Dissecting Porn: A look at some interesting statistics.

Today’s post is by Orchard.  First off an introduction of myself is in order as this is my first actual post!  I’ve been around for a while writing behemoth-sized responses to threads which then require massive digestion on the parts of readers.  I’d apologize for that, but doing so might imply some level of contrition or intention to stop.  Since neither is the case, I’ll say that I am aware that it does cause some people’s brains to go into shock mode.  I am a research associate at a large educational research organization and my background is in Industrial/Organizational Psychology–all of which means that I study human behavior for a living and I have a strong background in statistics and good research methodology.  I am also a writer by nature–it’s not a matter of if I write, but what.

Recently, I stumbled upon this little gem of a study (warning–link goes to pdf) over at a blog (which I do not regularly read, but one of my friends does) called Gene Expression (first link goes to summary, second link goes to actual study).  Two facts immediately jumped out at me from looking at the map of the United States all coded–first off, Utah, with it’s incredibly dense population of LDS members is one of the highest consumers of online pornography and second, Idaho, with a nearly equally high density population of LDS is among the lowest.  What gives?  Unlike the Gene Expression folks, the conclusion of religiosity fails to satisfy me as an immediate explanation.

Subscriptions to the Provider

This data was collected by asking a single provider of multiple sources of online pornography to provide the zipcodes of all subscribers in their database.  This is actually a very solid method, although (as I’ll discuss a bit more later on) having a second provider for this same information would go along way to make this an ever more useful study.  From a methodological viewpoint, however, there is little to argue with.

The author of the study is careful to normalize the data to account for income after looking at the raw data–which is a good idea.  After this adjustment, the following table (looking at the far right column) shows that Utah has the highest subscription rate and Idaho has the lowest: 1.89 versus -1.11.

Note that in the table below the data in the far right column has been adjusted for market demographics such as household income, household size and similar factors.  Note that it doesn’t matter HOW you slice it, Utah is STILL the highest subscriber and Idaho is STILL one of the absolute lowest.  There is something seriously odd about that.

States with Most and Fewest Subscriptions

From the original article, the author makes this following statement:

“Subscriptions are slightly more prevalent in states that have enacted conservative
legislation on sexuality (regression results on file with the author). In the 27
states where “defense of marriage” amendments have been adopted (making
same-sex marriage, and/or civil unions unconstitutional), subscriptions to this
adult entertainment service are weakly more prevalent than in other states (p 
0.096). In such states, there were 0.2 more subscribers to this adult web site per
thousand broadband households, 11 percent more than in other states. (Edelman, 2009, p. 11)”

But in looking at Wikipedia we see that Utah is 58% LDS (I know, the bane of scholarship–I was doing so well and then I go to wikipedia for my census data!) and Idaho is about 22.8% LDS.  It’s a big difference.  It also makes me think that all the talks I’ve been hearing in General Conference about pornography are pretty much on target, but depressingly ineffective.  From the study:

The fourth column reports that in regions where more people report regularly
attending religious services (per National Election Studies 2004), overall subscription
rates are not statistically significantly different from subscriptions elsewhere
(p = 0.848). However, in such regions, 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. (As an interesting comparison, Malhotra, 2008, finds that
religious people are more charitable only on Sundays.) (Edelman, 2009, p. 10)

This suggests that whatever lessons we are hearing on pornography are not effective in achieving their goals (at least, not in Utah).  Now there are some alternate conclusions that I would like to put forward, lest I be thought to be unnecessarily harsh.

First it is entirely possible that in states with very conservative laws about access to pornography that those who are not religious are using the internet to access material that they have trouble getting otherwise.  This is a pleasing idea, but fails to explain the Sunday-only drop in online sales. A second idea is needed to explain that: perhaps these people are spending more time with their family or are otherwise engaged on Sundays, and are therefore less inclined to make the sales at that time.  It may be that the family is home more, and therefore they have less opportunity for viewing on that day.  Numerous plausible explanations exist to deal with the Sunday-only drop.  Occam’s Razor doesn’t really apply here since we are not really adding more assumptions in either case.

