PornHub and the Next Sexual Revolution

You can get anything you need–except human companionship

Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.

The Coronavirus pandemic has done more than drive us indoors. It’s driven us to consume porn at an unprecedented rate. Nearly everyone is in on it: 40 million Americans, one-third of whom are women, watch porn at least occasionally. The demand is huge. If prudery is an Empress, she wears no clothes.

Porn sites have rushed to capitalize on the demand, none more effectively than PornHub. One of the internet’s largest purveyors of pornographic content, PornHub typically clocks 220,000 new video views per minute. This means a transfer of 12.5 terrabytes of data every sixty seconds. Between March and April, this traffic grew by 22 percent. Porn has grown from a guilty pleasure to an ever-expanding electronic subculture, with PornHub at its forefront.

In addition to the curve-flattening and free membership ads, PornHub is also signalling its cooperation in a larger enterprise–that of normalizing the move to a more digital form of human sexual community. Egged on by governments and a deep-pocket corporate media campaign encouraging self-isolation and use of internet porn for self-gratification, PornHub is participating in a larger social project of effectively shifting human sexual behavior from the traditional norm.

The amount of Covid messaging is the first thing that hits a visitor to PornHub town. The smut lords may be smutty, but they’re all in for public health. Banner ads affirming the site’s commitment to “flattening the curve” and incentivizing membership for Covid-related reasons are everywhere, almost as intrusive as all the boobs and butts that hit you immediately on arrival. Video thumbnails fill the splash page, many of them “new releases.” But what immediately drew my eye was the search engine.

Like YouTube, PornHub’s stock-in-trade is its video content. But exactly how extensive and comprehensive is their database? I decided to consult the search engine, challenging PornHub with such innocuous search terms as “hockey”, “penguin” and “Neil Sedaka.” To my surprise, each search yielded a tsunami of responses, proof that for every animal, vegetable or mineral there’s a porn franchise. Also, that PornHub has a vast database.

But the one word I continuously saw in banner ads was ALONE. It became evident to me that people come to PornHub out of isolation. The site is more than a database of porn. It’s a point of connection for the lustful, a fountainhead of desire, a den of temptation. It’s a place for audiences to yearn, to share home-movies, voice opinions, start arguments. It is, fully and finally, a community.

PornHub enables fulfillment of every moviegoer’s dream: to move from the audience into the action. Who among us hasn’t imagined stepping aboard the Millennium Falcon or into the plot of some cool mystery or torrid romance? PornHub’s genius is to tap into this longing, as well as the longing for human connection itself, to build a site, and a community, that we’re likely to see grow. PornHub is well-positioned to do so. Their model provides a clear path of progression from viewer, to aficionado, to member, to full citizenship.

PornHub caters to all tastes. It greets the casual viewer with a plethora of options. The site lists over 120 categories of porn films depicting everything from ever-popular MILF, teen and lesbian action to more boutique entertainments such as smoking, cuckolding and pissing fetishes. Individual videos under each category number in the thousands (e.g., Small Tits is surprisingly popular with 130,549 entries). But one category stands out: Amateurs.

This is the next rung on the ladder to PornHub citienship. Members establish accounts similar to those on YouTube. This enables them to save individual videos, follow favorite accounts or category preferences and participate in chat rooms or leave comments on individual videos. For those with real aficion (to borrow a term from Hemingway), PornHub makes available the option to upload videos of your own. The plethora of videos already online renders safer what may seem an imprudent option (Brunettes, alone: 246,837!). Your home movies simply join the sea of other smut available for consumption. (And, yes, even a ‘Hemingway‘ search yields results.)

PornHub “Community”

The Amateur video category is one of the largest, containing over 300,750 entries. Within the category are subgroups that prove ambitious amateurs can get up to almost any shenanigans. While most are just orgy home movies, videos from “verified amateurs” begin with an intro screen identifying the feature as coming from the “PornHub Community.” Like Twitter accounts, those of verified amateurs have check marks.

Some of these are bona-fide porn performers. With names like Wolf Hudson and Lana Swallows, these ‘amateurs’ funnel customers to their own web content by offering samples on PornHub. The opportunity for other PornHubsters to leap from semi-pro to professional status also exists–hook-ups between pros and talented ‘community members’ are not uncommon. PornHub also sponsors and showcases full-length erotic films from particularly ambitious auteurs as PornHub Originals. Landing feature financing or a role in a porn movie completes the disciple’s journey from acolyte to PornHub sensei.

As lockdown culture lingers and porn usage spirals ever upward, I find myself wondering about the long-term effects of porn-based behavioral conditioning, intentional or not, on the population as a whole. Purveyors of porn, like alcohol companies, often market it as a harmless product. Like alcohol, its users can develop a dependency that increases over time. Long-term exposure to pornography has been shown to decrease sexual satisfaction overall and lead to difficulties in sexual performance and relationships. Loneliness and divorce are also common side-effects.

With the creepy emphasis on ‘stay home, stay safe, jerk off,’ our transformation from citizens to consumers is almost complete. Somewhere along the way, we jettisoned concern for the public welfare  in favor of customer satisfaction. Advocating porn and wanking may show little concern for public mental health, but it is efficient. And efficiency, in the digital age, is the name of the game. As we sleep-walk into a digital future, it may be worth asking where this conveyor belt ends. Is this a movie in which we really want to appear?


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Jamie Mason

Jamie Mason is the author of The Book of Ashes, Certain Fury, and The North Atlantic Protocol. His most recent effort, THE BOOK OF JAMES, is a historical epic set in Viking-era Britain.

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