Rethinking Mormons and Porn: Utah 40th in US in New Porn Data

Statistics tell stories, and this is something that Mormons know well. While many demographic indicators speak to the social health of Mormon culture, there are some that do not.

A well-known example: in 2009, a study found that Utah had the highest rate of online porn subscriptions of any state in the US. Latter-day Saints, who form a majority of Utah’s population, profess a belief in avoiding pornography.

New data, however, offer a conclusion opposite to the findings of the 2009 study, suggesting that Utah and other states with high Mormon populations have abnormally low rates of porn use.

Background

The Mormon blogosphere (or “Bloggernacle”) lit up with commentary after the release of the famous original study, and the conclusions of the paper became a focal point of the growing discourse about sexuality among Mormons online. Many major blogs addressed the issue head on, as in posts here and here.

After a few months, the Utah porn statistic became entrenched in conventional wisdom. Blogs would make reference to the statistic, and having drawn their conclusions, move on to provide explanations and accusations regarding the phenomenon, as represented here, here, here, here and here. The popular narrative of the shamed, porn-watching Mormon is well-represented by the views of Joanna Brooks, a well-known observer of Mormon religious practices and culture, who believes some of the religion’s teachings:

We all know LDS Church leaders have been emphasizing the dangers of pornography, especially to young men.  And yet, the statistics have shown that Utah has the highest rate of home online porn subscription.

Still, this seemingly contradictory pair of facts seems to suggest that there’s something compulsive going on with porn in the world of Mormonism.  Mormon communities are emphatic about chastity—because it is a commandment.  But Mormonism’s emphasis on chastity can impact the way Mormons feel about healthy sexuality, tinging it with shame, mystery, guilt, and unrealistic expectations. [link]

For five years the conversation on Mormonism and porn has been defined by this single data point, and psychological and sociological analyses of Mormon culture, like Brooks’, have rested upon it.

The paper’s accompanying fact that Idaho (25% Latter-day Saints) had the lowest rate of porn subscriptions per thousand broadband users in the US has only very rarely been cited. Also seldom reported is the fact that the data in the 2009 study was from an unnamed vendor, whose users may or may not be representative of the US population.

The New Data

Pornhub pageviews per capita

Annual pageviews per capita by state, Pornhub.com.

Last week, the third largest pornography website in the United States (Pornhub.com) released data on its annual pageviews per capita by state. A chart of pageviews by state is shown at right (a link to the analysis, which does not show explicit content, is here).

The chart as presented by Pornhub is limited in its applicability, because relevant demographic variables are left uncontrolled for, but the conclusion nevertheless appears favorable for Mormons. Utah’s pageviews per capita in 2013 were 40th in the US. Idaho and Wyoming, the other states with large Mormon populations, are even lower on the list, at 49th and 46th respectively.

In order to find a more meaningful interpretation of the data that would adjust for possible confounding variables, I went to the trouble of gathering the most recent demographic data I could find for each state, so I could perform a controlled regression. I included variables for GDP per capita, internet penetration per capita, male/female ratio, age distribution, race and each state’s marriage rate.

Using ordinary linear regression methods, I generated a difference between a state’s actual views per capita and the views that would be predicted based on demographic variables. In this analysis, Utah’s deviation from the views predicted by demographics was 45th in the United States, while Wyoming was 46th and Idaho came 50th.

In other words, when controlling for other variables, there is an even stronger suggestion than before that Mormon populations do not have abnormally high rates of porn use (at least as represented by Pornhub). We might even suggest that their rates of use are especially low.

I also decided to directly analyze the relationship between Mormonism and porn use (again, as measured by this particular metric). This is something the author of the 2009 study did not do. I included a variable for the percentage of a state’s population that is LDS, as measured by official LDS membership statistics and the most recent population projections based on census data.

The regression finds, roughly speaking, when controlling for the variables already mentioned, that a 10 percentage point increase in a state’s LDS population is associated with an approximate 16% decrease in the amount of porn consumption.

This result is highly significant, even at the 0.001 level. In fact, “percentage of Latter-day Saints in population” had a higher statistical significance than any other single variable I included in the regression (the next most significant variable was internet penetration). The proportion of overall explained variation in the regression is 66%, and a test for overall significance is highly conclusive, suggesting that the model as estimated is meaningful and significant.

Why do the results appear so different for these two sets of data? It’s almost impossible to know. The author of the 2009 study did not reveal the identity of the “top ten” porn vendor who gave him credit card data, and he admitted that there was no way to evaluate whether the users of that vendor were representative of the porn industry in general. His data, which was gathered from 2006 to 2008, also did not measure consumption, but rather paid subscriptions. A possible explanation of the discrepancy is that Utah’s porn use is skewed toward paid pornography.

In fairness, we cannot be sure that Pornhub.com users are representative of the industry overall. However, in this case we are aware of the identity of the provider, which provides both paid and unpaid content.

Statistics tell stories, and the famous “Utah porn statistic” has told far more stories than it is worth. If critics of Mormon teachings on porn and sexuality would like to continue promoting the idea that a conservative sexual culture has backfired on itself, then they will have to confront a less convenient set of data.

Here is another narrative, that perhaps time and further analysis will prove: Mormons view less porn than others, and those conservative sexual teachings are working.

