Utah: Online Porn Capital of America?

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For most of my life I have lived in the cauldrons of sin - first New York, then California. These Bluer than Blue states are the source of most of our society's ills, or so we are constantly told.

When it comes to online smut, though, it appears I've been living in the wrong places. Thanks to Harvard researcher Ben Edelman, we now know the most avid consumers of Internet pornography live in the heartland -- the "real America," I believe someone once called it.

Edelman, a lawyer-geek who made his bones hunting down spyware and adware firms, has published a report titled "Red Light States: Who Buys Online Adult Entertainment?" [PDF] in the ponderous sounding Journal of Economic Perspectives.

For his report Edelman analyzed subscriber data from an unnamed "top 10 seller of online adult entertainment," broken down by ZIP codes, demographic data, and the speeds of users' Internet connections.

One key finding: The biggest consumers of online adult entertainment live in the great state of Utah. An average of 5.47 people per 1000 broadband subscribers pay for porn in Orrin Hatch's home state. (Utah also leads in porn consumption among the general population and dial-up users, in case you're wondering.)

It must have been all those Osmonds Gone Wild videos that sent them over the edge.

Close behind Utah with just over five porn subscribers per thousand is Sarah Palin's Alaska. California and New York, on the other hand, average between 2.4 and 2.9 subscriptions per 1000 broadband users, smack dab in the middle of the pack. Overall, eight of Edelman's top 10 porn-consuming states voted for McCain last fall, while six of the least smut-crazed states went for Obama.

It appears the Red states are also the Red Light states.

Notes Edelman:

Subscriptions are slightly more prevalent in states that have enacted conservative legislation on sexuality. .... subscriptions are also more prevalent in states where surveys indicate conservative positions on religion, gender roles, and sexuality. 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."

Here's another fascinating tidbit:

... adult escort sites are more popular in "blue" states that voted for Gore in 2004, while visitors from the "red" states that voted for Bush in 2004 are more likely to visit wife-swapping sites, adult webcams, and sites about voyeurism.

Thus explaining the whole Eliot Spitzer fiasco last March.

Edelman adds that as education and income go up, so does porn consumption. Younger people also tend to get more of their naughty bits over the Net. But that doesn't explain why Florida is in his top 10 and California isn't.

It also doesn't address why the strongest proponents of anti-porn laws tend to live in the states where online smut is most popular. You could argue Red staters oppose adult content so vocally because they know the problem intimately -- first hand, so to speak. You could speculate people who live in these states use online porn more because traditional venues like adult bookstores and peep shows are harder to find. You might even stake a claim Blue staters are more likely to get their porn through illegal means such as file swapping networks. (I'm a little dubious about that last one.)

As they say in academic circles, more research is needed.

This story, "Utah: Online Porn Capital of America?" was originally published by Computerworld.

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