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COLUMN: Red states biggest consumers of Internet porn

Wednesday, March 11, 2009 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:04 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Is red the new green for the porn industry? A new study suggests so. Turns out the conservative “red” states might now be labeled the “red light” states because they are consuming more online porn than traditionally “blue” states.

A study by the Harvard Business School found eight out of 10 states that consume the most online porn were states McCain won in the 2008 presidential election. According to the study, Utah ranks as the number one consumer of online adult entertainment.

The study found that “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 findings also showed that states in which a majority of people agree with the statement, "I have old-fashioned values about family and marriage," had an average of 3.6 more porn subscriptions per thousand than states where the majority of residents disagreed with the statement.

I believe this is more than religious hypocrisy. When I was a child, my mother wouldn’t let me watch “Ren and Stimpy,” a silly, overly gross cartoon show about an ugly Chihuahua and a cat. She believed it was vulgar, distasteful and not age appropriate. That’s exactly why I wanted to watch it. Because it was explicitly banned in our household, I would try to tune in every chance I got. The thrill of doing something I knew I wasn’t supposed to, combined with the fear of getting caught, kept me flipping the channel to the show over and over.

This brings us to a conundrum. Obviously, my religious views and upbringing have embedded in my morals that pornography is vile. I in no way encourage the viewing of it. However, I see the taboo surrounding it in religiously conservative states has in many ways led to its secret popularity online. Likewise, the continuing battles with pornography and its First Amendment rights within the court system has also led to a growing fascination.

Like the little Tracy secretly surfing the television for “Ren and Stimpy” because she knew it was wrong, the allure of pornography is hitting those who have been taught to repress and condemn this very explicit form of free speech.

We do not want to give free access to porn. At all costs, it should be kept from children and those with impressionable minds. But we need to consider that our adamant and fanatic loathing might be contributing to a rise in consumption. In 2006, the porn industry was making $2.84 billion on the Internet alone, according to toptenreviews.com. The pornography industry’s revenue beats that of NBC, CBS and ABC combined, the same site reported.

While places like Utah, Alaska and Mississippi top the list of online porn consumption states, Missouri is floating somewhere in the middle. Not something to be proud of, but at least we’re doing better than Arkansas.

Why should we care about consumption of online pornography? To some, it might not be a big deal. And if you are an adult, what you do in the privacy of your bandwidth is your business. But a University of Alberta study found that“boys aged 13 and 14 living in rural areas are the most likely of their age group to access pornography.”

Over one-third of the boys said they accessed adult material “too many times to count.” This is more than a curiosity. As we know, rural areas tend to be more conservative. We are seeing a rise in underage adolescents accessing material that is not age appropriate. And if these teens become conditioned to the behavior exhibited in some of the industry’s fetish porn, it may affect the relationships they have with women later on in life.

We have to look at who these teens are looking up to: movie stars, rappers and athletes. What is the message these role models are putting out? In his article, "Face the Music, Parents," David N. Bass writes, "51 percent of teens who listened to music laced with sexual debauchery ended up engaging in sexual activity ... The study also showed that sexually explicit tunes are an equal opportunity offender — teens are influenced regardless of gender or ethnicity."

Obviously, if parents say it’s wrong, but the teens' heroes say it’s right and good, they face a difficult decision.

Somehow, popular culture has led us to the point where the most staunchly conservative are becoming the so-called deviants, while those with liberal views are exhibiting a more traditional family value system. I don’t have the answers but I believe this is a great starting point to a discussion in which our community can contribute their ideas on the matter. According to talkingwithkids.org, studies find parents who are open and honest with their children about sex have teenagers who are less likely to engage in high-risk behavior. If we were to harness this approach and open up to discuss the taboo, could it result in fewer cyber trips to naughty-ville?

Is it the porn that is driving users to point and click, or is it the way we have treated porn in our society? Can we find a new way to deal with this XXX-sized problem?

Tracy Barnes graduated from MU in 2008 with degrees in journalism and English. She is a former copy editor and multimedia editor for the Missourian. She can be contacted at tracylbarnes@gmail.com.

