Question: Why does Utah lead the United States in subscriptions to online adult entertainment?

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Question: Why does Utah lead the United States in subscriptions to online adult entertainment?

A single study showed high use in Utah

It is claimed that Utah leads the United States in subscriptions to online adult entertainment. [1]

A single study showed high use in Utah. [2] The study was from a single vendor (who was not disclosed) making it difficult to know if it was a random cross-section of the entire United States. Often unmentioned is the fact that Idaho (with 25% LDS) had the lowest rate of porn subscription. [3]

However, a more recent analysis [4] of Pornhub (one of the largest pornography distribution nodes) found that Utah was 40th in the nation for porn consumption. An independent analysis found that for every 10% increase in Latter-day Saints in the population, porn use dropped by 16%, with a significance level of p=0.0001. [5]

This demonstrates the perils of using a single study as one's baseline, especially when the source of the data is not disclosed.

Potential sources of bias in the 2009 study

  1. The difference between top and bottom state is small—it may be difficult to draw firm conclusions when relatively small numbers of people can make the difference in ranking.
  2. Legal restrictions on other forms of pornography in Utah may make on-line sources the most attractive for those who seek this material.
  3. The social/religious pressure against pornography in LDS culture may make the privacy of on-line access particularly appealing, as opposed to sex shops, porno theaters, magazine subscriptions or purchases, etc.
  4. Utah has many characteristics which would tend to increase use in this type of study:
  • higher than average household income data
  • population that skews younger data
  • higher than average college graduates data
  • conservative legislation controlling pornography distribution via other channels
  • conservative ideas about religion, marriage, and God (perhaps at least partly due to the social stigma against pornography consumption that is not 'hidden' from others)

It is not clear, however, that the characteristics of Utah (e.g., less divorce, more education, younger) are necessarily bad things. Utah may represent a sort of "perfect storm" in this study in which a number of factors come together to boost its scores.

The Church, of course, abhors and repudiates both the production of pornography—which exploits the participants—and its consumption, since it is spiritually damaging and harmful to a healthy marital and sexual life.

In short, it is not clear that Utah has abnormally high rates of pornography consumption, and some strong evidence that Latter-day Saints may skew pornography consumption downward

One observer noted:

After a few months, the Utah porn statistic became entrenched in conventional wisdom. Blogs would make reference to the statistic, and having drawn their conclusions, move on to provide explanations and accusations regarding the phenomenon....For five years the conversation on Mormonism and porn has been defined by this single data point, and psychological and sociological analyses of Mormon culture...have rested upon it....

Utah’s pageviews per capita [on Pornhub] in 2013 were 40th in the US. Idaho and Wyoming, the other states with large Mormon populations, are even lower on the list, at 49th and 46th respectively....

when controlling for other variables, there is an even stronger suggestion than before that Mormon populations do not have abnormally high rates of porn use (at least as represented by Pornhub). We might even suggest that their rates of use are especially low....

when controlling for the variables already mentioned, that a 10 percentage point increase in a state’s LDS population is associated with an approximate 16% decrease in the amount of porn consumption.

This result is highly significant, even at the 0.001 level. In fact, “percentage of Latter-day Saints in population” had a higher statistical significance than any other single variable I included in the regression (the next most significant variable was internet penetration). The proportion of overall explained variation in the regression is 66%, and a test for overall significance is highly conclusive, suggesting that the model as estimated is meaningful and significant. [6]

In short, it is not clear that Utah has abnormally high rates of pornography consumption, and some strong evidence that Latter-day Saints may skew pornography consumption downward.

Discussion of the 2009 study

Some aspects of the 2009 study may have also contributed to skewing the results obtained for Utah.

Is the Ranking Significant?

Professor Edelman mentioned in his paper that difference from the top state to the bottom state on this metric is rather small.

The ratio of these extremes is just 2.85--relatively small in comparison to states' diversity in other respects. For extremes in overall population density (excluding Alaska), compare New Jersey (1,175 people per square mile) to Wyoming (5.25), a ratio of 223:1. In truck ownership, compare North Dakota (590 trucks per thousand people) to New York (0.15), a ratio of 3933:1. In proportion of the population over 65, compare Pennsylvania (15.2 percent) to Alaska (5.3 percent) and Utah (7.3 percent), ratios of 2.86:1 and 2.08:1.

So although Utah is rated the highest in number of subscriptions, it is not far above even the lowest state (Montana at 1.92) in the number of subscriptions. While Utah is also a participant in the worldwide pornography phenomenon, it is not significantly above other states in their participation. Of course the question still to be resolved is why Utah is the leader in this comparison.

Use of adult entertainment sites is very pervasive. The same report states, "As of June 2008, 36 percent of Internet users visit at least one adult website each month" (page 212).

What Makes Utah Different?

Utah has significant restrictions on the display and sales of hard core pornographic materials. The Utah Statutes [1] have the effect of making it much more difficult to get easy access to adult material. This forces those who might otherwise buy magazines or other adult materials to use the web to get access to that information. In Utah, access to most adult entertainment requires the use of the Internet. Therefore, the number of Internet users of pornography would be higher than states with different laws if all other factors were the same.

