Not who you think: That’s the conclusion of a new study about Adult Expo attendees

The brain trust: Porn fans have more education than you think
Photo: Scott Den Herder

It’s often said that pornography generates more revenue than all professional sports combined. Some people question the statistic, but the comparison seems apt just the same: Both are big-business national pastimes. And for porn fans, there is no greater stadium than the Adult Entertainment Expo, where it’s estimated 30,000 adult consumers and retailers make Mecca to—deep apologies in advance—tailgate.

But baseball is wholesome. And porn is transgressive. Imagine stereotypical sports nuts, and you’ve got guys in face paint, screaming and spilling beer in the stands. America.

Imagine diehard porn fans and you get something totally different. Something that crawled out of a bog.

But for the past two years, UNLV sociologists have studied and surveyed the porn-convention crowd. In late December, they published their results.

As it turns out, the typical Adult Expo guest is—and isn’t—what the world thinks.

Yes, the vast majority are straight white males. Just over 15 percent said they watched porn daily; about 37 percent said a few times a week; around 24 percent said a few times a month. More than half reported being single. But you knew all that.

What may surprise some, however, is that almost 60 percent of Expo attendees said they had a college degree. Just over 15 percent reported graduate or professional degrees—almost twice America’s national average in 2004, when the U.S. Census Bureau last checked.

The porn convention also attracts guests with money. While America’s median income is $50,000 a year, almost half of the fans surveyed reported making at least $80,000, and some significantly more. Expo attendees spend money, too. Part of the reason UNLV professor Barbara Brents and colleagues Daniel Sahl and Crystal Jackson conducted the study was to explore the adult industry’s role in Las Vegas’ economy. More than half of Expo attendees said they spend at least $100 a day on food, lodging and entertainment. That’s at least $1.5 million daily, without taking into account people who said they spend far more, like the handful who reported $10,000 daily gambling budgets.

Of course, every anonymous survey is just that—an anonymous survey. But Brents believes Expo guests are as honest as any survey-takers. If anything, maybe they’re more genuine. Porn consumption is a delicate subject, one that most people likely underreport. Not Expo guests. These are people who made porn a vacation destination. People who, in America’s nightmare economy, booked flights, hotel rooms and bought tickets to ogle adult stars. People who, in short, can’t afford to be ashamed of their affections.

(This also may explain why so many of the people surveyed reported high salaries and high education—they’re the guys who can afford to show up. If tickets to the game weren’t so expensive, there might be 10 times as many people in the stands.)

If Expo guests are porn’s greatest fans, then they should also be the most stereotypical—men who use porn as a proxy for real relationships, who are antisocial, misogynistic and slumping behind closed doors in the glow of a computer monitor.

But asked a series of questions to assess their respect for women, the men came out with surprisingly positive answers, Brents said. Moreover, about 60 percent said they enjoyed sharing porn with a partner, wouldn’t be embarrassed if their partner saw them watching porn and thought sex toys or porn makes a great gift. (Thirty percent of people surveyed, incidentally, were married.)

“They’re not seeing porn as bad,” she said. “They are seeing it as useful and healthy.”

Brents has been going to Las Vegas porn conventions for 15 years. The first she attended was in a basement. The last one, last week, took up 178,000 square feet of space at the Sands Expo & Convention Center—a big-league event, with sex under stadium lights.


Abigail Goldman

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