Pornography viewing habits and political affiliation

Up to 25% of all search engine requests are for pornography. That’s 68 million searches every single day. But who makes these 68 million requests, and do users of pornography change their searching habits as a result of environmental factors?

Patrick and Charlotte Markey of Villanova and Rutgers Universities sought to find out, in a paper published in the November issue of the journal Evolution and Human Behavior.

They used the freely available Google Trends tool to determine the change in the number of porn searches in different American States before and after recent elections. Each state was classified as typically red, meaning that voters there have historically tended to turn out in favour of Republican candidates, or as typically blue, where voters usually plump for the Democratic candidate.

They found that people living in states that usually voted for the party of the winning candidate tended to increase their searches for pornography after the result was called, compared to people who lived in states where the typically preferred candidate lost, who instead reduced their volume of searches after the election.

Put more simply, if your state’s typically preferred candidate wins, you’re more likely to search for porn. Not you, obviously. You’re a discerning consumer of science blogs. Probably your next door neighbour, or that person sitting next to you on the train. They look the sort.

Why might it be that witnessing a favourite politician win an election makes a person more likely to search the internet for porn? The researchers explain their finding in terms of the so-called challenge hypothesis.

This is the idea that men respond to challenges by increasing or decreasing their sexual appetite, which may be influenced by testosterone. Men who win at competitions, whether that means a wrestling match, a game of chess or even a coin toss, experience surges in testosterone. This even happens when men vicariously experience victory, for example when their favourite sports team wins.

Way back in our evolutionary history, this kind of response would have been beneficial, because it would have helped men to capitalise on their successes, boosting the chances of them siring offspring with suitably impressed females. Assuming these men hung around with women who judged their partners on the basis of their ability to win a coin toss or support Manchester United.

Likewise, men whose favoured political candidate wins the vote might experience an upsurge of testosterone and a corresponding urge to view some dead-eyed women in a state of undress. Voting and searching for porn: two activities you should only ever perform in private.

Markey, P. M., & Markey, C. N. (2010). Changes in pornography-seeking behaviors following political elections: an examination of the challenge hypothesis. Evolution and Human Behavior, 31(6), 442–446. Read summary

The content of this post first appeared in the November 2010 episode of The Psychology of Attractiveness Podcast.

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