EDIT: In response to a request, I obtained recent Gallup data on religiosity by state, and added these variables to my regression, in order to separate the effects of religiosity in general and religious engagement by Mormons. The same general results persist: a 10 percentage point increase in a state’s LDS population is associated with an approximate 17% decrease in porn pageviews. The p-value is once again very low, at 0.002. In deviations from projections including religiosity, Utah is ranked 38th, Idaho 50th, and Wyoming 46th. The differences from the earlier analysis are small and require no changes to the conclusions I suggested above.

Technical notes: I used Stata to perform the regressions mentioned. Data were collected from government sources wherever possible. The results were consistent even when using logarithmic variables for pageviews and GDP. I learned the relevant statistical methods as part of the completion of the econometric portion of my Honours economics degree. EDIT: Datafiles and my Stata do-file can be accessed here.

84 thoughts on “Rethinking Mormons and Porn: Utah 40th in US in New Porn Data

  1. Pingback: Utah and the consumption of pornography

  2. “Here is another narrative, that perhaps time and further analysis will prove: Mormons view less porn than others, and those conservative sexual teachings are working.”

    What, are you suggesting that the simplest answer might actually be the correct one?

    Excellent post! I’m sharing and quoting.

    • Tom, this first comment is a testament to the weakness in your argument. You may have attempted to explain you used a small sample set, one that statistically should not be used to draw conclusions as Trenton did above. What you did do is give ammunition to Trenton to “quote and share” how our “conservative sexual teachings are working.”

      A reasonable conclusion would be, we have two studies which are very narrow that have different results – we do not have enough data to reasonable draw a conclusion about widespread pornography usage, and more data is needed.

      • Thanks for the feedback. I agree with you that more data is needed before we can draw a conclusion. However, I don’t know if I can accept more than an elementary responsibility for the readers who will misrepresent what I wrote, given that I did make an effort to explain the limitations of the analysis. I think any statistical claim, however well-qualified, is vulnerable to misinterpretation. We’ve seen the 2009 study misused, and we’ll likely see the same with the analysis I’ve done. Thank you for being careful and fair in your own interpretation.

        In this particular case I don’t know if Trenton drew an incorrect conclusion. He said that the simplest answer *might* be the correct one, given the data, which is true. If he quoted me with appropriate context, I don’t think readers would be misled.

      • Kristine – In order to make your point, you left out the qualifier that both the author and Trenton used – “perhaps time and further analysis will prove”. A similar qualifier wasn’t present in the articles about the 2009 study which were linked to in the above analysis.

  3. You said, “statistics tell stories”. The story of this article is that Utah ranks 40th for using the site Pornhub.com. The story does NOT tell that mormons use less porn. The data is narrow and specific – “who is using Pornhub / by state”. You, on the other hand, try to debunk a prior study with this single web site. There is more porn on the internet than what is contained in Pornhub.

    • You’re right, we can’t necessarily generalize the conclusions for this Pornhub data to porn use in general. I did try to make that clear in the paragraph starting with, “In fairness …” toward the end. Maybe I didn’t make that clear enough, especially in the headline.

      This new data just adds to the available data (which is very limited). You’re probably aware that the prior study only included data from one porn vendor, which was left unidentified.

      These data don’t prove that Mormons use less porn, but I believe they strongly suggest it. Pornhub.com is 51st in the US for traffic, out of all websites (the largest two porn sites are close, at 45th and 50th). That’s larger than sites like Forbes, Hulu and USA Today. When I looked at Alexa.com before carrying out the regression, I saw that the relative demographics of Pornhub.com are virtually identical to those of the other porn sites, suggesting that its users don’t represent an outlier.

      We can’t prove that Pornhub is representative, but I haven’t yet seen a reason to doubt that it is. Nevertheless it’s worth looking into further. Thanks for the comment.

      • No, Tom, you definitely did NOt make that clear enough. You used one supplier, about whom you provided scant information, and from that made a cognitive leap that is totally unjustified. And WHY does your graphic show some states in red and some in blue?

      • Kai, it’s true that I don’t have a great deal of statistical information about Pornhub.com, other than publicly available data at Alexa.com and the information given by Pornhub itself. In reviewing what I wrote again, I don’t think I’ve been misleading, but I can understand where you’re coming from–the dataset is limited.

        The graphic is from Pornhub.com, at the link I provided. They used the data to draw conclusions about the differences in pageviews between states that broke for Obama in 2012 as opposed to Romney.

    • I agree with Austin. This post gives a false perception in the title & paper. Unless the reader is wise enough to follow how narrow the study is. Consider changing the title of the post so that it clearly reflects, “Utah ranks 40th for using the site Pornhub.com” (or something along those lines). Mormons use less porn on that website. I could write an article saying, “Mormons are humble and dress modestly. Statistics show the LDS don’t spend a lot of money in retail” and the data is only gathered from seeing how much money is spent at the department store Macys, or Dillards, etc.

      You have great skills with statistics and analyzation. I encourage you to make your point using as many popular sources as possible and there will be no question but that you are correct! For now, this post is, to me, dangerous. It gives a false sense of security…”All is well!” Having worked closely with Bishops, I know first hand the percentage of men within my stake that are addicted to pornography (that are working with a leader…how many more have not yet come forth is also to be considered) and the numbers are staggering.

      • Your point is not unfair; it’s true that the data is only from Pornhub.com and does not necessarily represent a random sample of porn users in general. However, I don’t agree that the title or the paper give a false impression.

        I considered the headline carefully. I referred to “rethinking” the data as opposed to a word that would suggest I was making new conclusions. I referred to “new porn data” as opposed to some metric like “porn usage”. I think it’s standard practice for the headline to express a generality and for the paper to define the data being described.

