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Utahns Really Love Their Online Porn

Jim Burroway

February 28th, 2009

Benjamin Edelman. “Red Light States: Who Buys Online Adult Entertainment?” Journal of Economic Perspectives 23, no. 1 (Winter 2009): 209-230. Available online here (PDF: 128 KB/12 pages).

The HBO series “Big Love” features a storyline where Bill Henrickson, the father of a polygamist fundamentalist Mormon family, is trying to enter the Indian gaming industry in Utah with a unique hook. In order to appeal to an underserved Mormon clientele which isn’t inclined to go to Las Vegas, the casino would present a more wholesome environment. No alcohol or risque entertainment, but customers would get free lemonade, for example.

That, of course, is fiction. In real life a recent study by Harvard University’s Benjamin Edelman suggests that the porn industry is already doing well in the Utah market without having to make any accomodations at all..

A new national study based on data from a top-ten online adult entertainment provider reveals that Utah has the highest per-capita consumption of online porn in the nation. But it’s not just Utah. More generally, states that generally more conservative and religious are also among the best consumers of online porn.

There was a time when purchasing porn required traveling to a seedy bookstore on the bad side of town. But since the mid-1990’s, the Internet has changed all that. Pornography today is as easy to get as a book from And with the explosion of broadband, delivering the more sought-after video content is easier than every before.

Since many of these porn sites offer monthly subscriptions, credit cards can provide a convenient tracking mechanism for studying visitors’ online behavior. Edelman obtained anonymized credit card data from a top-ten online porn provider which operates hundreds of web sites, and correlated that data with Zip code information to create his state-by-state analysis. While it’s impossible to know how representative this provider’s customer base is, they run literally hundreds of web sites offering a very wide variety of adult entertainment.

This study found that 36% of Internet users visit at least one adult web site each month, with each visit lasting an average of 11.6 minutes. And of those who visit at least one adult site per month, the average such users visit adult website 7.7 times per month. By looking at zip code information, the authors were able to come to some rather surprising conclusions.

It turns out that by every measure, the state of Utah is the highest per-capital consumer of online porn. Based on per-thousand Internet and Internet broadband users, the top ten and bottom ten breakdowns look like this:

Per thousand home Internet users Per thousand home broadband users
1 Utah 2.49 Utah 5.47
2 Hawaii 2.19 Alaska 5.03
3 Nevada 1.85 Mississippi 4.30
4 Florida 1.72 Hawaii 3.61
5 Arizona 1.68 Oklahoma 3.21
6 Maryland 1.64 Arkansas 3.12
7 Massachusetts 1.62 North Dakota 3.05
8 New Jersey 1.59 Louisiana 3.01
9 Alaska 1.56 Florida 3.01
10 California 1.56 West Virginia 2.94
41 Minnesota 1.18 Michigan 2.32
42 Michigan 1.15 Wyoming 2.29
43 Oregon 1.14 Connecticut 2.28
44 Iowa 1.10 Delaware 2.28
45 Wisconsin 1.09 New Jersey 2.27
46 North Dakota 1.07 Oregon 2.21
47 Kentucky 1.07 Ohio 2.20
48 Idaho 1.06 Tennessee 2.13
49 South Dakota 0.90 Idaho 1.98
50 West Virginia 0.89 Montana 1.92

The figures for broadband users are particularly notable since having high-speed access is critical to accessing online porn. According to Edelman, “As of June 2008, broadband users outnumber narrowband users 18 to 1 at sites that comScore classifies as adult.” That makes sense, since dial-up users are much less likely to endure the long download times required for video or high quality images. This may explain why Mississippi, which has limited availability for broadband statewide, comes in at number three for broadband users, but doesn’t even break into the top ten among Internet users generally. West Virginia is dead last among internet users overall, but rockets to number ten when dial-up customers are excluded.

When looking at broadband porn consumption trends nationwide, the map looks like this:

Some observers suggest that this study indicates a red state/blue state divide in porn consumption. Edelman did his analysis before the 2008 elections, but he did look at the 2004 presidential results where he couldn’t find any significance based on poll data by Congressional district.

But the 2008 electoral map at the state level does show that of the ten highest porn-consuming states, eight went for John McCain. And of the twenty-nine states in the lowest two porn-consumption categories (2.7 subscriptions per thousand broadband users or less), nineteen (66%) went for Barack Obama. It would be interesting to know whether there’s a correlation between porn and political leanings at the Congressional district level for 2008.

