It began in Louisiana in 2022: a law was passed that requires pornography sites to verify that users are over age 18. That law is causing real change in the online porn industry, something that seemed impossible just a few years ago.

According to Politico, six more states have passed nearly identical laws by huge margins: Arkansas, Montana, Mississippi, Utah, Virginia and Texas. In Utah, Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, was the chief sponsor of the bill, with Rep. Susan Pulsipher, R-South Jordan, running the bill on the House side. The votes in Utah were unanimous.

Not just symbolic

In 2016, Utah passed a resolution declaring porn to be a public health crisis. That and other efforts were largely symbolic and had virtually no impact on the rising number of youth accessing pornography. These age verification laws, however, are not just symbolic. They are having a distinct impact on how the porn industry does business.

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Politico reports that PornHub, the “YouTube of pornography,” gets more users worldwide than Netflix or Amazon. The last year with data, 2019, showed PornHub was visited 115 million times per day, or 42 billion times for the year. Once the Louisiana bill passed, traffic dropped by 80%.

In Utah, Mississippi and Virginia, traffic stopped completely because PornHub simply stopped allowing access. Gov. Spencer Cox said of the decision: “I fully support Pornhub’s decision to remove their content in Utah.” Weiler, according to Politico, said he and his colleagues “think it’s hilarious” and were “high-fiving” each other.

Lawsuit filed and dismissed

On May 4, the day Utah’s bill became law, the “Free Speech Coalition” — the trade association for the porn industry — filed a lawsuit in federal court, claiming that age-verification requirements violated the First and 14th Amendments. Last week, U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart dismissed the case, saying that Utah officials could not be sued because of the way the bill was crafted, according to The Associated Press.

Modeled after a Texas law that allows private citizens to sue abortion providers, Utah’s law allows Utah residents to directly sue porn sites and collect damages if they do not verify users’ ages. Utah law also does not specify how adult websites should verify users’ ages.

Holly Richardson is the editor of Utah Policy.