        In the paper, I made sure to mention that we can’t be sure if Pornhub data can be generalized to porn usage in general. I think that any reader who read the entire post would not be left without that impression.

        But I think it’s justified to consider this data a genuine reflection on porn usage that we can consider in addition to the data analyzed by the 2009 study. As I said to Austin, it appears, based on public data, that Pornhub does not represent a demographic outlier when it comes to porn usage. The site receives many millions of views a month, barely less than the number one porn site.

        I have tried not to create a “sense of security” about porn but rather to relax the pervasive feeling of failure that has been absorbed into Mormon culture about porn usage. We don’t have all of the facts, but as it currently stands, we should *not assume* that Mormons use more porn than others. This is a point worth making because many, many Mormons have made that assumption. With what data we do have, taking both studies into consideration in their own context, the likeliest conclusion is that Mormons use less porn.

      • Even 77 annual pageviews per capita in the lowest state is surprisingly high, per capita includes women, children and seniors. “All is well!” is not a story I see in this data point.

      • Ruth, Kai, Austin, your concerns could also be said for the “original study done” and used by Joanna Brooks and others to say that Utah has the highest problems with Porn. I love the one sidedness of criticism.

  4. “We all know LDS Church leaders have been emphasizing the dangers of pornography, especially to young men. And yet, the statistics have shown that Utah has the highest rate of home online porn subscription.”

    “Still, this seemingly contradictory pair of facts seems to suggest that there’s something compulsive going on with porn in the world of Mormonism.”

    Contradictory? This is an excellent example of Ms. Brooks’s own special way of thinking about the watchmen on the tower fulfilling their calling to warn about the dangers that they see.

  5. Interesting analysis, though it is ecological in nature. While there may be an inverse association between PornHub and proportion of Mormons in a state, we do not know at the individual level whether this association exists. We don’t know, for example, if all the PornHub pageviews happened to be coming from Mormons or members of other faiths in these states.

    It is sad that the original study was taken to such extreme interpretations considering its lack of scientific rigor to make the claims everyone was making since it too was ecological in nature. Plus, using only paid/subscription services is a poor measure for use since that competes with so many free services. Maybe people in Utah are more likely to have paid services, but overall are less likely to view pornography in any medium. Even looking at the difference in the number of subscribers per thousand home Internet users in Table 2 does not reveal a huge difference. It is a 3.55 person difference per 1000 people between Utah and the lowest state, Montana when considering broadband users. If you just look at per population, it is just a 1.19 person difference per 1000 people between Utah and West Virgina. The range is so small, that the question is whether this study is really relevant or not? The statistical differences may be different, but are the effect sizes large enough that we really care about what is being measured here?

    I think the Church has a fairly rough idea of pornography use by active members via what gets reported to them by local leaders. It must be a fairly widespread problem considering it nearly always gets some coverage or mention in General Conference.

  6. Pingback: Mormons May not be Awash in a Sea of Porn | Junior Ganymede

  7. Hi Tom,

    I am the manager of the FairMormon blog. I’d be interested in cross posting this blog post to the FairMormon blog. Would that be okay with you? Feel free to contact me at the e-mail address listed with my name. Thanks!

  8. Have you considered perhaps publishing this at SquareTwo (http://squaretwo.org/)? Or possibly First Things? I think you’d have a really good chance at getting it published (I’d actually encourage First Things because I think it’d get more exposure). The increased exposure would add to the debate and perhaps inspire more rigorous methodologies when approaching this question.

    • I appreciate the suggestions. It’s interesting–I came across First Things for the first time this morning, by way of an article about a pro-life student group at Yale. I really liked what I saw. I’ll look into contacting them. Thanks!

  9. Pingback: Rethinking Mormons and Porn: Utah 40th in US in New Porn Data | FairMormon Blog

  10. I’m wondering what the statistics would tell us about porn use in southern states with a similarly large population of religious folks (mostly Baptists). Just curious, not for the sake of comparing Mormons and Baptists, but for the sake of a generalized view of religion and porn use.

  11. Maybe Mormons are more honest and are more likely to pay for their filth instead of get it for free. Lol

    In all seriousness though, I appreciate many of your points, like we don’t even know where the 2009 data came from. That’s like quoting “the President” without being specific about whether its Obama or Monson. Or worse, like making up stuff against a group of people you don’t like.

    I would love to see your tables and graphs.

  12. Mormons are honest. We pay for our filth. Lol

    Seriously though, I appreciate your points that we don’t even know where the 2009 information came from. How can we know of its validity if we don’t know the source? How can we even know its real data?

    • Are you kidding? Mormons are cheap. We won’t pay for anything we can get for free. Ever had Costco samples for lunch?!?

      • K… that was pretty funny. Needed a laugh. Thanks for providing. You people are very smart. I am not. So, I have to use two simple phrases / invitations to guide me. “Come unto Christ,” and ” Always Remember Him.” Thank goodness the instructions are simple. If I can remember that, teach my 5 boys that, maybe we have a chance against the tsunami of pornography. The only study I am concerned with is the one at home.

  13. Standard correlation isn’t causation disclaimer: We can’t rule out that porn deficiency doesn’t cause Mormonism!

  14. Good blog. But Utah does not equal Mormon. There might as well be quite a few virtuous non-Mormons in Utah as well who don’t ascribe to Porn because Utah is a conglomeration of Mormons/Non-Mormons etc. But it is interesting to note that Utah has low porn use. It might also add that the church has been very heavy in trying to help members who do have Porn or other similar addictions.