Second, there is a major flaw in the study–it should be noted that this is an analysis of data from only one particular online provider of pornography (and the author of the study is aware of this limitation and notes it as such).  This isn’t a show-stopper, but it is something to consider.  It could well be that a different purveyor of pornography possibly provides pertinent information of a different sort.  Alliteration aside.

So here’s the question: the data are available on the matter, do you agree that this is a problem that is tied to religion or is it better explained by something else?  If it is a problem unique to religion what else can the church do to help achieve the goals of reducing interest in this?  I know that not everyone is going to agree with that goal, but I will say that regardless of your views on the subject, it is fairly easy to agree on the idea that the CHURCH has the goal of reducing viewership of pornography by it’s adherents.  What more can the church do that will actually be effective?  Because there does seem to be a problem.

Comments

comments

34 comments for “Dissecting Porn: A look at some interesting statistics.

  1. March 3, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    I don’t know how much of it is related to religion but I do think it is a factor. Not religious belief, per se, but rather the societal shame and guilt that surrounds porn use, esp. in LDS culture. Professionally, I think this added shame only makes the cycle of addiction worse.

    • brett vroman
      August 23, 2014 at 9:44 pm

      Good points. As far as addiction, the frequency and duration of use have to be figured in (along with the addiction model of continued use despite negative consequences). There are people that view pornography even couples that do not become addicted as defined by the above criteria.

  2. March 3, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    I would agree with that. I think what really tickles my brain on this is the fact of the wide disparity between Utah and Idaho, both of which have abnormally high LDS populations compared to the US at large. One is at the top, the other the bottom, in terms of viewing pornography. This is something that cannot be discounted lightly, and the writers of the article obviously missed the implications (or were unaware of this connection and the rather heavy emphasis that the church places on avoiding pornography–and I’d be a bit surprised if most outsiders WERE aware of this). From a research perspective it highlights a number of interesting question.

  3. Joe P
    March 3, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    I admit it… I am a Utahn and I’ve struggled with pornography.

    I think the LDS church should suggest that all men that have a problem install accountability software on their computers. Preferably write their own software and make it available for free. Accountability software is very effective. It is installed on your computer and once a month it emails questionable websites (that were previously visited) to an accountability partner. This partner could easily be the bishop, other brothers, etc. In my experience men can’t beat this addiction on their own. They must have the help of other men. There is free accountability software available here for those that are interested: http://x3watch.com/

  4. Andrew Ainsworth
    March 3, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    Thanks Ben. I’ll add this to my treasure trove of data indicating that raising a family in Utah is just as morally hazardous, if not more so, than doing so in California. 🙂

  5. Hawkgrrrl
    March 3, 2009 at 4:02 pm

    This porn provider is charging for the porn, right? So, what makes this porn so attractive and unique for Utahns to purchase it? There is a proliferation of free porn available on the internet. Why pay for it? Hawaii and Alaska are scoring fairly high here also. It makes me wonder if there is a demographic connection. Is this a porn provider with an ethnic specialty that appeals to Hawaiians, Alaskans, and Utahns disproportionately (e.g. polynesian porn)? Just a thought. Or are Utahns more likely to purchase because they have applied filters to their computers to protect children that block the free stuff?

  6. SteveS
    March 3, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    Hawkgrrrl: I think I read that the online provider of pornography used in the study was one of the premier (i.e. top 10 in site traffic/revenue) in the industry. While this premier provider might provide all sorts of niche content, my guess is that it doesn’t specialize in any one kind of pr0n. I too can’t believe that people actually pay for the stuff when so much is freely available. Undoubtedly, that means there’s a whole lot more use of the free stuff that we can’t get data about (except on Google trends, which shows prevalence of Google searches by region, and in which shows, not surprisingly, that Utahns using Google search for pr0n quite heavily).

