Religious People Buy Less Porn on Sundays

People who live in religious neighborhoods buy just as much pornography as people everywhere else. They're just less likely to subscribe to an online porn site on a Sunday.

I wonder how many Americans were sitting in church yesterday thinking about porn. After all, about one in three internet users in the U.S. visit a porn site every month—and of those who do, the average number of visits is about two per week. According to the National Election survey (2004), 68% of Americans believe that the Bible is the literal word of God with about 40% reporting regular church attendance. So, are Americans polarized into two groups, churchgoers and porn watchers? Or do churchgoers also watch online porn?


A paper has recently been published on this topic using the number of paid subscriptions to online porn sites by zip code to see if neighborhoods with higher levels of religious service attendance buy more or less online porn then those with lower levels of church attendance. Even when the author controls for income (more porn in higher-income neighborhoods), education (more porn for those neighborhoods with high levels of college education but less porn where more have graduate degrees), population density (city dwellers watch more porn then those in other areas), and marriage rates (people watch less porn where marriage rates are high), he finds no difference between the number of internet porn subscriptions in neighborhoods with high religious attendance and those where attendance is low.  The only difference is that in the neighborhoods with high religious attendance people are less likely to subscribe to an online porn site on a Sunday. In fact, a 1% increase in the share of people in a neighborhood regularly attending a religious service is associated with a decrease by 0.1% of online porn subscriptions started on a Sunday. Overall though, the same number of subscriptions is purchased over the course of the week.

The demand for a good (or service) is a function of both the substitutes and complements that are available for that good. Two goods are complements if the demand for one good increases when the price of the other good falls—think condoms and lubricants. Two goods are substitutes if the demand for one good increases when the price of the other good increases—perhaps condoms and alcohol. The students in my sex and love class have a good time trying to list possible complements to porn. There are plenty of substitutes to online porn, thoughl and, before we jump to the conclusion that churchgoers consume as much porn as non-churchgoers, we have to consider the possibility that the price of substitutes to porn is not the same across all neighborhoods.

Say, for example, I can choose between watching online porn and buying an erotic magazine: those two goods are substitutes. If I live in a neighborhood with low religiosity, maybe it is easy for me to walk into the local corner store and pick up a copy of Playgirl magazine. The cost of buying the magazine is low because I don’t have to travel outside of my neighborhood to buy it. Plus maybe my neighbors don’t care what I buy and so there is less of a cost in terms of social awkwardness. In a neighborhood where religiosity is high, it might be much more costly to buy substitutes to online porn, either because it can’t be purchased locally or because erotic purchases are stigmatized. Within this economic framework it isn’t that surprising that there is no difference between online porn purchases in religious and non-religious areas. In fact, if total consumption of porn was the same between these neighborhoods, one might expect online porn subscriptions would be higher in the religious areas since the cost of substitutes (for example lap-dancing clubs, video rentals and casual sex) is likely to be higher as well.

I have to admit, the reduction in the number of subscriptions on Sundays doesn’t do much to make me think that it is the minority of "heathens," who can’t find their porn elsewhere, who are buying all the subscriptions in these high religious-attendance neighborhoods. I am surprised though that church goers don’t go for the really cheap substitute to online-porn subscription–free online porn.  I guess free porn and subscription-only porn are less-than-perfect substitutes. Maybe that is something I should investigate further.

Edelman Benjamin (2009). “Red Light States: Who Buys Online Adult Entertainment?” Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol.  23 (1). 

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

Scientists see 'rarest event ever recorded' in search for dark matter

The team caught a glimpse of a process that takes 18,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years.

Image source: Pixabay
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