  15. The methodology for this survey is lacking in for the basic fact that the error rate is insurmountable. There are a large number of apps, add-ons, and programs that allow users to hide or move their IP address, making Pornhub’s source data unreliable because it cannot show a physical location of a user. That is why, I assume, the previous survey was taken of subscribers. A subscriber’s location is verifiable through the zipcode registered on their credit card.

    It would be very diffixult to create a statistical model that could account for the use of IP scramblers. Considering that IP addresses are relocated on a even rate with the user population, and Utah’s population is below the national median, the rate at which Utah users’ IP addresses would be relocated out of state would be significantly higher than out of state users being relocated to a Utah based IP.

    • That’s a good point. I’m not aware of how (or whether) this problem is approached in similar web traffic statistical analyses.

      As far as your point about smaller states having a higher proportion of traffic being relocated out of state, you may be right. I just added state population to the regression as a partial control, and the LDS effect is still a 17% decrease for a 10% increase. Population as a regressor has very low significance in the model.

      I just want to clarify for other readers: since the data is per capita, 10 relocations *to* Utah (from other states) would have the same effect in the data as 100 relocations *to* California, or whatever the appropriate ratio is.

      It would be interesting to know what proportion of web traffic comes through a proxy or some other relocation method.

      • It’s nice that you have tried to created a controlled model but controlling the regression per capita won’t fix the calculation. There are too many variables to consider. Variable 1: Number of available IP scramblers. Variable 2: market share for each of those scramblers. Variable 3: consistency of IP scrambler usage while viewing relevant data. Variable 4: variation of use between each jurisdiction. I have no idea if these variables are significant enough for to matter, and whether Utah has high rates of porn viewership doesn’t really matter to me. However, I find surveys of technology, whose methodology fails to acknowledge the realities of that technology to be obnoxious. Any presumption about views are just that, presumptions.

        I understand that the point of this piece, and the many others discussing this data, is to suggest that the unverifiable data released by Pornhub contradicted the verifiable data of the undisclosed subscription based website. Still, you succeed with your goal of establishing a base from which mormons in Utah can utilize the internet to defend their state’s reputation as the home of a dominant moral populace. That is, after all, what the internet has become hasn’t it; a resounding board so that the masses can hear their opinions handed back to them by people they pretend are smarter than themselves. Perish the thought that maybe, just maybe, we would demand that people have, at the vary least, a proof of concept before spouting off “knowledge.” Perhaps this data is true, but the methodology of any analysis of it is unsound because it lacks the markers to prove validity.

  16. Have you seen the number of LDS and SA sexual addiction support groups in Utah? This is probably a more reliable way to measure the issue since it’s your target population outting themselves. Utah has a VERY big porn problem, so does the rest of the US and it’s both genders. There are a fast growning number of LDS women’s sexual addiction support groups. SA is co-ed usually, but they have unofficial women’s only groups. SLAA is where you find a lot of women, since it includes love addiction.

    • I am a LDS woman and have a difficult time with pornography use. I was married to a man that admitted to the police to child pornography and it was never prosecuted. In fact, this was admitted to a family court judge as well and during that time I was blamed for his pornography use. The judge found it irrelevant to our custody trial. I have attempted suicide multiple times. I’ve self committed into hospitals on over ten occasions. Why on earth would I want to be here if I cause men to view the rape of little babies as acceptable once they have had me? You have no idea how significantly damaging pornography has been to myself and my family and the absolute utter disregard by society for these acts has been atrocious. To say that I am to blame for a person’s sexual deviance is completely horrific. Actually, I was pregnant at 15 before all that happened so my own rape (yep, that’s RAPE by state law that was never prosecuted) leads me to believe that I am somehow accountable for his sexual deviance because of my sexuality as a minor. In fact, the state of Michigan paid me to go round and participate in a program called Mother’s Know Best after my son was born to deter teens from having babies. That seems nice but when you think about it, it’s really more of a rundown about my own accountability towards my sexuality and had me teaching other students that being victimized is a place for self blame. Any ways, I don’t really have a healthy sexual view, any more. I use pornography myself on occasion (NOT children) because the idea of a man touching me makes me want to vomit. I’m not lying to you when I say that I have been taught very well that my body is a place for sexual deviance. I was raped a few years ago by a man that laughed at me for being LDS and for my fidelity to my estranged (2nd) husband. that I haven’t seen in six years now. Most people look at me like my faithfulness makes me a creature with three heads. One way that I believe my LDS teachings have damaged me is in that pornography use can be viewed as “cheating” on my spouse which may be why when I reported my rape a few years ago the woman police officer looked at me like she could not understand how damaging cheating on my husband might be (she was not LDS. She was not moved by my story). I do not sleep with other men. I like the term “self abuse” which I read in the Ensign because it suits me well. Do you really think after reading all that I don’t have a history of self abuse? It’s a mental illness that causes maximum supreme damage to people in our families, our communities and it’s a self demeaning behavior. I would never argue with that. I am always honest about who I am as a person and where I come from in this society. Why on earth would statistical data even matter? It’s an issue, issue, issue. If there is even one baby out there that has to endure the temptations of men and then be broadcast forever into the world their abuses, then it is an issue and will always be an issue. Those babies are enduring forever with the torment of their victimization sliding off into the universe even to God Himself. Maybe a public format isn’t an appropriate place to share my story but it needs to be shared and I wish that more women were honest with the things they do, also. Women are delicate, complicated and beautiful creations that are just as sexual as their male counterparts. That includes MYSELF. Nothing can be greasier than denying me my identity as a gender and my place in this world. Women have sexual urges. If we fail in our honesty we can never have hope of curing these social ills, also. This was Michigan, not Utah. One thing I know, I’m glad I pushed Michigan up on the list and Utah down. It is a very beautiful state and one day when I am WAY past caring about this sexual body and I’m old, I’m going to move there and enjoy a quiet mountain view. I loved Utah before I became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints a few years ago.