    Joe P: Accountability software may work for you, and if it does, by all means, keep using it. I think the problem of pr0n is too big to be solved by something that constantly watches over your shoulder and reports your activities to stakeholders. That might reduce the availability of pr0n to a person, but will not stop the person from desiring pr0n. It may encourage ever more sneaky ways of accessing it without tripping the system. Attraction to the content is then coupled with the thrill of the chase.

    For a great discussion on this topic, please see three posts over at BCC here, here, and here. It’s a long one, but extremely insightful.

    For me, the pr0n problem in the LDS context is based on a few factors: 1) a culture of condemnation toward sexual expression (except in bonds of marriage, now to only _one_ wife, and historically for procreative purposes only, oh and, no self-pleasuring) fed by expectations about what a priesthood holder “should” be; 2) an implicit devaluation of women in cultural discourse and doctrinal practice that sadly favors their objectification, so that pr0n use doesn’t feel like much of an ethical violation; 3) a reflection about how poorly the Church confronts the interactions of power, gender, and sexuality (attempts to define appropriate masculine/feminine roles, responsibilities, and attitudes when reality is much messier than black and white idealism); and 4) an inability to discuss, much less promote, healthier attitudes about gender and sexuality because of deeply-ingrained cultural sensitivity (think letters to the editor at BYU about women and their one-strap backpacks, banishiment of Rodin’s Kiss from the BYU campus, or protests outside the Provo Victoria’s Secret).

    Not all of these are the fault of the church, but are endemic to Judeo-Christian attitudes about sexuality, bodies, temptations, sin, etc. Some of it is definitely our own doing, however. What’s clear is that no one seems to know what to do about it.

  7. Ray
    March 3, 2009 at 7:28 pm

    Excellent suggestion, Joe. While it might push those determined to view porn no matter what to “sneakier” use, it is the same principle as a sponsor that works for those in AA who truly are committed. Anyone who really is committed to not viewing porn and has a friend (NOT a bishop, please, they have enough to do as is) who understands and will not condemn an occasional violation at first should consider such software.

    Always the nitpicker, I have three pretty serious issues with the study that produced this report – or, more accurately, some of the conclusions. I am NOT saying this isn’t a problem in the Church, because it is, but . . .

    1) The percent differences are absolutely tiny – so tiny that they could disappear easily with the addition of even one other provider in the study.

    2) The study states pretty clearly that an increase in 15-24 year old citizens is the biggest indicator of an increased rate. That increase alone more than makes up the difference between Utah and most of the other states, including Idaho.

    3) Utah’s religious population is divided denominationally by rural/urban factors more than any other state. Iow, Utah is over 90% LDS in most rural areas, while the state is 58% Mormon. That means that Salt Lake County is less than 50% Mormon now – probably quite a bit less than 50%. That simply means that the 58% LDS figure isn’t reflective of the group being measured, based on the criteria that were used.

    Again, I’m not downplaying the impact of porn in the Church – and I thought, overall, it was a very well constructed study. I just had to get my nitpicking out of the way. 🙂

  8. Rigel Hawthorne
    March 3, 2009 at 7:32 pm

    Here are some questions/theories, totally without scientific validation, to throw out that hopefully you can shed light on:

    1. Urban Utah men are more committed to refraining from physical intimacy outside of marriage so they are more likely to satisfy the craving for excitement with pornography and therefore more likely to develop addiction to online pornography? Men with less commitment to sex outside of marriage are less likely to fret about affairs or relationships with regular non-marital partners.

    2. Bisexual Urban Utah men may tend to be in more traditional heterosexual type relationships, but may use electronic entertainment to indulge the other aspect of their sexuality rather than have extramarital relationships.

    We’ve heard warnings about how involvment in pornography can lead someone to go down a path to actual physical intimacy against the law of chastity, but is it also possible that people who use porn stay strictly with porn??

  9. March 3, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    It would be interesting to have someone who deals professionally with the struggles LDS have in overcoming porn addiction. In addition, it would be valuable to hear from someone who has recently overcome this addiction.

