Friday, February 27, 2009

Conservatism and Pornography? (updated)

In a nationwide study examining subscriptions to pornography, Benjamin Edelman at the Harvard Business School found a correlation between conservativism and pornography (study here). Methodologically speaking, Edelman looked at two years worth of credit card receipts and purchaser's zip codes, and he controlled for broadband connectivity. Accordingly, while there is universal liking to pornography among red states and blue states, some trends are apparent:
Those states that do consume the most porn tend to be more conservative and religious than states with lower levels of consumption, the study finds.

"Some of the people who are most outraged turn out to be consumers of the very things they claimed to be outraged by," Edelman says.

Utah has the highest subscription rate (5.47 subscriptions per 1000 home broadband users) to pornography, while Montana has the lowest (1.92 subsciptions per 1000). The correlation between conservatism and pornography also shows up in states banning gay marriage:

Residents of 27 states that passed laws banning gay marriages boasted 11% more porn subscribers than states that don't explicitly restrict gay marriage.

The correlation is seen in states that have a stronger receptivity to family values:

States where a majority of residents agreed with the statement "I have old-fashioned values about family and marriage," bought 3.6 more subscriptions per thousand people than states where a majority disagreed. A similar difference emerged for the statement "AIDS might be God's punishment for immoral sexual behaviour [sic]."

And is seen in the 2008 electoral map:

Eight of the top 10 pornography consuming states gave their electoral votes to John McCain in last year's presidential election – Florida and Hawaii were the exceptions. While six out of the lowest 10 favoured Barack Obama.

To which, Edelman makes the common sense, "forbidden fruit" conclusion:

"One natural hypothesis is something like repression: if you're told you can't have this, then you want it more," Edelman says.

We've implicitly alluded to this hypothesis earlier in our discussion over the ineffectiveness of virginity pledges. Puritanical and Victorian teachings of sex and sexuality no longer appear to be efficacious, especially in an age where pornography is one click away. We need to teach a healthy and balanced understanding of human sexuality, as teachings that are premised on the inherent sinfulness of sex and sexuality only increase the likelihood of unhealthy sexual behaviors.

Please keep your comments high-minded.

Update: Reader Tripp offers his thoughts on this topic at Homebrewed Christianity, as do Steve Waldman and Andrew Sullivan on their blogs.


Drew said...

Beliefnet's Steve Waldmann theorizes:But it's also possible that one of the reasons these states are conservative, and religious, is they feel besieged by negative cultural forces.

They're not lustful because they're religious; they're religious because they're lustful. They're aware of the rampant sinfulness -- in part because they're busy sinning -- and figure they need church all the more.

aznew said...

Drew: I know you said keep the comments high-minded, but after reading this, I composed this limerick, and the darn thing has been rattling around in my head all day, so here goes, with apologies in advance:

A Conservative chap named Don,
Woke conflicted on Election Day morn.
He said to his Mama,
"I gonna vote for Obama
But my true loves are still G-d, guns and porn!"

Drew said...

Hahaha. Brilliant! I hope you don't mind me passing it along.

aznew said...

Not at all.

A Faithful Reader said...

I wonder if those that sneak a peek know that they are being tracked? Another reason to go to church to get clean.

Darren Staley said...

There is actually a pro-faith argument to be made here. Perhaps the religious feel that it is better to get some kicks from online porn rather than having an affair.

Maybe instead of attacking porn as an evil, we should embrace it as a tool to help couples stay together.

If a wife wants less sex than the man, advise him to use porn. If the situation is reversed, advise a sex toy.

Now, the religious argument would be that this may reduce reproduction, but it actually does not. These people only use these tools when they are not having sex anyway.

Of course if a spouse is using porn instead of having sex rather than in addition to, that's another story.

So here we come to the essential question: which is worse, adultery or pornography. I think the former.

LivingSexuality said...

I am not surprised by these statistics at all. When people are formed spiritually and sexually to believe that eroticism is "naughty" - it can create a love/hate relationship with porn. Using porn creates shame, and the porn in turn medicates the shame. It can become a vicious cycle.

Instead of instilling in people a "just say no" mentality (which obviously has its limits), I think we would all benefit from learning about sexuality in its broader implications. We all need to know how to think of sexuality as an integral aspect of our being, and we need to know how to make decisions that reflect our values and beliefs.

A mentor once told me:
"Whatever is repressed, will eventually be expressed."


Drew said...


I couldn't have said it better myself. Bravo. And this part - which I tried to state but you said better! - needs to be trumpeted from the mountaintops: I think we would all benefit from learning about sexuality in its broader implications. We all need to know how to think of sexuality as an integral aspect of our being, and we need to know how to make decisions that reflect our values and beliefs.