      • Okay, self identification is not a very good indication of anything. For instance, many people in Utah actually believe that if you catch your spouse having looked at porn, even if maybe only once a month, then you very well might believe the person is a sexual addict or “porn addict.” In any other US demographic group it would not be seen as a big deal; lots of couples nowadays put the kids to bed and watch porn together.
        So if the prevailing attitude is that ANY porn use is abuse then many people believe they need help and will start going to these ridiculous meetings. Look, I am quite devout LDS but this porn thing may be tearing families apart and I don’t mean the porn itself. It is the perception that may be doing it.
        Want to reduce porn? Have some General Conference talk on why couples need to make time for more sex. If we are to believe porn can addict our brains to a computer screen the exact same hormones are produced, and in greater amounts, when having sex. So let’s encourage couples to form chemical addictions to each other.

  17. This is interesting and I hope your conclusions reflect reality. Obviously the stat that matters most is the binary stat for each individual.
    The 2009 study represents households, whereas the recent study measures views per capita. I assume Utah has more members per household on average, and I wonder how accounting for this could impact your findings. Do you have household data?

    • You’re right, the 2009 study looks at household data, while the Pornhub data is per capita. This could lead to different biases in each analysis: in the 2009 study, a high number of persons per household in Utah could show itself in a higher incidence of multiple subscriptions in a household than in other states, which could produce misleading conclusions when comparing households. In my analysis, a greater proportion of children in the population could skew per capita data. I made an effort to correct for this by including discrete variables for the proportion of the population in different age groups.

      No, I’m sorry–I’m not aware of any household data, but I would also be interested to see what it showed.

    • This a a REALLY significant point. When you talk about ‘per capita’ you have to account for average age. How are you accounting for the higher birth rate – http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/census/median-age-by-state.htm

      e.g. Utah has a much higher population of 10 year olds than other states.

      Again, as I mentioned in my other comment – the huge flaw in our post is you could have effectively pointed out that we shouldn’t read too much into the original study, yet you commit your own sin by reading too much into the second study, thus committing the very confirmation bias you are attempting to call out.

      • It’s tough to know how much to control without losing significance, but to mitigate that problem, I included variables for the proportion of the state’s population under-18, 18-44, 45-64 and 65+.

        You’re right, it would be a mistake to read too much into the study. I haven’t, and won’t say conclusively: “Mormons watch less porn”, and I don’t encourage people to make broader arguments on that basis. But this data does constitute evidence for the assertion, I think.

    • It’s not the individual binary statistic that matters the most. Tom’s extrapolation of this data is probably accurate when borne out by the supporting data of Utah’s Dept. of Health given here: http://www.health.utah.gov/vipp/rapeSexualAssault/overview.html

      There is an inverse correlation backed by numerous agreeing studies over wide geographic areas that porn usage inversely correlates with rape (presumptively, if you give a predator an easier avenue to release their energies they’re less likely to be out raping someone; there is a similar correlation with the display of violent entertainment and a reduction in violent crime near that coincides near the theater). The statistics reported by Idaho support this as well when compared to porn usage, the incidence of rape in Idaho is 10% greater per capita than it is across the US — despite its much lower absolute and relative usage of porn. Arizona also has a very high incidence of rape and a very high penetration by the LDS church, but is almost certainly an outlier due to its overall high crime rate.

      These statistics are for “forecable rape” and don’t include other types of rape that are otherwise classified as sexual assault or “other sex crimes.”

      Porn usage is an interesting sociological datum because of how it correlates to other important facets of society and how it relates to the overall views of sexuality and sexual health in large populations. It is not something that only matters as an individual binary element.

    • But Michael, of course any porn use is abuse, just as any child beating is child abuse, any Russian roulette playing is pistol abuse, and any cyanide snorting is poison abuse. By definition, pornography is evil. No amount of it is acceptable.

      The fact that “many couples” watch porn is utterly irrelevant. Many couples also cheat on their spouses; do you suppose that this means that just a little bit of spouse cheating is okay?

      In our haste not to revile those who engage in sinful behavior such as using pornography, let’s not make the equally egregious (perhaps more egregious) mistake of condoning patently immoral behavior.

  18. I’m ex-lds and I think you make some excellent points (even though I am a strong critic of the church.) I have always been skeptical of that original study

    However, I think you make some rather significant mistakes in this post.

    1) Your main point is well taken that BOTH studies are insufficient as far as data points – they both look at only a single website and a single datapoint in the website (e.g. this one in total views not number of unique users.) For you to delve into the second set of data and slice and dice the data to draw conclusions is a red herring. As with the first study, the Mormon population in the state may or may not be the primary factor – you commit the correlation equals causation logical fallacy several times throughout your article (as did the conclusions drawn from the original study.)

    It would have been much better to stick with the main point that it was a major mistake to put so much stock in the first study. You have disclaimers, but you are also now the pot calling the kettle black by putting too much emphasis on the second study.