    • brett vroman
      August 23, 2014 at 9:25 pm

      I am a clinician that work with men that have porn addictions. We definitely are seeing a “boom” in porn use among LDS men. Unfortunately there are many variables that make concrete conclusions difficult. It is also difficult to separate the “boom” among LDS that I am seeing in Utah from the same “boom” that is sweeping the nation in general. Sometimes men are using porn to substitute for having sex while waiting to marry as a “virgin” to their detriment. The prohibition against masturbation in general probably contributes also. A man’s denial or postponing of his sexuality can lead to ignorance and difficulty self regulating their sexual arousal. I often see men who are getting an additional thrill out of being contrary to their LDS belief system. Secrecy often coincides with deviancy.

  10. SteveS
    March 3, 2009 at 10:54 pm

    Jared: Overcome is probably a deceptive term for pr0n addiction: like alcoholism, pr0n addicts will always have a susceptibility to pr0n whether they view it or not, regardless of how many years it has been since the last time they used. “Manage” the addiction is probably better. I speak not as an professional expert, but as one who “manages” his addiction pretty well.

    What worked for me? Clarity and honest with spouse, lack of judgment for slip-ups, but most of all, greater self-discovery to uncover the underlying causes of my propensity for pr0n. For me, it was stress triggered, particularly as I felt that my life was spinning out of control. Not out of control in the making terrible life choices, neglecting family and friends, spending money profligately, using other forms of drugs, escalating sexual interests to sexual encounters, or anything of the sort. The spinning out of control was more because I sensed my life being programmed for me, and I was walking in lock-step with every “best”, “ideal”, or “expected” decision. Pr0n was a secret means of escape from that feeling of entrapment, and a way of taking control over one aspect of my own life without. Of course, continuing to outwardly make the “right” choices while harboring the secret within caused a lot of dissonance, angst, dread, guilt, and sometimes despair.

    Now I make sure I feel in control to pursue my own interests in life and express myself in ways that satisfy _me_, not necessarily others. After the withdrawal symptoms associated with regular pr0n subside after a couple weeks, the urge to seek out pr0n again stays low as long as I’m focused on things that bring me personal satisfaction in other realms (scholarship, reading for pleasure, exercise and sports, spending time with children, etc.)

  11. A.J.
    March 3, 2009 at 10:58 pm

    I think it is odd that people think only men look at porn. I am sure it is a problem for some lds women too.

  12. March 3, 2009 at 11:13 pm

    Pornography habits, AJ (#11), typically differ greatly between men and women.

    Generally speaking, women are not sexually stimulated in quite the same fashion as men, and many women do not find sexually explicit images to be enticing in quite the same way as most men do. So we find that women typically do not view the same pornography as men.

    Pornographic material for women tends to run more like a romance novel with sexually explicit scenes rather than a picture book, at least classically speaking. Women looking at a magazine with scantily clad women are likely looking for fashion tips, and women looking at nearly (or completely) naked men are really quite not as common. Living near Philadelphia, it’s pretty simple to think of the radio & other ads I hear for various clubs for men, but I haven’t heard of a single club catering to women to see male dancers. It’s just not quite the same thing at all.

    Concerned about pornography among LDS women? Look at the books they are reading–I’d bet money that they get more sexual stimulation out of that than most of the pornography made for men.

    But AJ, you are right about one thing–pornography is NOT just limited to men. But the form of pornography is exceptionally different by gender. This is hardly shocking.

    Of course my major concern is what to do about it. Shame and guilt are clearly not effecting the deep and abiding change desired by the church.

  13. Cicero
    March 4, 2009 at 12:26 am

    When you get strange results, it makes using a single study rather iffy.

    It’s not just the difference between Utah and Idaho.

    Why the difference between Tennessee and the surrounding states?

    Why the difference between New York and New Jersey?

    Something is explaining this besides religion.

    Oh… and I think is extremely lame to proscribe charges of hypocrisy based on state level data. Why not look at studies that directly measure a persons religious commitment as well as their level of pornography use? Those tend to show a very slight negative effect on the use of pornography among religious folk.