In an email with Deseret News, Edelman write, "one possibility is that Utah consumers find it difficult to obtain their desired adult entertainment through retail purchases. . . . As a result, Utah residents may be buying online (hence appearing in my dataset), whereas people elsewhere buy retail (hence not in my dataset)." [2]

Even though Utah started out as predominantly LDS, that is no longer the case. LDS population estimates for Utah suggest that they only make up 60% of the state with Salt Lake County barely over 50%. Even these figures will not give a complete pictures since many of those that are still considered members of the Church have no active involvement in the Church or feel a need to maintain Church standards.

It should also be noted that the zip codes listed with the most subscribers do not include those with the highest number of LDS, as might be expected if this were predominantly an LDS problem. [3]

Logan psychotherapist Tod Freestone says the fact that porn is not as visible in Utah makes it more enticing. "If you're seeing it all the time" in cities like Las Vegas, he says, "and it flashes up on your computer screen, then it's not that big a deal." [4]

"The forbidden is really tempting," University of Utah sociology professor Theresa A. Martinez told Davidson. "Where you have a culture that is known for family values, morality and apple pie, you will also have curiosity and interest in the forbidden."[5]

How Do Other Mormon Communities Rank?

After Utah, the next two states with significant LDS populations are Idaho (26%) and Wyoming (10%). Interestingly, they are both much lower in adult subscriptions than Utah. Wyoming shows a subscription rate of 2.29 per thousand home broadband users and Idaho is second to last place at 1.98.

What are the Factors that Would Affect the Ranking?

In the report by Mr. Edelman, he outlined 13 factors (pages 216-219) and how they influenced the subscription rate for adult entertainment.

  1. Household Income. A $1,000 increase in average household income in a ZIP Code is associated with a 0.36 percent increase in subscriptions.
  2. Percentage Age 15-24. A 1% increase in residents aged 15-24 (as a proportion of zip code population) yields a 0.19 percentage increase in subscriptions.
  3. Percentage Over 65. A 1% increase in residents of age 65 or older (as a proportion of zip code population) yields a 0.13 percent reduction in subscriptions.
  4. College Graduates. A 1% increase in college graduates is associated with a 0.12 percent increase in subscribers.
  5. Graduate Degrees. 1% more graduate degrees yields 0.30 percent fewer subscriptions.
  6. Urban Areas. Subscriptions are 38% more prevalent in urban areas.
  7. High-density Urban. In high-density urban areas (more than 5000 people per square mile), subscriptions drop somewhat.
  8. Marriage Rates. A 1% increase in marriage rates is associated with a 0.65 percent decrease in subscription rates.
  9. Divorce Rate. A 1% increase in divorce rates is associated with a 0.28 percent decrease in subscription rates.
  10. States with Conservative Legislation. Subscriptions are slightly more prevalent in states that have enacted conservative legislation on sexuality... In such states...11 percent more than in other states.
  11. States with Conservative Positions on Marriage. Subscriptions are also more prevalent in states where surveys indicate conservative positions on religion, gender roles, and sexuality.
  12. Where People Agree with Miracles and God. In states where more people agree that "Even today miracles are performed by the power of God" and "I never doubt the existence of God," there are more subscriptions.
  13. Old Fashioned Values about Marriage. Subscriptions are also more prevalent in states where more people agree that "I have old-fashioned values about family and marriage" and "AIDS might be God's punishment for immoral sexual behavior."

Of course, some of these factors will be interrelated, but we can look at which factors could apply to Utah and we will see that the demographics of the state would suggest that Utah should have a higher than normal subscription rate. In almost every case these factors would suggest that Utah would have a higher subscription rate than the average population.

Do Some in Utah Have a Pornography Addiction?

Yes, of course, as do some throughout the rest of the United States. Interestingly, Utah is also more concerned about pornography addiction than any other state as shown by ranking in Google Trends. Using Utah as the baseline, the three top states for "pornography addiction" search request are 100% in Utah, 43% in Idaho and 23.5% in Tennessee, with Salt Lake City (100%), Boise, Idaho (41.5%)and Portland, Oregon (26.5%) as the three leading cities.

There are Pornography Addiction Support Group (PASG) meetings run by LDS Family Services throughout Utah most days of the week. LDS Family Services sponsors addiction recovery support meetings to assist individuals who desire freedom from addiction and a better life through gospel fellowship.

See also: Stephen T. Cranney, "Are Utah Mormons Pornography-Using Hypocrites?: Utah's Rank as Measured by Google Search Terms," SquareTwo, Vol. 6 No. 3 (Fall 2013)


  1. This criticism got its start on the Internet. The source of the data upon which it is based is: Benjamin Edelman published a study in the Journal of Economic Perspectives (vol 23, Number 1; p 209-220) on Red Light States: Who Buys Online Adult Entertainment? The data showed that Utah had the highest number of subscriptions (5.47 per thousand home broadband users). Since Utah also has the largest concentration of Mormons, it has been suggested that there is a correlation between the rate of adult subscriptions and the large percentage of Mormons in Utah.
  2. Benjamin Edelman, "[ Red Light States: Who Buys Online Adult Entertainment?," Journal of Economic Perspectives 23/1 (Winter 2009): 209–220.
  3. Tom Stringham, "Rethinking Mormons and Porn: Utah 40th in US in New Porn Data," Virtuous Society blog, 16 April 2014.
  4. posting,
  5. Stringham, "Rethinking Mormons and Porn."
  6. Stringham, "Rethinking Mormons and Porn."

Further reading and additional sources responding to these claims