    2) You just advertised pornhub. Rather extensively.

    • To your first point, I don’t think it’s uncalled for to analyze the data we do have. Microdata certainly would be preferable to aggregate data, but given some relatively weak assumptions (for example, that the effect of Mormonism on porn-watching is relatively consistent from state to state) we can find meaningful relationships within the data.

      As far as confusing correlation and causation, you’re right, of course, that there’s no way to prove causation by looking at data. This is why I used phrases like “relationship between” and “associated with”, especially in my bolded finding about a state’s LDS population. However, correlation in the presence of controls is *evidence* for causation, and if we’re careful, we can tentatively form beliefs about causation while continuing to gather more data.

      To your second point, you’re right! I wondered whether I should do that. It would be a little ironic if this blog post ended up bumping Utah’s pageviews on Pornhub, haha. Thanks for the comment.

    • After reading most of the posts I suddenly had a flashback to my college Stats classes. The headache I started to develop notwithstanding, it reminded me one of my favorite Professors at UCF. He stressed many times, the many ways data and its resulting conclusions can be skewed and maniputated to meet pretty much what ever result you would like. The prof loved to tell us stories of when he worked for several government agencies in D.C. He would be given a set of stats along with a desired result, then it was his job to make the two merge in such a way as to make Congressional sub-committees throw parties and have conressmen do cartwheels over the results; possibly adding a guesthouse on the summer home in the process. He finally bolted because he couldn’t stand being asked to trade on his good name and reputation to suit these politicos. Consequently, I became a high school History teacher staying as far away from mean, median and mode that I could. Oddly enough I have been married to the Math Chair at our local high school for 42 years and counting. Oh, We are also LDS and know to stay away from porn, THE FAMILY IS MUCH MORE IMPORTANT (4 kids, 6 grandkids) and yes we do have larger than average families as a rule..

  19. Another dimension to look at is how connected each state is to the internet. A lot of states I see as less connected to the internet are at the bottom.

  20. If the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has the highest pornography rates in the country, we should take it. Hooray for us for taking on the burden of curing this terrible disease. That would be a great reason for coming to the church. As great as any other reason. We should embrace people who struggle with hope and charity.

  21. What exactly were the “relevant demographic information” that you used to run your regression? Also, I think it’s important to point out that a subscription is not required to utilize youporn.com and that most of the content is free. Maybe the question you should be asking is why are people in Utah so eager to pay for online pornography as opposed to getting it for free like the people in Kansas seem to be smart enough to do.

    • I included variables for GDP per capita, internet penetration per capita, male/female ratio, age distribution, race and each state’s marriage rate. Also, as I mentioned in the edit, I later added religiosity.

  22. Fascinating how people are quick to challenge the outcome of this article while supporting the findings of the 2009 study. Problem is the 2009 study was poorly designed and failed to take into consideration some of the realities of porn and Utah.

    First, it assumes that Utah=Mormon when LDS majority has been waning significantly over time.

    Second, it doesn’t differentiate between non-Mormons, Mormons, and no practicing Mormons.

    Third, it only stands to reason that Utah would have a higher rate of subscription porn given it’s stance on over the counter materials available in every other state. If the study have been on porn magazines bought in gas stations, Utah would be dead last and opponents would be pointing out the flaw in the study mechanism (rightfully so).

  23. Tom, I applaud your industriousness and ingenuity in pursuing this study. Your “About” page says that you are an undergrad economics student. Some of the criticisms of the study are good, but there is no perfect study. At some point, we have to realize that we cannot have everything we would like in our data, operationalize every variable the way we would hope to, or get quite the sample that would be ideal. You are open to feedback, and respond to it with grace. Bravo!

    • Thanks very much for the feedback, Mike. I wasn’t quite expecting my informal regression analysis to be so widely viewed, and I’ve been worried about the possibility that I made obvious errors. Thanks for the reassurance that I’m not totally off-base!

  24. Latter-day Saints live in all 50 states. My ex-husband lives in PA. He is a former bishop and was in the bishopric when his secret came out. If you’re going to talk Mormons, you can’t just screen the state of Utah.

  25. If I may sound off: the 2009 study provided subscription information, and this latest dataset is from a free site. This adds a wrinkle to the data no matter how you feel about it. Maybe all it shows is that Utahns are more likely to be “honest” in their illicit consumption and pay for it. Or maybe nothing. Just more to think on.

  26. I’m no brain, but I can appreciate the research and homework you have done. I applaud the way you have honestly approached all the criticism and made attempt after attempt to courageously illustrate the findings you have made. It is sad to say that there are many both inside the religious realm and outside that struggle with the ideas presented in pornography. Is it bad or good is not necessarily the topic you tried to tackle, just simply where the seeds are spreading. I second what Mike said and am grateful you have taken the time to issue a call for others to stand up to reality in a way that is virtually undeniable with these assumptions. Thank-you

  27. Interesting post. Have you thought about sharing your data and your Stata scripts so that other researchers can replicate your results?

    • That’s a good idea, and I’ll plan on getting those available. Unfortunately, when I began the regression, it was only for my own curiosity and I neglected to record the sources of a few of the variables. I’ll have to do a little hunting.

      I’m also out of town today without Stata, and I’m in the middle of final exams. I’ll aim to have the files up within a week. Thanks for the suggestion.

  28. The main problem with relating this analysis to the 2009 analysis is that the end points are not relatable. The 2009 study could be described as a study of the prevalence of [paid subscription] pornography use. This study is about the volume of pornography use.