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Comments

Ayn Rand March 11, 2009 | 9:26 a.m.

Obama's push for cheap, ubiquitous broadband should even out these differences.

(Report Comment)
Dan Santaromita March 11, 2009 | 11:39 a.m.

I don't think people view porn because it's taboo. They don't do it because they are told not to, they do it because they are told not to have premarital relations. They view porn because their morals/religious views don't allow them to get their sexual release in other ways. Therefore, they have to do it behind closed doors.

(Report Comment)
Glenn Rice March 11, 2009 | 12:23 p.m.

"51 percent of teens who listened to music laced with sexual debauchery ended up engaging in sexual activity"? What percent of those who did NOT listen to "music laced with sexual debauchery" (what's the definition of that, anyway?) also "ended up" (haha) engaging in sexual activity?

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking March 11, 2009 | 12:33 p.m.

What percentage of teens who were already sexually active choose to listen to songs with explicit lyrics?

Note to Mr. Bass: Teens have always been unduly interested in sex, since there were teens. It comes with the new hormones. I doubt music has a whole lot of effect.

(Report Comment)
Richard Hayden March 11, 2009 | 12:39 p.m.

Dan S, yours is a good intuitive comment.
Another study’s data mixed with some obvious inferences with out responsible explanations. Tracy, things are not always as they seem but you are quite young and thus forgiven. Anyway, you got another chance to run down McCain? Couldn't you also equate this to President Bush and give him another bash as well?

(Report Comment)
Tracy Barnes March 11, 2009 | 1:15 p.m.

Dick,

I'm confused as to what McCain has to do with this issue and how I ran him down, as you put it, by citing the facts of the study. The study was based around states that voted in this past election for McCain, thus determining the "red" states. I am young, which is why in my column I said I didn't have all the answers and wanted to get some community feedback on the issue.

Danny,
I am not at all saying that the sole reason adolescents look at pornography is because it is taboo. However, I think we are building it up by not discussing it and chalking it up to a "boys will be boys" mentality.

(Report Comment)
Glenn Rice March 11, 2009 | 8:02 p.m.

"David N. Bass is a 20-year-old Christian homeschool graduate whose columns have been featured on AmericanDaily.com, IntellectualConservative.com and RenewAmerica.us. While attending college through distance education, he interns at a pro-family public policy organization."

Mr. Bass's credentials as an authority on parenting, music, and sex are obvious. However, 20-year-old Christian homeschool graduates (and newspaper columnists) should surely be aware that correlation does not imply causation.

(Report Comment)
Richard Hayden March 11, 2009 | 8:42 p.m.

Yes Tracy,I agree with you, you are somewhat confused. Nice name switch too! Feel better?

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand March 11, 2009 | 8:54 p.m.

When you write, "A study by the Harvard Business School found eight out of 10 states that consume the most online porn were states McCain won in the 2008 presidential election," and then "The study was based around states that voted in this past election for McCain," I'm confused why you would say, "I'm confused as to what McCain has to do with this issue." You made him part of the issue.

(Report Comment)
Amber Hanneken March 11, 2009 | 9:01 p.m.

Did you seriously just call them "Dick" and "Danny"? Unless you know that they are okay with those names, I detect a bit of condescension.

(Report Comment)
Glenn Rice March 11, 2009 | 10:09 p.m.

Dan's comment is good. People look at porn to get off (to put it bluntly) -- not because it's "taboo". I'm no McCain lover, but these "findings" are meaningless. Examples:

"...[R]esidents of 27 states that passed laws banning gay marriages boasted 11% more porn subscribers than states that don't explicitly restrict gay marriage." Does that study show that these subscribers are looking at GAY porn? That would be hypocrisy! Seriously, what's the connection?

"I see the taboo surrounding [online porn] in religiously conservative states has in many ways led to its secret popularity online." What ways? Because you loved Ren & Stimpy because your parents didn't want you to watch it?

"...[B]oys aged 13 and 14 living in rural areas are the most likely of their age group to access pornography" and Alaska (and Mississippi, Utah) being high in online porn consumption (to me) suggest lack of opportunity or access to socially accepted sexual outlets. The study cited here was in Alberta, a lonely and desolate place even in the summer. Moreover, the study compared a very small sample of rural and urban boys within Alberta -- hardly the basis for making sweeping generalizations about how the country folk love their porno.

