Utahns Really Love Their Online Porn
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 Amazon.com. 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|
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.