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SALT LAKE CITY -- A new study out of Harvard University seems to give Utah an unflattering distinction: No. 1 in the nation for pornography consumption. But the study has touched off a lively debate about what it really tells us about Utah residents.
Some are touting the study as evidence that pornography is more popular in conservative, religious communities. But even those who question those interpretations welcome the study because it throws light on what they say is a growing problem across the nation.
The Harvard study used credit card subscription data from a top Internet porn company. It ranked states on a per-capita basis, comparing paid subscriptions with the number of high-speed Internet connections.
Utah came out on top, followed by Alaska, Mississippi and several other states that are generally considered conservative and religiously-oriented:
- Utah -- 5.47
- Alaska -- 5.03
- Mississippi -- 4.30
- Hawaii -- 3.61
- Oklahoma -- 3.21
- Arkansas -- 3.12
- No. Dakota -- 3.05
- Louisiana -- 3.01
- Florida -- 3.01
- West Virginia -- 2.94
Pamela Atkinson chairs the Utah Coalition Against Pornography. "I think this study actually confirms what many of us has known for a number of years, that the addiction use of pornography is growing more and more each year," she said.
Atkinson believes Utah's more repressive culture pushes some people to the Internet. "It's because we don't have the adult movie stores as much as they do in other states. And people have come to realize that you can access this material quite easily," she said.
Therapist-researcher Jill Manning thinks the Harvard study itself suggests a different explanation for higher pornography consumption in Utah.
"Well, I think that's a misleading interpretation," Manning said. "There is more consumption in areas where there's a concentration of 15- to 24-year-olds, and just last spring it was reported that Utah has the youngest population in the nation."
Manning says state-to-state variance is actually rather small, and the paid-subscription data may not be truly representative. "Approximately 80 to 90 percent of pornography use online is free, where people are not paying a subscription to use that. So, I think that just focusing on one provider is very misleading and does not give us a sense of the larger issue," she explained.
She does acknowledge that shame and guilt are a special problem for religious people addicted to pornography. "Those strong feelings of shame and guilt can fuel more compulsion with the pornography use," Manning said.
Both Atkinson and Manning say the study will do some good if it focuses attention on a serious problem.
"We have many broken families in this state because one of the spouses became addicted," Atkinson said. "It has a devastating impact, especially on the marital bond. I know of no other issue, aside from sexual abuse, where the very soul of the marriage and trust is so deeply impacted," Manning said.
Both would like to see more studies done to better define the problem.