Dear Economist: How unusual is my husband’s porn habit?

Having become more computer-literate in recent months, I have made an unpleasant discovery. My husband has been visiting pornographic websites and has also downloaded explicit videos. I love my husband, but am not sure what to do now. Is his behaviour common?
Katie Durlap, Cincinnati, Ohio

Dear Katie,

If only you had a subscription to the Journal of Economic Perspectives. One of its regular features is a data-driven description of different markets in action, most recently a study by Benjamin Edelman asking “Who buys online adult entertainment?”

The latest data reported are from 2006, when adult entertainment clocked up $13bn in retail sales in the US – about $50 per adult, presumably somewhat skewed towards men. Much of this was video sales and rentals, but internet and cable subscriptions are also substantial and, unlike video, growing briskly.

Paid subscriptions to internet porn sites remain a minority hobby. Edelman studied subscriptions to one top 10 service provider and found that almost all states had between two and three subscribers per 1,000 home broadband users. Ohio, incidentally, is towards the low end of that range.

Is your husband, then, unusual? Not that unusual. Scale up Edelman’s numbers to include other service providers, add cable subscriptions and you’d conclude that about 5 per cent of connected households are paying for regular porn. This doesn’t include the largest category, video rental – and more importantly, doesn’t include free internet porn. Since free internet porn is ubiquitous and presumably more private, one can only surmise that it is far more widespread.

I can’t tell you what to do about your husband – but he is certainly not alone.

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