Hey, as long as we're cherry-picking the numbers, let's take a closer look at the Harvard study. Seems Florida and Hawaii are also high in online-porn subscribers. Must be those retirees! Who'd have guessed they were so dirty? And, Maryland and Massachusetts are also in the top ten! Those filthy Catholics!

I encourage readers to look at this study (linked above) themselves. Evidently Tracy is looking at only one of the rankings: States with most subscriptions, per thousand home broadband users (page 9 of the PDF). What does this suggest to you? Since the other ranking scales have less red-state-heavy results, perhaps it's the availability of broadband that has the most influence on subscription levels. This would further suggest that online porn subscriptions are skewed toward urban areas, regardless of a state's electoral vote. In fact, this is noted by the authors: "Even after holding constant income, age, and education, adult entertainment subscriptions are most prevalent in urban areas."

Please, if there's to be a "debate", let's not base it on misused statistics and because-it-happened-to-me-it-must-be-true-for-everyone thinking.

(Report Comment)
Scott Read March 12, 2009 | 2:01 p.m.

I think everybody here is taking a wrong angle on this article and unnecessarily attacking it. The facts about McCain were just extra bits of information to think about. The main premise was not to bash McCain, nor was the article written around him and his porn states. Also it seems Tracy did not misuse the facts, since they are indeed facts. Just because they weren’t to your liking, does not mean that they are false. It is sad that everybody resorts to attacking the writer on a personal level by doubting her knowledge and opinions on matters. Since she is young doesn’t mean her stats or opinion are not equal to yours. I’m guessing since you are middle aged or older, that must mean your knowledge is outdated and holds no relevance to new and current topics. The fact of the matter is that porn has a “taboo” to it. I’m sure if you look at porn you do not go around telling everybody about it. You would be embarrassed if somebody found out. Nobody talks about it, so people want to find out what it is all about, especially younger children that have had no experience with the subject. Tracy has a valid point to her article and shouldn’t be personally attacked for not agreeing with you.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand March 12, 2009 | 2:56 p.m.

"The facts about McCain were just extra bits of information to think about."

Clearly the author thought those bits were important enough not only to include but also to put them high up in the lead. Those bits are there for a reason, perhaps to make the column sound more provocative than what it really is.

And it's silly to try to backpedal by saying, "I'm confused as to what McCain has to do with this issue." Clearly the author thought he was important enough not only to include but also to put high up in the lead.

Live and learn. That's one of the things the J school is good for.

(Report Comment)
Christopher Foote March 12, 2009 | 3:33 p.m.

It is quite amusing to have the Republican's cultural war antics turned against them. On a side not, Ms. Rand will you being "going Galt" anytime soon, I hear its all the rage (http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/2009/03/g...), and with your monicker I would expect you to lead the charge or would that be lead the retreat?

(Report Comment)
Glenn Rice March 12, 2009 | 3:50 p.m.

Scott, I assume you're referring to my comment. "It seems Tracy did not misuse the facts, since they are indeed facts." Are you saying facts cannot be misused? If so, you are very naive. Whether they are to my "liking" nas nothing to do with whether they are relevant. FACT: ice cream sales go up in the summer. FACT: crime rates increase during the summer. NOT A FACT: consumption of ice cream causes crime. Get it yet? Tracy chose to report a limited subset of the findings of various studies, and base her observations on those.

Furthermore, I made no personal attacks on Tracy, contrary to your false claims. I challenge you to find a single personal attack in my comments, whereas you yourself are making personal attacks when you write "I'm guessing since you are middle aged or older, that must mean your knowledge is outdated and holds no relevance to new and current topics." You don't have any idea how old I am.

As for doubting Tracy's knowledge, she put her opinions in a newspaper for the world to see. If I see something that's wrong, I'm going to point it out, whether the author is young, old, or deceased.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand March 12, 2009 | 4:30 p.m.

Foote in mouth: What's a side not?

(Report Comment)

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