  14. steve w
    March 4, 2009 at 2:12 am

    I am not sure about p0rn BUT for gambling (which is my addiction – and 14 months into recovery thank you very much) there is software you can get called “gamblock” which you instal and this stops you going on any sites to do with gambling
    id rather this than accountability software

    i think personally that the accountability software sparks far too much of 1984

    that is of course just my own opinion

  15. Joe P
    March 4, 2009 at 9:24 am

    Steve W,

    Software programs currently exist that block porn.. In my experience they block so many websites they are impossible for adults to use. It would probably block this page simply because it references porn.

    I have found accountability software to work quite well. The accountability software only sends questionable websites to the people you choose. If you fiddle with the program (like uninstall it, install another browser, etc.) it will also notify your accountabiilty partner(s). It might not be the solution for everyone, but I find it to be the best option.

    • brett vroman
      August 23, 2014 at 9:33 pm

      Having worked professionally with men with pornography addictions, the blocks and filters you are talking about are good with “novice” pornography users. The true “addicts” laugh at the thought of the filters and blocks that most people think would curtail their activities. Many of the guys that I have worked with are computer experts, often involved in high level computer programing, security, etc. These guys also network and share their secrets.

  16. March 5, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    One possible reason for the differential between Utah and Idaho is the difference between LDS as a religious subculture and LDS as a religious superculture. In other words, Idaho LDS are strong enough to have good support networks and a strong community identity, but weak enough to be something of a counterculture. Under such conditions, rebellion and religiosity can actually be allies. In Utah, where LDS are a strongly dominant superculture, rebellion and iconoclasm take the form of porn use.

  17. N.
    March 5, 2009 at 6:13 pm

    nothing interesting to add here.
    (1) however, I have seen a few self-proclaimed sociologists and statisticians who have issues about the study and its conclusions. I can’t say one way or another. It just gives me pause to not take every “study” at face value, or even that it really says what it proclaims to say about its subject. I now realize that this is almost “poisoning the well,” sadly.
    (2) The study measures online porn paid accounts, etc. UT, IIRC from my years there, frowns on easily accessible non-computer porn. No newsstand playboy, it seemed. All the ads I saw on billboards for ‘adult materials’ were for shops in WY. Even the local video stores near my house were firmly “family friendly” and had very few R-movies. IIRC the strip clubs are regulated to almost beach-level of skin, and no smaller towns want the clubs so they keep getting kicked around. This leads me to believe that the reason (if a reason is needed or can be inferred) online porn per capita is higher in UT than many places is that the local laws make it difficult to get smut easily in real-life. If you don’t get a 2x yearly skin mag at the book store, you may try to get it online. This whole things looks like money running down the path of least resistance. If I had to drive hours to WY to get item X, I’d order it online first. If it was the corner store, I’d probably *never* order it.

    • brett vroman
      August 23, 2014 at 9:36 pm

      Smut accessible? The internet makes pornography one click away from everyone, in every state. Why pay at a store and risk being seen?

  18. March 17, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    These stats are very interesting to look at. Not sure what conclusions we can draw from them, but still interesting to see.

    Have you heard of Covenant Eyes accountability software? – http://www.CovenantEyes.com

  19. Mytha
    April 14, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    I wonder about the chicken-and-the-egg aspect… Do church leaders talk about porn so much because it’s a big problem, or is it a big problem because church leaders talk about it so much? Maybe at some point people just want to see what all the fuss is about.

  20. BellaMia
    May 9, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    I’m a female convert of 35 years. I’ve taught the lessons on chastity that are in the manuals for youth and adults. They are very positive towards sex – natural, healthly, for bonding, and enjoyment, not just pro-creative. All these manuals are available to the public on line at lds.org. Go to Prepare a Lesson. A friend who is a sex therapist and marriage and family counselor joined the church 15 year ago. She said that the LDS faith was the most “sex-positive” faith she had ever studied prior to joining. From everything I’ve ever read, I’d have to agree with her.

