Red Light States: Utah Tops The Nation in Online Adult Website Subscriptions

A depressing new study by Benjamin Edelman entitled Red Light States: Who Buys Online Adult Entertainment? in the Journal of Economic Perspectives reveals that states with larger conservative populations have greater numbers of people who subscribe to web-based pornographic services.   The state with the most subscriptions per 1000 people, most subscriptions per 1000 home internet users, and the most subscriptions per 1000 broadband internet users (1.69/2.49/5.47) is Utah.  This article from New Scientist provides a summary.

People are likely to ascribe this fact to hypocricy and sexual repression among conservatives and religious people, especially Latter-day Saints.  But may I suggest that we look a little closer at the issue before jumping to that conclusion.  Are there other factors that could be contributing to this trend?

For instance, as a resident of Utah, my impression is that there are far fewer venues for pronographic material than I have seen simply driving around than I see in other places.  With fewer avenues for pornography, more people would turn to online sources.

Also remember that Utah is no longer mostly made up of members of the LDS Church.  There is a significant population that is not LDS, some of whose attitudes toward pornography may be more accepting than their religious neighbors.  But with fewer venues, these people would be forced to seek adult content in greater amounts from online sources than they would in more permissive states.

Again, Utah does not necessarily equal active, temple-worthy Latter-day Saints.  This study also doesn’t distinguish between active,  less active, and non members of the church. Until they can show that more members per 1000 active, temple recommend holding members of the church pay for online pornography than any other group, we should be careful about what conclusions we draw from this kind of study.

Any thoughts?

UPDATE: Also see the criticism of the study here.

UPDATE 2: According to an article in the Deseret News, Edelman has identified the “most porn-watching ZIP codes in Utah” as 84766 in Sevier County, 84112 in Salt Lake County, 84018 in Morgan County, 84006 in southwest Salt Lake County, and 84536 in San Juan County. (Here is a map of Utah Counties)

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4 Responses to Red Light States: Utah Tops The Nation in Online Adult Website Subscriptions

  1. I don’t think we need to wait until the study shows the percentage per temple recommend holding members of the Church to be saddened.

    Utah is about 62% Mormon and about 42% active Mormon (according to a 2005 SLT article which may not be perfect but is probably not totally crazy: http://www.sltrib.com/ci_2886596).

    Given the steep decline of internet video sales and the tiny fraction of the market made up by magazines (Table 1 in Edelman’s actual paper http://people.hbs.edu/bedelman/papers/redlightstates.pdf), I wouldn’t expect the substitution effect you describe (people using online porn because they can’t get it elsewhere) to be massive (although I’m not saying it doesn’t exist).

    While I agree that we cannot conclude from this that active Mormons are the highest users of internet porn in the nation, I think we can conclude that they are far from zero and – in fact – probably not far enough below mean to be exceptional, which is what we would like to be. If there were, then the rest of Utah would have to be substituting HUGELY into online porn. I.E., I think we are fooling ourselves if we seek to be too apologist rather than seeking the sources of weaknesses among ourselves.

    Just my opinion; always a bit of a gadfly.

  2. Facebook User

    This is sadly, not surprising to me. How many General Conferences and talks have focused on this particular issue? I have known so many friends with fathers who have dealt with this problem.

    This is a topic my girlfriends (well – the ones I know aren’t afraid to talk about it) and I discuss, often. There’s a huge lack of communication about intimacy. I’m a big believer that since we believe in eternal marriage, we should be chattering all the time about the beauty and pleasure of intimacy. If anyone should be talking about this without shame it should be us.

    There’s a huge education gap for married people who either don’t understand the joys and pleasures of intimacy, or who feel ambiguous based on how they were taught about human intimacy. So…this trickles down to their children… and instead of talking, teaching about healthy intimacy, they don’t speak about it – except to say it is wrong, etc… and so the children learn from other sources.

    That’s my take. And… I think I need to get a bunch of women together to do a take on intimacy from a mormon woman’s perspective… you know, for those of us that love it and aren’t afraid to speak out about it. So far, the intimacy books you find in any Church bookstore are authored by men…

    I think we need to teach that intimacy is beautiful, natural and divine… within the bounds the Lord has set up. It is never, ever dirty or bad.

  3. Great points Dave and Stephanie.

    I think Dave’s point that Latter-day Saints ought to be exceptional in this realm, and instead they are probably very near average, is very good. We ought to be well below everyone else.

    And I agree with Stephanie that intimacy is beautiful, natural, and divine, when it is kept within divinely appointed bounds, though I suspect that there are ways in which it could be dirty and bad, but at that point it probably ceases to be intimacy, and transforms into something else. Let’s not go any farther in that direction.

    I’ll have to look closer at the study, but I do wonder if there is a difference between the numbers paying for a subscription to lascivious online material, and those who seek it out, but do not pay for it– which is probably more difficult to measure?

  4. See Update 2 in the article above for Counties with the highest subscriptions.

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