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

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Question: 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.

Later studies

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]

Later studies confirmed that Utah in fact has among the lowest levels of pornography use in the United States.[7]


Notes

  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, "[http://www.people.hbs.edu/bedelman/papers/redlightstates.pdf 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. Pornhub.com posting, http://www.pornhub.com/insights/red-versus-blue-us-states/
  5. Stringham, "Rethinking Mormons and Porn."
  6. Stringham, "Rethinking Mormons and Porn."
  7. See Hannah Seariac, "The narrative is Utah leads the nation in pornography consumption. Data tell a different story," Deseret News, 2 May 2023. 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).