The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
It's that time of year again when we make our New Year's resolutions. If you want to stick to your resolutions this year, try committing to small, positive changes rather than large, sweeping prohibitions that you're likely to break.
On the paradox of putting things off limits, consider an interesting new study, entitled Do American States with More Religious or Conservative Populations Search More for Sexual Content on Google?, published in the January 2015 issue of Archives of Sexual Behavior. The abstract reads:
"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."
The researchers found that the American states with the greatest proportion of individuals who self-identify as very religious, or consider religion to be an important part of their lives, engage in more active searches for sexual content online compared to states with fewer religious and conservative individuals. There was a direct correlation between the proportion of conservatives in a state and image-specific Internet sex searches documented in that state.
Their conclusion? More restrictive social norms drive behaviors underground. There are quite a few limitations of the study and alternative hypotheses that may drive the results, which the researchers acknowledge. But it's still quite an interesting study.
For me, it's yet one more reason why my New Year's resolutions will be positive rather than restrictive. Making things off-limits or taboo seems to make them far too enticing. So this year, consider making some positive New Year's resolutions. You just might keep them.