Pornhub is pushing the idea that romance and porn are totally compatible. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Last month saw the release of Pornhub’s “Year In Review”, where statistics highlighting the viewing habits of the industry Goliath’s users are released to the world. Their annual insights Report shows what “categories” of exploitative and abusive porn have been most popular in the preceding 12 months. But, this was the first since 2019;2020’s omission makes more sense in light of the website coming under immense scrutiny for hosting all manner of sexually abusive and non-consensual material; a scrutiny that resulted in Pornhub removing 10 million videos in one fell swoop.

The figures from 2021 make for alarming reading for several reasons. Firstly and somewhat suspiciously is the absence of the search term “teen”. Campaigners and critics of the porn industry have for years highlighted the horrendous consequences of the normalisation of child sexual abuse through the category of “teen” porn, so at first glance it may appear to be a small victory that this is no longer as prevalent as it once was, or indeed, at all.

But digging beneath the surface shows that this is not the case at all. Pornhub itself still brings up results – over 200,000 in fact – for the search term, with no restrictive warnings or blanket prohibitions as is the case for other more obviously explicit terms such as “rape” or “abuse”. When the term “teen” is searched for, this then prompts the site to suggest other related terms, including “young little tight girl” and “homemade young”. This clearly indicates that the site’s public posturing about wishing to combat material that contributes to, and indeed depicts, child sexual abuse material is just that: posturing.

The question must be asked: why is Pornhub intent on burying the fact that teen was, and remains, an extremely popular category on the website? Of course, it could just be the case that it has simply gone out of fashion, but this is unlikely. The search term has consistently ranked highly in the site’s annual reviews, so it would be counterintuitive to assume that it would simply cease to be a mainstay of the reviews. What is more likely, is that the site is pointedly aware that the category is linked to a hotbed of illegal and abusive material. In light of the negative press from 2020, they don’t want to draw attention to this or exacerbate the issue further.

This is a prime example of the industry’s clinical PR machine working overtime to clean up its image. One could speculate that the site’s focus on an increase in searches for “romantic” is also a shrewd tactic. ‘Romance’ is placed (almost) front and centre in the 2021 review, with much energy being expended on creating the illusion that porn and romance need not be diametrically opposed. As the site states:

“Dr. Laurie tells us that “Human connection has become far more important this past pandemic year. Many people have experienced loneliness and isolation and may be craving love, intimacy and romance. So the next best thing to a partner it seems, are the fantasies of romance.”

If one was trying to mitigate a reputational disaster such as the one Pornhub has suffered, it might make sense to do exactly this – put a glossy romantic veneer over a platform steeped in abusive and exploitative practices.

Research demonstrates that those who watch porn within the context of a relationship are more likely to view their partners as dehumanised sex objects; further, viewing such material can put oppressive expectations on partners, who may feel that they don’t “live up to” the kind of sex seen in porn.

One of the most disturbing and clearest examples of this has been highlighted in the practices of the now-deceased Hugh Hefner. Hefner – the founder of the infamous PlayBoy– built a brand on the image of his involvement in the industry being akin to a “family”, and as having many ‘girlfriends’ who were all treated generously and lovingly. But nothing could be further from the truth. Recent reports highlight that the mansion in which he and the women lived was more akin to a cult, and that he allegedly drugged and raped countless women over the course of many, many years. Further, Hefner allegedly could not climax sexually unless he was watching porn, so desensitised and ruthless had his view of human connection become.

This is just one example of how far-removed porn and any conception of “romance” are, and how the industry’s attempt to relate the two is a paper-thin ruse designed to normalise abuse and degradation. It is of vital importance that we shine a light on the harm porn has on viewers as well as those within the industry.

Sex and sexual relationships should not be a commodity, and they should not be broken down into “categories” that can be chosen on a whim, depending on whatever sexist, misogynist, or racist stereotype the viewer is inclined to watch on any particular day. Our basic human dignity demands – and deserves – more.