Do American States with More Religious or Conservative Populations Search More for Sexual Content on Google?

Abstract

In America, religiosity and conservatism are generally associated with opposition to non-traditional sexual behavior, but prominent political scandals and recent research suggest a paradoxical private attraction to sexual content on the political and religious right. We examined associations between state-level religiosity/conservatism and anonymized interest in searching for sexual content online using Google Trends (which calculates within-state search volumes for search terms). Across two separate years, and controlling for demographic variables, we observed moderate-to-large positive associations between: (1) greater proportions of state-level religiosity and general web searching for sexual content and (2) greater proportions of state-level conservatism and image-specific searching for sex. These findings were interpreted in terms of the paradoxical hypothesis that a greater preponderance of right-leaning ideologies is associated with greater preoccupation with sexual content in private internet activity. Alternative explanations (e.g., that opposition to non-traditional sex in right-leaning states leads liberals to rely on private internet sexual activity) are discussed, as are limitations to inference posed by aggregate data more generally.

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    Conservatives overwhelming vote (and identify themselves as) Republicans (Jost, 2006). Further, when examining associations between the percentage of self-identified Republicans in each state in 2011 (obtained from Gallup, 2013) and sex-related Google-searches, results were largely equivalent to those observed when associations with state-level conservatism were examined. Upon controlling for demographic variables and state-level religiosity, greater Republican citizenry was associated with increased searching for sex images in both 2011 (r = .60, p < .001) and 2012 (r = .50, p < .001).

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MacInnis, C.C., Hodson, G. Do American States with More Religious or Conservative Populations Search More for Sexual Content on Google?. Arch Sex Behav 44, 137–147 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-014-0361-8

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Keywords

  • Religiosity
  • Conservatism
  • Internet searching
  • Sex
  • Sexual imagery