Friday, August 29, 2014

The Higher the Percentage of Mormons in a State, the Lower the Internet Pornography Use

In “Red Light States: Who Buys Online Adult Entertainment?,” Benjamin Edelman (2009) examined Internet pornography subscriptions of one of the top ten providers using data aggregated by zip code.  To give readers an easier to understand geographic setting, he aggregated that data to the state level and gave critics of the Church new ammunition with a single data point that found that Utah had the highest rate of subscribers per thousand home broadband users of any state in the union. Zephaniah who writes for Mormon Monsters was typical in her conclusions to other critics blaming conservative sexual practices among members for high rates of pornography subscriptions. The purpose of this post is to offer evidence that those who suggest that Mormon sexual standards contribute to pornography use equivocate logically and provide additional empirical support suggesting that pornography use falls in a state as the percentage of Mormons rises.


Several researchers and bloggers noted problems with conclusions made by critics of the Church’s sexual standards based on Edelman’s article.  Orchard (2009) notes that Idaho has the lowest level of broadband subscriptions and the second highest percentage of Mormons to population compared to other states. Adam S. (cardinal) (2009) perhaps makes the most important point writing that people who conclude that Mormons or social conservatives subscribe to pornography more than the population as a whole are making individual-level inferences from group-level data, what he calls the ecological fallacy. Adam S. provides a possible counter theory to the theory that sexually repressed social conservatives, including Mormons, consume more pornography than others. Noting that Internet pornography is part of a much larger market for pornography, he proposes that socially conservative states might have laws that make the distribution of pornography through clubs, retail sales and cable television more difficult leaving people who are not social conservatives with the Internet as the easiest option for consuming pornography.

Edelman provides just a small slice of his data (S-slice), the ten states with the highest subscription rates and the ten states with the lowest.  Since Edelman’s paper was published, Carney (2009) has suggested an alternative measure of pornography consumption and Stringham (2014) has examined another. Both are based on state level data. My variable based on Cranney’s suggestion (Trends) is an index consisting of the six largest search terms related to pornography in Google Trends. Stringham’s variable is per capita views (Views) by state to, the third largest Internet pornography provider in the United States. To make Trends and Views comparable to S-slice, I sort them into the top ten and bottom ten states in pornography use producing two more dependent variables T-slice and V-slice.

I used ordinary least squares to regress the dependent variables using four independent or explanatory variables.  They are similar to the variables used by Edelman: the educational level (high school or rather than college or more and graduate degree), religiosity (percent of state population that views itself as highly religious according to a PEW survey) and urban population percentage by state. I used the Mormon population per capita by state to measure the influence of Mormon membership. The Adjusted R Squared, F statistics, coefficients and their level of significance are reported in Table 1.

Only Edelman’s variable, Subscriptions, has Utah as the largest consumer of pornography. Without and adjustments, The Views variable ranks Utah fortieth and Trends variable ranks it forty-first. When regressed against the four independent variables, the S-slice produced the lowest Adjusted R Square and F Statistic of any tested.

Because Edelman (2009) has many more observation than S-slice, I suspected that the regressions will yield fewer statistical significance variables and this was the case.  The high school or more variable used with S-slice has a positive sign. Edelman tests five models using college or more as an educational variable, one of which has a negative sign, but the other four are positive; all are statistically significant. A positive sign suggests that as education increases pornography subscriptions increase.  The full and partial data sets have different signs for the religiosity variable. It is positive for S-slice and is negative for the full data set. It is not statistically significant with either.  The urbanization variable in the full data set is positive and statistically significant. It is negative and not statistically significant in S-slice. S-slice does not seem to be a good representation of Edelman’s data. It does not produce results with the same sign with similar variables and the coefficients of the independent variables and not statistically significant.

There is consistency between the full and partial pornography consumption variables used by Stringham and suggested by Cranney. There is no change in sign on variables between V-slice and Views or between T-slice and Trends. Furthermore, I used different variables for education and religiosity and maintained the same signs. Edelman’s data seems to produce the least stable results.

The main point of the regression is to provide evidence that pornography use falls in a state as the percentage of Mormons rises. The regressions provide that evidence. The signs of the coefficients and levels of significance are of particular interests. Only S-slice, has a positive slope suggesting that states with higher per capita Mormon populations use more pornography and the relationship is not statistically significant. The remaining four regressions have negative coefficients and all are statistically significant, one at the 10% level and the remaining three at the 1% level. To avoid the ecological fallacy, I can only conclude that Pornography use on the Internet declines in states as the per capita Mormon population increases.

I do not suggest that pornography use is not widespread even with active members. The data shows that pornography use falls as the per capital Mormon population increases. I believe that the statistical relationship is due to commitment of members to their beliefs, the constant admonitions from general and local leadership to avoid pornography and regular communication between bishops and their ward members. The relationship between member and church helps to strengthen families and preserve marriages.

Table 1







Adj. R Squared












High School or More












Highly Religious




































Adam S. (cardinal). (3/16/2012) “There’s No Evidence that Conservatives Buy More Porn,” Daily KOS,, (8/7/2014)

Cranney, Stephen T. (2013) "Are Utah Mormons Pornography-Using Hypocrites?: Utah's Rank as Measured by Google Search Terms," SquareTwo, Vol. 6 No. 3 (Fall),, (8/27/2014).

Orchard. (March 3, 2009) “Dissecting Porn: A look at some interesting statistics,” Mormon Matters.

Stringham, Tom. (April 16, 2014) “Rethinking Mormons and Porn: Utah 40th in US in New Porn Data,” Virtuous Society,, (8/27/2014).

Zephaniah. (9/27/2010) “Mormon Addiction to Porn,”, (8/29/2014).

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