1 of 3

Utah ranks No. 1 in the nation — and sometimes the world — for using Google to search the Web for such terms as "Jesus," "family history," "Harry Potter," "Mormon," "Lord of the Rings," "NBA," "snowboarding," "home storage" and "Mitt Romney."

But other terms where Utah also ranks No. 1 show a seedier side to local culture.

Utah and/or Salt Lake City also rank tops in the nation in searches for "pornography," "naked girls," "striptease," "topless," "nude," "strip poker," "lingerie," "blonde" and "brunette."

While that may be an eye-opener for residents, it does not surprise theologians, psychologists, sociologists, philosophers, or even sex addicts and their counselors. They all see it as part of the age-old struggle between light and dark that goes on everywhere — but which Google searches suggest may reach extremes in Utah.

"When you have extreme light, or people trying to do good things, you often also find the opposite in extreme," says Steve Pumphrey, a clinical director of LifeSTAR, a company founded in Utah that works with sex addicts.

"The forbidden is really tempting," says Theresa A. Martinez, a sociology professor at the University of Utah who has studied deviant behavior. "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."

How we know

Rankings of communities or regions that search for certain terms more often than other places is made possible by a service called Google Trends (trends.google.com).

It analyzes a portion of Google Web searches made over time to estimate their popularity, making best guesses about where queries originate by evaluating the address of Internet servers used by searchers.

Google spokeswoman Heather Laird Spain says Google "normalizes" data by essentially dividing all Web searches for a term in an area by all the overall searches made there — essentially showing how popular a term is among all local searches.

If Google simply counted raw numbers of searches for terms instead, New York City or Los Angeles would top most results because so many searches come from their large populations.

While Google provides data about where individual search terms are most popular, it does not show what the top searches overall are in given areas. Spain says top searches "are usually not very exciting," anyway, and tend to be "the same across the board, namely 'weather,' 'e-mail,' etc."

Of note, Google Trends is still in the early stages of development. "We hope you find this service interesting and entertaining, but you probably don't want to write your Ph.D. dissertation based on this information," its Web site warns.

As use of Google Trends has become more popular, the FBI, among others, noticed that Utah and Salt Lake City were often coming up as No. 1 for searches of sex-related terms. The FBI even discussed that last year at an annual child-abuse and family-violence conference, warning parents to keep a close eye on Net use by youths.

The Deseret Morning News then decided to use Google Trends to see how Utah and/or its cities rank on a variety of terms that might be expected to be popular in the local culture — and found dozens where it ranked in the top 10 or higher.

We're No. 1

So what are the categories of search terms where Utah or some of its local cities lead the nation or world for all years searched by Google Trends? They include:

RECREATION: Salt Lake City is No. 1 in the world and in the nation among cities in Google searches for: "snowboarding" (world); "snowmobiling" (world); "Utah Jazz" (world); "movies" (nation); and "Wendover" (world).

Other terms or phrases for which Utah (not just Salt Lake City) is No. 1 in the nation among states include "NBA" and "pictograph."

Utah is also No. 2 in the nation for "mountain," "Idaho Lottery" and "Las Vegas." It is No. 3 for "national park"; No. 4 for "camping" and "off-road"; No. 5 for "skateboarding" and "petroglyph"; No. 6 for "Disney" and "skiing"; and No. 8 for "fishing."

LITERATURE: Utah is No. 1 in the world or nation for: "Shakespearean" (world); "Fellowship of the Ring" (nation); "Harry Potter" (nation); "Lord of the Rings" (nation); "Return of the King" (nation); "The Two Towers" (nation); and "Orson Scott Card" (a science-fiction writer who is LDS). Salt Lake City is also No. 1 for "Frodo."

FOOD: Utah ranks No. 1 nationally for "root beer" (Salt Lake City is No. 2 in the world for that). Utah is No. 2 nationally for "chocolate" and "s'mores" and No. 4 for "Jell-O" (while Salt Lake City itself was No. 2 among cities); and No. 9 for "ice cream."

RELIGION-RELATED TOPICS: Salt Lake City is No. 1 in the world for "genealogy" and "family history." Provo is No. 1 in the world for "Mormon," "Joseph Smith" and "Mitt Romney" (the presidential candidate who is LDS).

Utah is No. 1 nationally for "Jesus" and No. 2 for "family" and "preparedness." Salt Lake City is No. 1 nationally for "home storage."

SEX: Utah and Salt Lake City are both No. 1 in the nation among states and cities for: "boobs," "naked," "nude," "nudity," "pornography," "strip poker" and "striptease."

Separately, Utah is No. 1 also for "blonde," "brunette," "lingerie" and "naked girls." It is No. 2 for "redhead"; No. 3 for "hot sex"; and No. 4 for "barely legal."

Is this surprising?

Utah leading the nation in both "Jesus" and "pornography" actually does not surprise most psychologists, sociologists and therapists — or even sex addicts.

"That is a normal human sort of activity, but it is especially apparent in communities such as Salt Lake, where conformity is so strictly enforced," says Martinez, the U. sociologist.

"The Internet is anonymous. And where you have more rigid social norms, you are bound to have people who want to explore forbidden things. This does not say that people are immoral or evil or anything like that. It simply means that people are curious," she says.

She adds, "There may be more pressure here to be part of the culture that is known for family values and being good. When people feel a lot of pressure, they rebel."