    So why the on-line porn issue? I think it does have to do with availability. My teenagers tell me that all their high school friends use porn – her in new Jersey. It is so ubiquitous in the culture that it’s like posters on the wall – no big deal. Utah just has more restrictions on the sale of pornography. The question is why do outsiders care if the LDS have a higher use rate, if the outsiders think porn is not problematic – even healthy.

    Why look at this only in a negative way? Maybe Utah males are the most virile, most passionate, and the horninest. Is this a problem for outsiders?

    • brett vroman
      August 23, 2014 at 9:39 pm

      Restrictions on the sale of pornography do not matter when there is the 1 click access to it on the net. Why would someone pay and risk being seen??

  21. August 22, 2009 at 4:22 am

    Do you agree that this is a problem that is tied to religion or is it better explained by something else?

    There is an easy explanation: the women in Idaho are hot, while the women in Utah are ugly and fat.

  22. Joe H
    September 23, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    So the problem, as you see it, is ‘how do we help the church in its goal of reducing the viewing of pornography by it’s adherents?’ 

    I don’t understand why you want to seriously engage with the issue, further than for interests sake. From your tone you don’t seem to take a moral position on pornography yourself. Why do you care if the church is successful in this mission?

  23. Joe H
    September 23, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    So the problem, as you see it, is ‘how do we help the church in its goal of reducing the viewing of pornography by it’s adherents?’ 

    I don’t understand why you want to seriously engage with the issue, further than for interests sake. From your tone you don’t seem to take a moral position on pornography yourself. Why do you care if the church is successful in this mission?

  24. Bradley Hintze
    February 5, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    I know that for me the church was culpable in my ‘struggle’ with porn. As soon as I stopped believing the leader’s messages on porn, particularly the moral arguments they purvey, not only did my viewing COMPLETELY cease but the temptation also went away. I believe this was because I could finally see porn for what it truly is. Not some diabolical creation that satan uses to tether us to him but rather a practice that is dangerous to my view of real relationships. The trouble is when the church warns of porn they don’t differentiate between the two. If one is a true believer they hang on to the moral arguments inviting the only catalyst to porn addiction, shame and guilt. For me, disbelieving the moral degradation message of the leaders got rid of shame and guilt which IMMEDIATELY quenched any desire to view porn. 
    I know I’m a sample size of one but I’ve heard similar stories from other men who left the church because of their porn addiction. As soon as they stopped believing, their porn viewing left them. I know I’m not answering your question but I know that the current method the church is using is actually tying the cords of porn addiction rather then cutting them. Something drastically different must be employed by the church if they really want to keep people from pornography.

    • Matthew Hunter
      April 2, 2013 at 6:11 am

      It doesn’t seem you have been listening very well to the church’s message if this is your take. But, I guess, congrats if you overcame it, even if in the absence of an accurate understanding of the message of church leaders.

      • Bradley Hintze
        April 2, 2013 at 8:10 am

        Hey Matt,

        I think that the difference between perspectives on issues can vary widely due to many factors. I believe that the main factors in one’s perspective is the way in which one was raised, the way one thinks, and the way one feels. Theses factos vary widely. On top of this you have drastic differences in messages depending on the views of local leaders. This aspect really messes up any normalization of the message from further up. I can tell you that I studied nothing but what the SLC leaders said on this subject when I was in the church. As such, I believe your supposition of me not ‘listening very well,’ to be rather simplistic and dose not reflect what really happened. I think the situation is a lot more nuanced than that. I sincerely hope that you are correct and I am an anomaly in my perspective. Based on conversations elsewhere in the bloggernacle, I sadly doubt the shame and guilt perspective to be an anomaly.

  25. David Smith
    September 29, 2013 at 10:24 am

    I guess if we have been saved by grace, and we are made into new creations by the love of God transforming us, then moralism is out of place. We sin because we are not filled with the love of God, not because we are not pushing hard enough.

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