That said, Edelman did find some interesting characteristics for states with higher religiosity and more conservative values:

…[I]n regions where more people report regularly attending religious services (per National Election Studies 2004) … a statistically significantly smaller proportion of subscriptions begin on Sundays, compared with other regions. In particular, a 1 percent increase in the proportion of people who report regularly attending religious services is associated with a 0.10 percent reduction in the proportion of purchases that occur on Sunday. This analysis suggests that, on the whole, those who attend religious services shift their consumption of adult entertainment to other days of the week, despite on average consuming the same amount of adult entertainment as others.

…In the 27 states where “defense of marriage” amendments have been adopted (making same-sex marriage, and/or civil unions unconstitutional), … there were 0.2 more subscribers to this adult web site per thousand broadband households, 11 percent more than in other states.

And then there’s this:

…In states where more people agree that “Even today miracles are performed by the power of God” and “I never doubt the existence of God,” there are more subscriptions to this service. Subscriptions are also more prevalent in states where more people agree that “I have old-fashioned values about family and marriage” and “AIDS might be God’s punishment for immoral sexual behavior.”

Those comparisons broke down like this:

  • States where the majority agreed with the statement, “I have old-fashioned values about family and marriage,” bought 3.60 more subscriptions per thousand people than states where a majority disagreed.
  • States where the majority agreed with the statement, “AIDS might be God’s punishment for immoral sexual behavior,” bought 3.56 more subscriptions per thousand people.
  • States where the majority agreed with the statement, “Even today miracles are performed by the power of God” bought 2.74 more subscriptions per thousand people.
  • States where the majority agreed with the statement, “I never doubt the existence of God” also bought 2.74 more subscriptions per thousand people.



Emily K
February 28th, 2009 | LINK

States where the majority agreed with the statement, “AIDS might be God’s punishment for immoral sexual behavior,” bought 3.56 more subscriptions per thousand people.

well…maybe viewing pornography won’t be counted among “immoral sexual behavior” for that crowd, since you can’t get AIDS from playing it solo.

Unfortunately, while there may not be anything innately “wrong” with one’s partaking of (legal) pornography, in places where people are taught to be ashamed of sexuality (especially sexuality that might be otherwise not anything harmful but still outside the “norm,”) this is how addictions and unhealthy behaviors develop. People get repressive but also obsessive. So what might be something a human being would partake of on a lonely or boring night becomes a shameful need that doesn’t know satiety because there’s no way that person can conceivably, healthfully deal with it.

Not every red state is full of porn-junkies, but it doesn’t surprise me one bit that a state whose population is 80% rank n’ file LDSers also happens to have a huge appetite for “smut.”

February 28th, 2009 | LINK

This reminds me of the fun factoid that Utah leads the nation in per-capita cola consumption — a proximate result of the Mormon ban on coffee. Gotta get your caffeine fix somehow…

On the other hand, as I must constantly remind myself, not everyone in Utah is Mormon. Note also the high rate in Alaska. Both states’ outlier status could be explained simply by the lack of sexual outlets for normal people (i.e., people who are perfectly non-religious and non-self-repressed).

If I — qua psychologically healthy, sexually comfortable non-Mormon — had to live in Utah, then I’d probably run up a large online porn bill too.

February 28th, 2009 | LINK

We spotted this yesterday, and have already forwarded it to our dear relatives. They’re LDS, of various forms, btw.

Of course, we first need to eliminate a possible cause for the Utah Porn Spike (tehehe)… that notorious known gay(c) of Utah.

Cowboy… will you please deny or confirm that you are not (personally or otherwise) running 108,600 PCs on porn channels for 24 hours per day just to make the Mormon State look bad.

A simple Yes or No will do.

PS: Thats’s yes for ‘I am’. No for ‘I am not’. Also No for ‘Sorry I laughed so hard my teeth flew over the porch and went in the lawn somewhere’.

(Of course, our minds being as they are, we took one look at the graph and thought Hey, whatdda ya know — some of the people in Mississippi are making up for lost time. And some of the Utah people are happy to oblige. It’s no longer 1977, afterall.)

Jason D
February 28th, 2009 | LINK

Kip, are you sure it’s “cola” as in caffeine? It might be root beer, sprite, 7up. From knowing an LDS person the ban isn’t on “coffee” specifically, it’s on stimulants like caffeine, so it would be verboten in any form.