    In the end, it is entirely plausible that both studies are true.

  29. I think this is an excellent analysis, and — critiques notwithstanding — ought to lead many of us to “rethink” what we thought we knew about Latter-day Saints and pornography use.

    I do have one qualm with your article, and that is your treatment of Joanna Brooks. You say:

    “The popular narrative of the shamed, porn-watching Mormon is well-represented by the views of Joanna Brooks, a well-known observer of Mormon religious practices and culture, who believes some of the religion’s teachings.”

    I think it is unfair for you to say that she “believes in some of the religion’s teachings” — suggesting that she is a sympathetic outsider rather than a fellow (active) member of the Church! I’m not sure if this was an innocent misstep (maybe you don’t know she is a member of the church) or intentional snarkiness, but if the latter it is out of step with what is otherwise a fine article. More importantly, if this was some kind of intentional “dig” at Sister Brooks, may I suggest it is not in keeping with the brotherhood and sisterhood incumbent upon church members.

    • Thanks for the feedback. I understand where you’re coming from, and why my description might have caused offense. Even accurate characterizations can be inappropriate in certain contexts. Nevertheless I did choose the words I used deliberately.

      If I simply referred to Sis. Brooks as a Mormon blogger, it could give readers unfamiliar with the church the mistaken impression that Mormons are generally critical of church teachings. This would be unfair to the church and a majority of members.

      I respect Joanna Brooks as a member of the church. But if a defense of either the church’s or Joanna’s reputation comes at the expense of my defense of the other’s, I feel compelled to advocate for the church.

      • “If I simply referred to Sis. Brooks as a Mormon blogger, it could give readers unfamiliar with the church the mistaken impression that Mormons are generally critical of church teachings. This would be unfair to the church and a majority of members.”

        In all honesty, I have a hard time seeing this as a likely result. Why would an example of one person critical of church teachings make someone think that church members are generally critical? If you were reading a story about a family in which one person was critical of the family, why on earth would you assume that the members of the family are generally critical of the family? I suspect you would not, even though people don’t generally pick their families. So the likelihood of this happening is all the more remote in matters of voluntarily chosen and maintained religious ties. Any reader who has the maturity to seek out and even remotely understand your article will know this.

        But even IF you are right, I don’t see why the only other course of action is to “simply” refer to her as a Mormon blogger. This solution is part of a false dichotomy you seem to be creating. Nobody is asking you to defend “Joanna’s reputation,” and if simply being accurate (rather than misleading, as your account would indeed be to someone unfamiliar with the church and/or Brooks) is a goal of yours, then I wonder why you wouldn’t choose a better “deliberate” course of action. I’m glad you in actual fact respect Sister Brooks as a member of the church; however, whether you like it or not, your article implicitly communicates that you do not.

      • You’re right, the quotation by itself would not give most readers that impression. But critical voices within the church occupy a disproportionately large space on the internet. This has misled both members and non-members to think that criticism of religious practices and teachings is considered acceptable in the church.

        To your second point, you’re right, I could have described her as a member of the church who believes some of the church’s teachings in order to expand the context. But again, I feel that I would have been reinforcing a pervasive, misleading image of the church. And that is the greater concern to me.

        I would rather take the risk that some people will feel I don’t respect Joanna Brooks than that I lack respect for the Lord and his church. You’re right, there isn’t a dichotomy in the message I could have chosen to send, but there is a particular balance I preferred to strike.

  30. Tom, great stuff. I’m really surprised with some of the negative feedback you’ve got here. I think you made it abundantly clear that there’s a new piece of data that challenges conclusions made from a previous piece of data, rather than saying you’ve got the final word on the issue. A lot of the criticisms (particularly the early ones) seem like straw-man arguments to me…

  31. Great article Tom. As a former Bishop, a current retired Coast Guardsman and a recently returned missionary from a “Military Relations Mission”, with my beautiful wife of 45 years, I have had a lifelong connection with pornography, from it’s prevalence in military housing (barracks), to the current avalanche, via the internet (which I have never viewed intentionally). Whether “Mormons” are or are not the greatest users of this “plague” of mankind, isn’t really the point. As previously noted, the question is – what can, and is, being done to turn the tide? From my personal experience, which I consider pretty significant, I can tell you that there is no organization on earth that is more serious about and, that is doing more, to stem the tide than is the LDS church. I & my wife have spent over 4 1/2 years working as volunteers in a jail ministry, much of that time serving with the “sexual offenders” groups. Overwhelmingly they admit to the negative power and influence of pornography in their lives. We, as a society, should now concern ourselves more with combating the enemy and developing strategies and methods to lessen the effects, than worrying about casting judgements, performing studies or justifying usage. I appreciate your effort to validate (or at least show data) that to me confirms what my heart told me years ago. Yes, the LDS church membership has problems with this sinful act, as well as all of the other innumerable sins committed by mankind. But, they are less likely to do so, on average, and are typically more anxious to correct the behavior and are doing something significant to change. While serving as MR missionaries we had the opportunity to oversee a few of the sessions of the Addiction Recovery Program. What a great first step in helping those with addictions, of all kinds, to turn their lives over to Jesus Christ and to begin the healing process. Today is Easter and the first day of the rest of each of our lives. Your study gives me hope, and others, that perhaps the tide reversal, at least among the “Mormons”, may have already began. Perhaps that is the reason for the change in statistics – the program is working!!

