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Utah is No. 1 - for online pornography consumption

Published March 2, 2009 7:39 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Besides its political bent, Utah's per capita appetite for online pornography makes it the nation's run-away red-light state.

A study by a Harvard Business School professor shows that Utah outpaces the more conservative states -- which all tend to purchase more Internet porn than other states.

Online porn subscription rates are higher in states that enacted conservative legislation banning same-sex marriage or civil unions and where surveys show support for conservative positions on religion, gender roles and sexuality, according to an analysis published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives.

The Beehive State briefly experimented with a state-funded porn czar until 2003. The study examining online porn usage from 2006 to 2008 shows those efforts apparently failed.

Utah has the nation's highest online porn subscription rate per thousand home broadband users, at 5.47, while the nearby states of Idaho and Montana showed the lowest rates of 1.98 and 1.92, respectively, according to the study.

Utah's No. 1 score may have to do with its demographics, said the author of the study, Benjamin Edelman.

For instance, Internet porn subscriptions are particularly widespread in states with young populations, in the 15 to 24 age group, while people over 65 are less likely to subscribe. Income can be a another factor, with each $1,000 increase in average household income pushing up the number of subscribers. Rates also go up with a college education and among people who are divorced, although marriage and graduate degrees have the opposite effect.

"Even when I control for income, age, education, and marital status, Utah residents still consume disproportionately more than people from other states," said Edelman.

Another possibility for Utah's top porn billing may be the scarcity of adult entertainment outside the home.

"If it is distinctively difficult to get this material in retail locations in Utah, Utah residents who seek such material may have to get it online," said Edelman, in an e-mail. "On net, then, Utah residents would be buying more online adult entertainment -- but perhaps not more total adult entertainment. That said, I analyzed only online adult entertainment, so I'm not in a position to assess the magnitude of this effect."

Although Utah is headquarters for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Edelman found that regions where people regularly attend religious services are not statistically different from their counterparts in more secular regions. But users who do attend religious services tend to shift their adult entertainment sessions to other days of the week than the day of services.

Pamela Atkinson, head of the Utah Coalition Against Pornography, said other indications, such has Utah ranking second in Google searches for "hot sex" and "naughty," back up what Edelman has found.

"What I do know is that from all accounts the problem is really growing in Utah," she said. "People spending more time on the Internet are realizing this is something they can do in the privacy of their own rooms and their own homes."

Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, who worked in law enforcement, said he has never dealt with a sex offender who didn't get his start with pornography.

"I'm not a huge fan of censoring the Internet, but this is definitely something to look into to see if we can stop the influx of pornography into our society, because pornography is such a plague. It's rotten to the core and it hurts families and it hurts children."

Daniel Weis, spokesman for the Colorado-based Christian group, Focus on The Family, said the study "is credible only for what it is studying, which is very little."

"My caution is that people do not extrapolate that this is a report for the entire nation," he said. "The fact that conservative-minded people are fighting porn doesn't mean that they go home and look at it."

The study used data from anonymous credit card sales from a top-10 Internet porn provider that operates hundreds of Web sites offering a wide variety of adult entertainment. Edelman then correlated that data with ZIP code information for his analysis.

-- Robert Gehrke contributed to this report.