Monday, November 08, 2010

Post-Polling Pornucopia

It’s time for another Holy Prepuce! Research Update, where the cutting edge of academic endeavor is distilled, digested, and regurgitated for your special edification. Today’s offering: “Changes in Pornography-Seeking Behaviors Following Political Elections: An Examination of the Challenge Hypothesis,” Evolution & Human Behavior 31 (2010): 442-446. In this article, authors Patrick & Charlotte Markey answer the burning question of whether backers of successful political candidates consume more internet pornography post-election than do supporters of losing candidates.

The authors begin with some background about the “Challenge Hypothesis,” which suggests that “testosterone levels in males tend to rise during competition . . . [to] support various reproductive behaviors . . . . Interestingly, individuals do not even have to be directly involved in a competition for their testosterone levels to be affected; spectators can experience similar changes. . . .”

The effect has been documented among male supporters of winning sports teams. A recent study also “found that following the 2008 US presidential election men who voted for the winning candidate (Barack Obama) had higher testosterone levels after the election than men who voted for a losing candidate.”

Thus, the authors hypothesize, “[a] sexual behavior that might shift following the winning or losing of a competition is the seeking of visual–sexual stimulation (e.g., pornography),” and following an election we should expect to see higher rates of pornography seeking in states that backed the winning side.

As it happens, the authors tell us, pornography is custom-made for the male brain:

Men’s interest in pornography is typically attributed to men’s evolved interest in sexual variety and multiple partners. As noted [in prior research], men tend to fantasize about a place where “sex is sheer lust and physical gratification, devoid of more tender feelings and encumbering relationships, in which women are always aroused, or at least easily arousable, and ultimately are always willing.”

And where is that special man-place? Why in the magical world of porn, of course, which--as helpfully explained for those (presumably female) readers unschooled in the genre--“typically depicts women engaging in casual sex without investment.”

For those wishing to experience this “pornography” for ourselves, the authors explain that it is available in “a variety of media, ranging from books, magazines, film and video,” but advise that “however, currently, one of the most prevalent means of distributing pornography is the internet.” Readers unfamiliar with technical matters are offered the further suggestions that “[b]y simply typing a few keywords into a search engine (e.g., Google) it is extremely easy to search for pornography on the internet,” and “[f]or example, a person might type in the word ‘porn’ or ‘sex’ into the Google search engine when attempting to find pornography.”

The authors next detail their research methods, which utilize Google Trends data from the 2004, 2006, and 2008 US elections, data which can be drilled down on a state-by-state basis to determine the frequency of particular searches in a given time period:

The internet service WordTracker was used to determine which keywords individuals tend to use to search for pornography. . . by first providing WordTracker with a seed word relevant to pornography. For the current study the researchers simply used the word “porn.” WordTracker then searched the top 100 websites that rank highest on search engines for the term “porn” and extract[ed] additional keywords utilized by these sites. From this analysis, the 10 most frequently occurring, non-domain-specific, pornography keywords (e.g., “xvideos,” “boobs,” “tits,” etc.) were selected for the current study. . . . Google Trends was then utilized to determine the popularity of these pornography keywords.

And the results?

[T]he week after the 2004 presidential election Red states (i.e., the states that voted for the winner of the election) had marginally higher RSVIs [relative search volume indices] for pornography keywords than Blue states . . . . [T]he week after the 2008 presidential election Blue states (i.e., the states that voted for the winner of the election) had significantly higher RSVIs for pornography keywords than Red states . . . . [For the 2006 mid-term election], a regression analysis was conducted to examine whether or not traditionally Blue states (coded 2) had higher RSVI scores than swing states (coded 1) which had higher RSVI scores than traditionally Red states (coded 0). Consistent with the . . . hypothesis, a significant linear trend was found.

A key purpose of Holy Prepuce Research Update is to stimulate ongoing inquiry. For that reason I hope some among my readership will take up the authors’ exhortation for further research directed at some limitations of their study.

One such limitation is that backers of winning candidates

might have simply been happier and more likely to desire sex . . . [i]n other words, . . . changes in voters’ moods rather than testosterone levels [may] explain the observed changes in pornography-seeking behaviors[, a]lthough . . . previous research is somewhat mixed as to the relations between mood, interest in pornography, and masturbation.

Hence, “[i]t is hoped that future research might provide a more complete understanding of the mediators that explain why pornography-seeking behaviors tend to change following political elections.”

Another limitation is that Google Trends does not track the gender of users, and so it “would be informative for future researchers to utilize a different methodology that allows for the assessment of gender.” Nevertheless,

[g]iven the frequency that males use the internet to search for pornography . . . and the keywords used in the current study to operationally define pornography searchers (e.g., “boobs,” “tits,” etc.), it seems likely that the observed findings were driven by males.

And if I may suggest some avenues of further investigation myself: First, although revealing only “xvideos,” “boobs,” and “tits,” the article promises that “[a] complete list of the 10 keywords utilized for the current research is available from the first author.” Professor Markey may be reached through his laboratory at Villanova University, so please feel free to ask him for the remaining seven.

Second, as a resident of a blue state, I am proud to note that although red-staters displayed “marginally” higher pornography-seeking behavior after Bush’s 2004 reelection, we blue-staters delivered a “significantly” higher number of porn searches following Obama’s win in 2008. I theorize the following relationship: voting Democratic is but one manifestation of our depraved and comprehensive libertinism. Prospective testers of this hypothesis are invited out here to Gomorrah for a site visit.


  1. I have lost some respect for you after this article, HP.
    You used the "u" word. In the quote you had to because you are stuck with what you get but why you hatin' on "use"?

  2. When I am serving as an election officer, I often wonder what people do after I see them at the polls. Do they cash in the sticker for a free cup of coffee? Flash it as excuse for running late? Take this opportunity to teach their children about the process?
    Great - now I need to add rubbing one out for the party.


(You can comment here, or on the Holy Prepuce! Facebook page.)