  32. With regards to the criticism, I find your work to be (at the very least) as valid as the study that people are eager to accept as fact. Considering the secret nature of the sin, and all the variables that come into play, it would be foolish to embrace either conclusion as fact. What I do know for sure is that there are a LOT of people who want the original study to be true; whether it is to prove that teaching obedience to the law of chastity is somehow unnatural, or to show the church to be horribly flawed, it doesn’t matter…they will hold your study to more scrutiny.

  33. Very interesting – thank you for looking into this and sharing your findings. I think you have made clear that there really isn’t enough definitive research out there on pornography use – it would be great if you continue to use your skills and add to the body of knowledge on this. Information is power!

  34. Pingback: Still No. 1? The Utah Pornography Enigma | Wheat and Tares

  35. I find it hilarious that so many want to take you to task for not being sufficiently careful in how you represent your results. I would be willing to bet a very great amount of money that the large majority of such people never gave equal voice to such doubts five years ago. Sometimes, the agenda-driven are so transparent.

  36. The trouble with “studies” like these, whether it’s a conclusion that is favorable or not to the LDS Church’s image, is that in “Yew-Tah”, at best 70% of the population are on the rolls of the Church. Of that, about 35-40% are utterly “inactive” and would likely care less about observing conduct standards common to Latter-Day Saints, or, if they actually are concerned about social pressure, will be less so for private conduct (such as surfing the web for porn). Of the remaining number that can vaguely be considered “active”, many do in fact struggle with living IAW LDS standards. So the point is that Utah, between its considerable non-LDS population (which is increasing due to in-migration exceeding both conversion rates to the LDS faith and net growth via births) and that almost half of its LDS portion aren’t seriously observing tenents of the faith, has enough of a base for “porn-mongering” in whatever varying degrees. Never mind that some of the “active” are ALSO involved as well! Still, the numbers would seem to reflect a relatively small (but NOT small enough!) rate of indulgence, which likely the Church itself, even behind the scenes, has never bothered to assess.

  37. This is an interesting result, when compared to the previous study.
    I was always uncomfortable with the prior study, because of the opaqueness of the source, and waited for a replication of sorts. This, while limited to a single vendor, is a bit more transparent. That it seems to contradict the prior study in some ways seems to throw the question back into the air (the question of Utah porn consumption).
    I’m going to forgo the question of the relationship between Mormons and pornography. I do agree that this analysis has flaws, but these are apparent in some ways with the prior study.
    The disparate results would seem to indicate that the distribution of pornography consumption is not clear, and it would be hasty to make firm claims.

  38. It doesn’t matter what the first or second study imply – simply paying attention to how many mentions there are in GC about avoiding porn is sufficient to know it’s a serious problem among our members. To say nothing of the many bishops and stake presidents who talk about it being *the* issue they deal with. I think you’re just bugged that people think Mormons have a special problem with it. Newsflash: they do.

    • I agree with you that we don’t need studies to tell us that porn is a “serious problem” within the church. That fact has been made very clear by the leaders of the church.

      As to whether Mormons have a “special” problem with porn, relative to other groups, any kind of credible claim on the question would require an honest look at the data.

      The fact that Mormons make more efforts to raise awareness of porn and to fight its use might lead us to assume that porn is a particularly Mormon problem. A likely explanation for these vocal efforts, however, is not that Mormons have an unusual affinity for porn, but rather that they have an unusually firm belief that it is unacceptable.

  39. I like the stab here at using a new available dataset, but the conclusion “a 10 percentage point increase in a state’s LDS population is associated with an approximate 17% decrease in porn page views” is not a reliable statement – or at least the data here don’t support that.

    It looks to me that the conclusion above is derived from a linear trend line of LDS vs pageviews. However, the vast majority of the %LDS for the states are < 0.05% which dominate the spread in page views, with Wyoming, Idaho, and Utah dominating the LDS range – and those 3 do not give an indication of decreasing page views with increasing LDS since Utah is higher in per capita views that either Wyoming or Idaho with smaller, but significant LDS populations. Because of the dominance of the two variables by different portions of the data, the really low p-value just doesn't say what you are suggesting it says. If you could get the page views by county in the intermountain west, that might enable a statement along the lines of what you are looking for.

  40. I am about to give a presentation at a marriage and family conference about porn addiction and wish there was more reliable data about porn usage within our culture. The stats have such a wild swing that it is hard to know what the facts are. This I do know: it is a big problem in our church. Just go to “Find a Meeting” on LDS.org and you will see how many meetings there are. In the Salt Lake City and Provo area there are meetings all over the place. I know a member who went up there and attended a meeting 7 days a week for two months. He said there was so much attendance that they would often have to break up into several groups. He gave me a list of all the meetings in that area, and I was quite surprised. My Stake President feels it is a huge problem in our stake. I know personally a number of examples where porn addiction was a direct or indirect cause of divorce (led to affairs).

    Hopefully we can get some better stats as time goes on.

  41. While religious leaders and other “fear-purveyors” seem to get stuck in the dichotomy-dialog (accurate vs. false data, issue vs.non-issue, saved vs.not-saved, etc.), critics of the church seem to be caught in a similar one; “stated virtues” vs. “practiced-hypocrisy”.
    Maybe the real issue here is that pornography is not in and of itself any more “evil” than sex, itself and one that deserves a closer and more open-minded examination and subsequent discussion.

  42. Pingback: Review: Liahona (Documentary) | LDS Cinema Online

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