Utah No. 1 in online porn subscriptions, report says

Published: Tuesday, March 3 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

Utahns, famous for their wholesomeness and frugality, buy online pornography at higher rates than the rest of America.

That's the conclusion of a Harvard economics professor who tracked subscriptions to online porn sites. Utah ranks No. 1 in subscriptions, according to Benjamin Edelman, who reported his findings in the article "Red Light States: Who Buys Online Adult Entertainment?," published in the most recent edition of the Journal of Economic Perspectives.

The most porn-watching ZIP codes in Utah, "with unexpectedly high subscriptions relative to their population and broadband usage," are 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.

A color-coded map in the journal article shows only two states with subscription rates higher than 3.6 per thousand home broadband users: Utah and Mississippi. Utah topped the list, with 5.47 users per 1,000. (Edelman says he took into account the amount of broadband access available in various regions and adjusted his data accordingly; porn users tend to favor high-speed data transfer that can download lots of the steamy visuals quickly.)

"Subscriptions are slightly more prevalent in states that have enacted conservative legislation on sexuality," Edelman writes. In the 27 states where "defense of marriage" amendments have been adopted, there were 11 percent more porn subscribers than in other states, he reports. Use is higher also in states where more people agree with the statement "I never doubt the existence of God."

Edelman is also quick to point out, however, that the difference in usage between states is relatively small (compared to, say, the difference in truck ownership between various states). The state with the lowest subscription rate was Montana, with 1.92 per 1,000.

Edelman looked at subscriptions to a top-10 seller of online adult entertainment, comparing ZIP codes associated with all credit card subscriptions between 2006 and 2008. Although some Internet porn is free, the subscription sites often offer higher resolution and sometimes real-time "chat" communications, Edelman notes.

Subscriptions to online porn are "particularly widespread where young people are prevalent," Edelman writes. Utah has a high proportion of young people, so when that's taken into account the porn use in Utah compared to other states is "somewhat less stark," he says. "But demographics don't explain all of the difference."

"Looking at the relative popularity of online adult entertainment among Utah consumers," he wrote in an e-mail exchange with the Deseret News, "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).

And maybe, says Logan psychotherapist Todd Freestone, 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."

Utah's No. 1 ranking doesn't surprise Freestone, who works with sex offenders at his Comprehensive Treatment Clinic. Freestone has done searches on Google Trends, typing in words ranging from "swimsuits" to "naked girls," and found that Utah ranked No. 1 or 2 in most searches. A similar exercise by Deseret News reporter Lee Davidson in 2007 found that Utahns were more prone to search for words like "topless" and "pornography" (as well as "Jesus" and "home storage").

"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."

E-mail: jarvik@desnews.com

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