In the years since a 2009 Harvard study ranked Utah No. 1 in online pornography subscriptions, the number of anti-obscenity organizations in the state has increased and a BYU campus group has formed to join the fight.
The Harvard study was conducted by lawyer and researcher Ben Edelman, who analyzed pornography subscriber data broken down by demographic data, zip codes and the speeds of users’ connections to the Internet.
According to Edelman’s report published in The Journal of Economic Perspectives, the researcher studied a list of zip codes associated with credit card subscriptions between the years 2006 and 2008. There were higher percentages of subscriptions to pornography sites in zip codes that are more urban than rural, have experienced an increase in higher than average household income, have a greater density of young people (ages 15–24), have a higher proportion of people with undergraduate degrees and where conservative positions are often taken on gender roles, religion and sexuality.
Worried about pornography’s prevalence in Utah, a growing tide of digital pornographic content and its easy accessibility, Unraveling Pornography, a new BYU campus club, formed in December. Unraveling Pornography aims to interest BYU students in an open dialog about the damaging effects of pornography.
“The main goal was unraveling the issue and starting a healthy, un-awkward, no-longer-taboo conversation,” said co-founder Tanner Pearson, a BYU senior.
Pearson said the struggle is exponentially more difficult for students who try to fight their addiction alone.
“Roommates should look out for one another and face the truth if the need ever arises,” Pearson said. “A lot of hate, abuse and familial destruction can be avoided by unraveling the facts and talking about the issue.”
Pearson said Unraveling Pornography bases its model on Fight the New Drug, a non-profit organization aimed at fighting pornography. Fight the New Drug’s message to youths is that pornography chemically alters the brain and can quickly cause dependency.
“I know for a fact it is a major (BYU) problem, though I don’t think I can give any numbers,” Pearson said. “It’s bigger than people think it is, since the general assumption is that we are protected by a spiritual bubble being on campus and by being members of a spiritually driven academy. This assumption is very false.”
Research points to an acute addiction to subscription pornography in Utah, but since the state has long been known for strict enforcement of federal anti-obscenity laws, Edelman cautions against the easy conclusion that there is more pornography being consumed in Utah in general.
“If it is distinctively difficult to get this material in retail locations in Utah,” Edelman told the Salt Lake Tribune in a 2009 news article. “Utah residents who seek such material may have to get it online.”
“On net, Utah residents would be buying more online adult entertainment, but perhaps not more total adult entertainment,” Edelman told the Tribune. “That said, I analyzed only online adult entertainment, so I’m not in a position to assess the magnitude of this effect.”
Fight The New Drug is a partner organization to the Utah Coalition Against Pornography, which hosted its 11th annual conference in Salt Lake City in May and reported its largest attendance ever, at just more than 1,200. Conference attendees listened to experts discuss topics such as what teens wish their parents knew about pornography and healing a marriage damaged by pornography.
The concluding keynote speaker of the coalition conference was Patrick Trueman, former chief of the U.S. Department of Justice Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section. Trueman explained that pornography has changed aggressively in the 20 years since he served in his post.
“Pornography has become America’s pastime,” Trueman said. “It is more popular now than baseball.”
Pearson explained that raising awareness about Utah’s pornography addiction meant getting BYU students to open up about a topic that isn’t easy to discuss.
“There were people who shied away from talking to us, but overall, there was a good reception,” Pearson said. “I learned that the only reason it is taboo is because people feel like they will be judged for saying the word ‘pornography,’ that someone will assume they’re addicted. But people are reasonable and talking about how lives are affected will create an openness about the subject.”
Pearson said he would like BYU students to know that it’s OK to talk about pornography addiction, and that doing so will help those who are struggling to overcome it much more effectively than in an environment where the topic is taboo.
“Those who don’t have addiction should be the background for conversation,” Pearson said. “If a roommate has an issue, you should be comfortable talking to them about it, or at least know where to find resources for help on campus.”