Big Brother, Big Pharma and now Big Porn

I like porn as much as (or perhaps more than) the next gal. Knowing that it is a thorny subject (exploitation, monetization, ethics, legality, etc.), I was not chomping at the bit to write about it in a public forum. But Pornhub forced my hand. (I know, there is always a possible innuendo. Even with the word innuendo.)

Another thorny subject.

On February 2, 2017, Pornhub announced that they were launching a sex ed site (Pornhub Sexual Wellness Center) and many people said “GREAT! We’ve been hoping that someone would fill the void of information about sex, and who better than the largest pornography site on the internet!” In their press release, the vice president of Pornhub said, “Think of us as a one-stop shop, available 24/7, to facilitate your needs, be it comprehensive information regarding STIs and safe sex, the latest in sex tech or advice on how to approach a friends with benefits arrangement.”

Hold. The. Phone.

Maybe not this kind of phone.

Generally, I am in favor of having information about sex and sexuality in an accessible format, as long as it is reliable, fact-based, and sex-positive. And I am not here to say that this new site does not or will not fit those criteria. But we must examine a few aspects of this new development before blindly celebrating this new resource.

It is prudent to ask: what’s in it for them? Their business is to make money off of pornography and as they boast in their press release, “Pornhub has built the largest dedicated membership base in the adult community, with over 4 million engaged and loyal members, offering viewers a fun and sophisticated social experience directly in site, complete with messaging, photos, achievement badges and much more.”2

As with any brand, building loyalty at an early age is crucial, and finding new ways to reach markets that are technically (or ethically) not the intended audience is a well-honed technique (alcohol and tobacco blazed that path). Even if teens were arguably going to stumble upon Pornhub on their own, this site may fast-track it as the “main place for sex stuff” in future (who are we kidding, present) user’s minds.

I do not want to disparage the potential value of reaching 60 million visitors a day with quality information about sex and sexuality; many adults are lacking any way to find reliable information about sex.

I also believe many of the people involved with the site likely see this as a great avenue through which they can pass along valuable information to adults. It is difficult being a sex educator and trying to find ways to share ones information with a broad audience. We all want to keep finding new ways to get our messages out. But to deny that there is also an outreach and branding component seems disingenuous. (I have joked with people that along with Big Pharma, we are moving into the age of Big Porn.)

It is notable that by simply scrolling down to the bottom of the Sexual Wellness Center page, one can click on the Pornhub link and go right to the homepage which, given that they get 60 million viewers a day, most of you already know what it looks like. It is also notable that there is no link to the Sexual Wellness Center page on the Pornhub homepage…perhaps it is an oversight?

From the perspective of a sexuality educator looking to help parents talk with their kids about sex and sexuality, I see once again how our stigma and shame culture is coming home to roost. Are we — as parents and, more broadly, as a society — so ashamed about sex that we are willing to allow anyone with a semblance of credibility to fill the role?

Just one potential ad! THINK of the POSSIBILITIES!

It should also give us pause to think that a company (Big Porn) may be trying to inextricably commingle porn and sexual wellness. Again, I am not “porn negative” (why does everything have to be so damn binary?!) but it is important to establish framework that allow for us to keep pornography as just one possible part of our human sexual experience. Or do we accept the (omni)presence of Big Porn, and our destiny as a culture to answer questions about sexuality with, “Sweetie, just look it up on Pornhub.”

1,2 http://www.pornhub.com/press/show?id=1162

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