Many others agree that the high percentage in Utah of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — and pressures to conform or rebel against it — account for leading the world and nation in Web searches for topics light and dark.

"I think the culture holds very high standards in terms of the 'light' things, so it's not surprising that the dark things would also be pretty extreme," says Ray William London, a former Utahn who is CEO of the Human Studies Center in Irvine, Calif., and is both a psychologist and an Internet law expert.

Mick Quinn, an Irish-born philosopher and author, says of the Utah Web search findings, "The shadow is the part of ourselves we repress or deny. The shadow often emerges as actions related to that which we profess to abhor, such as searches related to naked girls, striptease and desirable underwear."

Fred Rhodewalt, a psychology professor at the U., says the findings are difficult to interpret. For example, it is unclear whether the same people are doing the "light and dark" searches themselves, or whether two different groups are pursuing different topics.

He adds, "When I look at the list, I see youth interest. Utah has a lot of young people; might this account for high interest in all these topics?"

Carol Sansone, another psychology professor at the U., says while it is possible that entirely different groups are Googling "pornography" and "Jesus," "That's not the explanation I would put my money on."

She adds, "It would not be surprising that at least some of the population here are Googling topics from both lists. The seeming anonymity of the Internet has made it possible for people to search for and find information about a lot of topics that they would be too embarrassed or shamed to ask about in person."

Sansone adds, "If you combine a strong inherent motivation (sex) with a strong social inhibition to discuss or even acknowledge it exists ... it does create a consumer base for anonymous ways to satisfy or least acknowledge the motivation."

One person who acknowledges doing both kinds of searches is a sex addict now in therapy, who asked that his name not be used. He says that when he discovered sexual sites on the Internet early, "It was like I found a candy store. I could look all day at that stuff — for free." He says it led to behaviors that led to excommunication from the LDS Church.

Britt Minshall, a psychologist who is also a United Church of Christ pastor in Baltimore, says bluntly that finishing No. 1 in Jesus and pornography "is called hypocrisy. Church people are loaded with it."

But he has compassion for such people. He says interest in religion and sexuality are normal and says churches often are too hard on people who explore what has been taboo.

"Actually, if you talk about Jesus on Sunday, and on Monday go on the Internet and search for naked girls, you are perfectly normal," he says.

Are there dangers?

Minshall is one who sees little danger in being No. 1 in both Jesus and pornography. "Boys will be boys," he says.

But many others worry about potential danger from sexier sites, especially for youths.

One is the sex addict interviewed who is living and undergoing therapy in Utah. "To me it's a dangerous thing to everyone," he says, noting that viewing pornography at a young age led him to sex addiction and behaviors that went out of control, from visiting prostitutes to attending strip clubs and massage parlors.

With therapy, he says, he has stayed away from such things for five years now. "But I have to fight very hard against it all the time," he adds.

Tom Underhill, co-author of "Lock the Boogeyman Out of Your Computer" and an LDS Church member living in Southern California, says that working with a sex therapist for an upcoming book has opened his eyes "to the dichotomy of humanity, both in the Mormon Church and outside it."

He says, "We estimate sex addiction to float around 35 percent of LDS Church membership and slightly higher outside of the church." By that, he does not mean the extreme forms of sex addition, but rather much of it is inability to control viewing computer pornography.

"It's not a situation where every day they are going out and searching," he says. It is more like they view it "and put their hands on their face and say, 'My goodness what am I doing?' Then they dig out and do OK for a while, but six months later it happens again, and they say, 'My goodness what am I doing?' And the pattern repeats," he says.

Pumphrey, a clinical director for LifeSTAR in Southern California, notes that nationally, the No. 2 use of the Internet is to search for pornography, "and No. 1 is genealogy" — so the battle between light and dark uses is everywhere.

But he says looking at pornography is not healthy, especially for young people. He adds that such viewing often creates unhealthy views of sexuality and relationships.

"Elementary-school kids often are getting past blocks to these sites. We're finding it increasingly common for them (elementary students) to go up to other kids wanting sexual favors," he says, blaming it on pornography. "There are 200 new pornography sites that go up each day. It's everywhere."

London, with the Human Studies Center, adds, "There is always the threat of addiction. Sexually oriented sites can become a substitute for relationships."

He adds, "When they spend hours and hours at Web sites and are not working or doing other things with people, it is a real problem. Also for some people, the danger is that with prolonged use, there can be a desensitization. They can start thinking that some things found on Web sites are normal, acceptable behavior, even though by most definitions it is sexually deviant."

London says, "If you follow the golden mean of moderation, you will be a lot healthier and happier than if you don't."

Especially to protect youths, Underhill urges parents to take computers out of bedrooms and put them in public areas such as living rooms. He also urges parents to use software to block unsavory sites.

The recovering sex addict says the same rules should also go for adults. "And you might look for telltale signs of problems, such as someone staying up late to watch TV alone or using a computer where others can't see the screen — or abruptly turning it off when someone approaches."

He also urges adults to help each other by doing occasional full history searches of Internet searches of sites visited. "You need to look for patterns," he says. "Tell people that this is very addictive. I've been in recovery for five years — essentially, I have been 'sober' for five years — but I still struggle every day. It's best to keep away from it and never get into it."


E-mail: lee@desnews.com