You do have a good point about the repressive atmosphere driving normal sexual appetites into the online world. Wonder if there’s a way to correct for that, I guess knowing the sexual/moral beliefs of the consumers would be necessary. Still, I doubt very seriously that all that porn is being consumed by a handful of atheists(or just cowboy :P), we all know there are some severely repressed elders in the mix.

Hazumu Osaragi
February 28th, 2009 | LINK

THESE are the sorts of studies we need more of — not, “why is Johnnie gay?”, but “why is Freddie a prickhead about Johnnie being gay?”

I think this study is a significant step in that direction.

Also, it seems that the FundeVangelist xtians aren’t about ‘no sex’, but that they’re trying to defend/protect/expand the conservative patriarchial authoritarian culture by making sex only available to and between traditional married couples. Case in point – eHarmony appears to be designed to favour the parings of traditional couples who will be likely to form those traditional monogamous families, which would swell the ranks of soldiers who will fight on the side of the xtianists in the culture wars.

Git’cher good sex here and help us fight the faggots! And we’ll look the other way whilst you browse porn…

Suricou Raven
February 28th, 2009 | LINK

A little quite unscientific playing with Google Trends is interesting. Unsurprisingly, Nevada is at number one on searches for ‘porn’ – but Kansas is at number for, and the top-rated city is in Texas.

March 1st, 2009 | LINK


Every Mormon I’ve spoken too (and that’s well more than one) has said that the contemporary view is that coffee is forbidden but soda is not. The fact that the reason that coffee was orginally forbidden was caffeine has become irrelevant to modern LDS dogma.

But when was common sense ever relevant to Mormons? ;-)

Timothy (TRiG)
March 1st, 2009 | LINK


quo III
March 1st, 2009 | LINK

Minor point, but that map of the 2008 Presidential election doesn’t seem to be quite correct. Arizona voted for McCain, not Obama, and Indiana voted for Obama, not McCain.

Jim Burroway
March 1st, 2009 | LINK

The map is now corrected.

March 1st, 2009 | LINK

grantndale (Disney’s gay Chipmunks):

I have been unattached to the internet and I’ve just come down from my own private Brokeback Mountain to read this?!

Personally or Otherwise? You mean, have I made porno?


Dan L
March 2nd, 2009 | LINK

I think that this post:

Provides some good criticism of the study, if a bit snarkily so.

March 2nd, 2009 | LINK

I don’t think people understand some things about Utah. Years ago our State’s Attorney General took extraordinary steps to rid Utah of all x-rated stuff.
This State has no adult bookstores.
No x-rated movie theaters.
Even video-rental places were placed under such scrutiny they couldn’t have a restricted-access area with even mildly suggestive pornography. All retail establishments closed up shop because it was too much of a hassle to deal with the Purity Patrol.

As an example: A few years ago, I tried to rent the video Latter-Days at my local Blockbuster. I was frustrated to find out it was not to be rented at my local retail store because, according to the store manager: “it didn’t fit with the local community standards”. Plus, this Latter Days video would consistently be missing/stolen.

Am I saying we have a lot of pent-up frustrated people here?


But, fortunately, we have Nevada nearby. Wyoming for liquor and illegal fireworks. And Idaho for the Lotto. The internet is surely the safety valve for a few people. Not that I have been visiting any porno sites. I’m too scared to give my credit card number out on the internet.

Scott P.
March 2nd, 2009 | LINK

cowboy, perhaps you’ve forgotten that when a porn shop opened in Nevada, just across the border from St. George, protesters from Utah came everyday to picket the store.

Utahns have a history of interfering with other states business.

March 2nd, 2009 | LINK

You mean, Mormons would traverse the 40 miles via the Virgin River Gorge to get to Mesquite, NV…just to protest?

Not quite in the shadows of the pure-white St. George Temple is it?


March 2nd, 2009 | LINK

Yet more Bad Press for Utah. What could be possibly be next?

Richard Rush
March 2nd, 2009 | LINK


Don’t you have access to Netflix in Utah, or do they censor that too? That’s how we saw Latter Days – not that we couldn’t have rented it from a local store, but Netflix is just so convenient.

Porn rental is also readily available at local stores in this part of the US.

