You and your porn

You and your porn

The Print checks up on the UK’s relationship with pornography

Pornhub, the largest pornography site in the world, has released its 2017 ‘Year in Review’. The majority of users were American, the UK maintained its second place spot, with India and Japan not far behind. Every country contributed to the site’s average of 81 million visits per day. Other stats may surprise readers. “Hentai”, an animated genre of porn that ranges from images of Japanese school girls to supernatural orgies (in which consent is often dubious), was one of the most highly searched terms of 2017, and beaten only by “lesbian”.

Many of us are unwilling to discuss our relationship with pornography. But even if we are not eager to face the facts, the producers of pornography are. Services, such as Google Analytics, are now constructing from users’ data – in the proud words of Pornhub Insights – ‘an accurate picture of the demographic makeup of our visitors, including their gender, age and even interests’. Of course, this data collection is somewhat in the interests of Pornhub’s users; tomorrow night the site’s “Recommended For You” section might reveal something right up your alley. Yet, individuals need to realise that even whilst they are alone in the dark with their laptops, various elements of their identity are being captured. And no, turning on Private Browsing or Incognito does not hide you or your IP address from these statistics.

individuals need to realise that even whilst they are alone in the dark with their laptops, various elements of their identity are being captured

Fortunately, the more personal details of Pornhub’s users’ lives, i.e. your name and your mother’s mobile number, cannot legally be identified without consent. That’s not necessarily the case on the other side of the screen. This year, an AI company will begin scanning the site’s five million videos (and counting) in order to identify each video’s pornstar(s), each stars’ characteristics, such as hair colour, and the various elements of the act, i.e. position and fetish. This is excellent news for professional pornographers looking to spot anyone trying to break copyright law, but not so fantastic for those stars who never meant to become stars, or have since regretted it. If the data being gathered was used unethically, it could be an easy gateway for any individual trying to find an ‘ex-star’ who does not want to be found. Pornhub has plainly stated that it intends to remain vigilant on the subject of revenge porn, as well as allowing women and men to remove those videos in which they feature. Yet, with any technology that gathers online data, such as facial recognition, the flip side is not so much a possibility as an inevitability. Fears like these are far from extinguished since the AI company hired by Pornhub has chosen to remain anonymous.

Another surprise comes in the existence of Pornhub Cares which, quite appropriately, raises money for both testicular and breast cancer charities. It’s also creating videos accessible to those with hearing and vision difficulties, helping to save the whales and the pandas, and in 2016 it offered a $25,000 scholarship to women pursuing an education in STEM. Even those of us who vehemently oppose pornography should not demonise Pornhub, not necessarily because of these charitable acts, but because Pornhub Insights educates us on our usage. For example, the 2017 Review revealed that older individuals – despite the lecherous cliché – had little interest in categories such as ‘teen’, but consistently pursued older women in categories like ‘milf’. Women, generally seen as less libidinous than men, comprised almost a quarter of the visits to the site and made up a third of visits to Pornhub Gay’s pages. There was also a 30% drop in activity on Christmas Day when users chose family and friends over strangers on the screen.

Furthermore, Pornhub Gay has been praised by some due to its reassuring effect on young homosexuals, especially men, who may feel less alone upon encountering an abundance of unapologetically gay material. By answering demand with supply, and by openly celebrating Gay Pride, Pornhub has helped to reduce intolerance towards the LGBTQ community. A 2014 survey by The Observer reports that not only do Britons have a more liberal attitude towards homosexuality since 2008, but that 28% of the sample said pornography actively affects their sex life. Some couples stated that porn helps them think of new ideas in the bedroom, as well as reassuring both partners that any fetishes on their mind are perfectly normal.

That being said, the survey, conducted by Opinium, reported an overall reduction in sexual satisfaction from 2008 to 2014, despite the increased use of online pornography. Whilst porn became more and more portable and accessible – in 2014, over half of videos were being watched on a tablet or phone – Britons were becoming less sexually active. Instead of an average of seven times a month, we had sex only four times a month. Furthermore, one in five men felt dissatisfied with the size of their penis in contrast with one in seven men in 2008, possibly as a result of ‘Big Dick’ making it into the most popular categories on Pornhub. It is unfair to blame these changes on pornography alone, yet considering the time we spend as a nation on Pornhub, let alone other sites such as Brazzers and YouPorn, it would be the height of arrogance to believe it has no effect on us.

One of the more prominent fears surrounding pornography is its presentation of unrealistic sex as natural and normal. In her 2010 book Pornland, Gail Dines brought up the common assumption that anyone who attacks porn is attacking sex: ‘One can be a feminist who is unabashedly pro-sex but against the commodification and industrialization of a human desire […] The pornographers have done an incredible job of selling their product as being all about sex and not about a particular constructed version of sex’. One year later, Robert Jensen’s Stories of a Rape Culture described pornography as: ‘A world in which women were younger, more sexually active and more expressive than men; women were frequently depicted in subordinate positions […] and sexual contact was usually between strangers’.

teach children that real sex tends not to occur between the plumber and the nymphomaniac housewife

Various groups and individuals will dismiss these criticisms as purely academic, feminazi generalisations. There are, after all, various female friendly videos on Pornhub and other sites which do not adhere to the criteria laid out above. There’s also the popular category of amateur porn, which tends to focus on couples in trusting relationships, and Jensen’s depiction entirely excludes sex outside the heteronormative sphere. Nonetheless, if readers are willing to take a quick trip to Pornhub now, the likelihood is that at least a handful of videos which greet them on the main page will include in their titles words such as ‘punish’, ‘blackmail’, ‘reluctant’ and ‘force’.

But we all know the difference between real sex and pornography don’t we? According to a 2017 survey by UKCCIS (the UK Council for Child Internet Safety), children do not. Whether they are actively searching for it or encountering it in the form of pop-ups, 65% of children under the age of 16 have seen porn. Of this group, 50% of the boys and 40% of the girls thought that this was how adults have sex.

Of course, they will have to learn the truth one day. As of last year, three-quarters of British parents wanted children to be taught about pornography in PSHE (as to the quality of these lessons it is hard to predict), and 86% wanted lessons in consent. These desires alone serve as an indication as to the current failings of the sex education system and a subsequent ignorance of safe, consensual, everyday sex in the younger generations. Although it is impossible to prevent children from encountering porn, it is possible to offer the alternative: teach children that real sex tends not to occur between the plumber and the nymphomaniac housewife.

It is extremely difficult to measure how much of an effect pornography has on our actions and attitudes. For some individuals, a regular trip to Pornhub may improve their sex life, for another it may worsen it, whilst for many it might have no effect at all. Certainly, if someone finds their sex life dissatisfying, the main responsibility must fall on their shoulders and not porn’s, just as it would if they were to commit a crime, sexual or otherwise. All the same, when one in five women in England and Wales have experienced sexual violence and Pornhub’s top most viewed video in the UK is ‘Scared Stepdaughter gets Fucked While Wife Sleeps’, I would argue that more research is needed into porn’s effects, especially seeing as we appear to have no intention of giving it up anytime soon.


Section: Features

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