings to mind the old joke that sex is popular because it's centrally located.

Posted by: Meridian1 | March 10, 2009 9:49 AM

It's Kerry/2004, repaired above. Thanks for the catch.

Posted by: Marc Fisher | March 10, 2009 9:50 AM

"Adult material?"

Come on.

Most of what we see is best suited for adolescents, if anyone and is hardly adult.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | March 10, 2009 10:15 AM

Kind of interesting, even fascinating, but ultimately useless.

Still, thanks for pointing it out....

Posted by: JkR- | March 10, 2009 10:21 AM

Conservatives are such hypocrites on this issue.

Posted by: conchfc | March 10, 2009 10:34 AM

Does this study really suprise anyone?

Posted by: kreen | March 10, 2009 10:45 AM

Conservatives are such hypocrites on this issue.

Posted by: conchfc | March 10, 2009 10:34 AM

True. But so is everyone else, Conchfc. It's reality of life.

Posted by: gth1 | March 10, 2009 10:50 AM

The fact that Utah is #1 is saying something, but it might just be saying that the people out there are more likely to pay for their porn. There's so much porn available for free that I'd really doubt this study is telling us anything at all. And its only one company, so there's probably all kinds of reasons why they'd have more subscribers in one region over another.

Posted by: bill3 | March 10, 2009 10:59 AM

There are too many sexually frustrated people in NOVA. They put a strip club called paper moon in Springfield, its a total clip joint but it is packed everyday with men going to blow off some "steam" spending hundreds every night on lap dances.

Posted by: devilsadvoc8 | March 10, 2009 11:08 AM

We could have used all this free porn when I was growing up. It was expensive. Usually, it was one guy inthe hood who had a collection of 15-20 playboys. Once, we went downtown to a "burlesque" theater to see "Swedish Airline Hostesses" (or something like that). It was rated "X," but they rarely showed anything! Those pictures would be considered pg-13 now!

We do, however, deserve some credit. We created the information highway, huge memories, and powerful processors, all of which paved the way for the free porn!

Posted by: johng1 | March 10, 2009 11:22 AM

What is porn? Do those in higher-subscribing zip codes view a softer version?

In 1964, Justice Potter Stewart said " ... I know it when I see it ...."

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | March 10, 2009 11:29 AM

Marc Fisher is being rather loosey goosey with the stats. The study breaks down the top 10 porn states per person, per net user, and per broadband user. Virginia only cracks the top 10 per person, probably because net penetration is so high in Virginia.

The "per broadband user" numbers are the basis of most of the stats reported in the study and above. By that measure neither Maryland nor Virginia make the top ten.

My conclusion: people in blue states look at porn because they have broadband while people in red states get broadband because they want to look at porn.

Posted by: NotDeadYet | March 10, 2009 11:56 AM

You can subscribe to porn?

Posted by: ronjaboy | March 10, 2009 12:00 PM

If this is indeed true, why are all these "born-again" hypocrite red-state Christians (Are Mormons Christians?) always so ready to cast the first stone. Praise the Lord or not as in this case.

Posted by: paulusarchitect | March 10, 2009 12:05 PM

Once again a journalist not checking the facts - the Wall Street Journal fact checked this last week and found several problems with this study (see concluded that you could not conlude anything from this study
Before painting with a broad brush please make sure the brush as any paint

Posted by: fliberals | March 10, 2009 1:00 PM

This study follows a study of a few years ago that saw higher rates in the red states. However, I have to agree with an earlier poster that offered that studying one subscription provider could obscure some confounds across states that drive an imbalance. Particularly, whether "over the counter" porn is available locally (I'm guessing not in Utah?).

But without getting into red/blue breakdowns, the larger finding is that we live in a very hypocritical nation. 36% of internet users visit a porn site once a month. Just meditate on that for a moment.

Could it be, just possibly, that sexuality is a natural part of human existence? Maybe we should all chill out about it. And I agree with the expert late in the article: repression inevitably leads to obsession. That's the way the human mind works. Sorry, censors and religious authoritarians. You've been outvoted by nature.

Posted by: B2O2 | March 10, 2009 1:05 PM

Peg, Steely Dan

Posted by: creamit20 | March 10, 2009 1:12 PM

though of course lots of folks can view free porn without paying subscription costs. Does Edelman have any stats on that demographic, or is it too hard to track?

Posted by: eomcmars | March 10, 2009 1:47 PM

"though of course lots of folks can view free porn without paying subscription costs"

I think that is a major flaw in this study. It's like drawing conclusions about general TV-watching from numbers of cable subscriptions.

Posted by: Epigon | March 10, 2009 1:58 PM

The Journal piece cited above has exactly the same caveats you'll find in the first three paragraphs of my post above--that the study found relative consistency of subscriptions nationwide, that no one region dominates, and that the Harvard study is based on data from a single porn provider.

Posted by: Marc Fisher | March 10, 2009 2:15 PM

Marc, Trekkie Monster could have told you all you need to know:

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | March 10, 2009 4:26 PM

While the Paper Moon franchise is new to Springfield, that property has been a strip club for years. It was Dauphine's Steakhouse and owned by the same people who own 1320 Club II. It was re-opened as Paper Moon because the property was grandfathered to allow a club. And no, it doesn't even compare to the two Richmond locations.

Posted by: sitruc | March 10, 2009 8:55 PM

I have never visited a porn site, ever, dya hear me ever!

Posted by: caffreyt | March 11, 2009 1:01 AM

Responding to: The Journal piece cited above has exactly the same caveats you'll find in the first three paragraphs of my post above--that the study found relative consistency of subscriptions nationwide, that no one region dominates, and that the Harvard study is based on data from a single porn provider.

The last part of this is the most important - and pretty well makes this study worthless and if you did read the Wall Street Journal take on this you would see that his logic in his inferences is shaky at best and no real conlusions should be drawn from this study - it was fluff study - something to make the news and nothing else

Posted by: fliberals | March 11, 2009 12:34 PM

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