Thankfully I didn’t grow up in Utah. I can’t imagine living in that hellhole. It sounds a lot like living under the Taliban minus the physical violence.

Emily K
March 2nd, 2009 | LINK

obviously their attempts at squelching “lust” have utterly and completely failed. you know, the more you try to cover up the end of a faucet when it’s running, the harder and faster the water shoots out – and in a much more unpredictable direction.

March 2nd, 2009 | LINK

Very astute metaphor Emily K.

A few years ago we had one guy who was so vociferous in his public anti-porn stance that he became the very beast he riled against. The authorities found pornography on his computer. I remember the lone liberal voice (Tom Barberi) on a local talk radio show made mention of how ironic it is sometimes to find the very person ranting about porn is himself addicted to the stuff.

Richard Rush,
I do have Netflix. I have added the “Caio” movie to my queue and I eagerly wait to view it when it becomes available on DVD…(since I doubt it will ever show in a theater in Salt Lake City.) However, I wasn’t too impressed with the movie Latter-Days when I did finally obtain a copy.

Let me be clear here: there are no…none…zip….zero…porno movies obtainable in any retail stores in Utah. I’m lucky to even find those calendars of shirtless cowboys in a trendy card boutique near here. Plus, I haven’t seen a copy of the Returned Missionaries calendar that got that guy in trouble and his diploma from BYU suspended.

But, I L O V E this place…hellhole and all.

Richard Rush
March 2nd, 2009 | LINK

On the other hand, Cowboy, people I know who have visited Utah say it is breathtakingly beautiful.

March 2nd, 2009 | LINK

What’s that? Out of 1000 Internet users in Utah, maybe 400 of whom are not LDS, 8 of them subscribe to porn? Goodness, religion is making them all obsessed with porn. Let’s ridicule religion.

…Oh, wait.

Rather than jumping with this article to the laughable conclusion that freedom from strict moral guidelines somehow makes blue-voting atheists the moral paragons of America, let’s try to get the hint of this research, as some commenters already have:

Higher online porn consumption may not represent greater demand, but the opposite: less diverse “outlets”. It seems self-evident that online porn consumers would be more active in regions where porniness was generally harder to find.

Conservative thought is the major barricade against porn in this country. Would erasing religion magically decrease porn, or only decrease our guilt as we glutted ourselves with it? And if a few conservatives do have personal experience, doesn’t it make their argument against porn all the stronger? Do we call smokers hypocrites when they oppose tobacco, or do we rather think they know exactly what they’re talking about?

Once again, if not for conservative policy makers, we’d have porn sitting out open-air on street corners like in East Asia and places. You could hardly avoid it if you tried. Itty-bitty kids would be growing up with it.

…Oh, wait.

March 2nd, 2009 | LINK

correction: not that cowboys are standing shitless in a chic boutique in Salt Lake City…butUgitmadrift. sorry.

I do have a deep desire to escort each one of you to the favorite places I call home (Utah). From driving the Aspen Grove Loop to hiking the Narrows in Zions National Park. I would love to share with you all the places I find solace and peace. Nature is my Cathedral/Synagog/Temple. The only thing: I just have to get to the ocean at least once a year. The beaches of the Great Salt Lake just doesn’t do it. How they let the lake get so diluted (you can’t float like you used to) and the industry that has raped the minerals from the lake need to take their profits and restore the lake to its original grandeur.

That’s just me venting a little. Sorry.

Jim Burroway
March 2nd, 2009 | LINK

I will second that. Utah is certainly the most beautiful state in the union. My favorite: Bryce Canyon. Also, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is pretty amazing.

March 2nd, 2009 | LINK

Hard as it may be to pinpoint who exactly is surfing porn, one critical consideration that was completely omitted from this article is that Utah has the youngest average population in the country, followed by Alaska. In fact, the top and bottom states on this article’s lists correspond roughly with young and old average state populations respectively, with a few glaring exceptions… Namely, Florida has slightly higher porn-surfing but a relatively older population, while Idaho also has a younger population (and over 20% LDS, the second highest state after Utah) but much less online porn consumption.

March 4th, 2009 | LINK

This posting on Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life’s “Get Religion” blog, which analyzes religion in the media, points out a number of fallacies in this study that pretty much make it meaningless without more data: “Less Porn, More Math,” at I’m surprised you posted it here given how carefully you’ve examined and dismantled other studies in a similar fashion.

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