Rule 34 in Action: Coronavirus Porn, Satire, and Survival

Angela Jones

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Image source and credit: Images sourced from Pornhub and photo created by Angela Jones

Rule 34 of the Internet says, if an object or social phenomena exist in the world, there is pornography of it somewhere. Does it shock anyone that porn featuring coronavirus themes has emerged on the Internet? It shouldn’t!

The coronoavirus pandemic is undoubtedly affecting sexual behavior. As a scholar who studies sexualities, I suspect that social distancing means people are having less sex or certainly having sex with fewer partners, and more people are turning to porn (sorry sex club patrons and proprietors). So, while we’ll need to wait to see empirical data regarding the effects of distancing on sexual practices, I do want to explore how the global pandemic is shaping the consumption and creation of pornography.

As people practice social distancing, are self-quarantined, and compulsorily locked-down, many perverts like me turn to porn as part of our self-care and coping routines. As of March 25th, Pornhub reported that its global traffic rates were up 24.4%, immediately following the site offering people access to Pornhub premium for free.

It is not a surprise that rates of porn consumption rise under social distancing and quarantine. It also is no shock that capitalist porn giants like Pornhub capitalize on such moments by initially offering free trails to quarantined Italians or later offering free premium services to boost subscription sales. xHamster, too, started providing free access to people severely affected by the coronavirus. The site reported that since this announcement, registrations on xHamster.com surged 22%.

People will watch more porn while under lockdown — while this observation tickles my queer little heart — it is also a somewhat obvious and unremarkable fact. What is unique about this moment is the creation of amateur pornographic videos of “Covid-19” or “coronavirus porn.” But before we get to the porn, let’s set the stage.

A brief note on public health and social policy contextualizes our understanding of coronavirus porn. The creation of coronavirus porn says something profound about human sexualities, desire, pleasure, and social control. Historically, public health crises have been a tool for the state to control and police people’s bodies, sexualities, desires, and pleasures of the flesh. In the US, for example, the HIV/AIDS crisis ushered in a wave of new policies that criminalized and punished people with a positive status. Such state-sanctioned violence had the most adverse effects on the most marginalized. As journalist and professor, Steven Thrasher’s work has shown, in the US, the history of HIV criminalization is rooted in White supremacy. For those who come from marginalized communities, the criminalization and policing of their sexualities, desires, bodies, and pleasure is old news!

In New York State, where I live, the New York City Health Department released the Sex and Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) report, a government-produced how-to guide for sex during a pandemic. A wide range of news outlets, web-MD sites have posted articles about having sex with Covid-19, and in some cases, encouraging people not to have sex at all. Tinder released a message to its users, “While we want you to continue to have fun, protecting yourself from the coronavirus is more important.”

Thus, with much public discussion of safe sex under pandemic, there may also be an increasing desire to find creative ways to push back against developing governmental regulations and public policing of sexuality during the pandemic. This is especially true for sex workers.

Government agencies have been directing porn production companies to close down shoots, which means more professional pornographers are seeking work in other segments of the erotic economy such as camming. Dark studios mean pornographers also move to sites such as Onlyfans and turn to sex worker communities for support and survival. Not limited to professional pornographers, coronavirus regulations have shut down brothels and entire red-light districts. The closing of large porn studios and other sex markets opens an opportunity for more people to create amateur online pornography. These individuals can try to recoup earnings online but in ways that push back on the policing of sex industries during a public health crisis.

Increasingly, online pornography is amateur pornography, and the coronavirus pandemic is undeniably creating spaces for more people to produce and create porn. As feminist media scholar Susanna Paasonen has noted, the rise of online pornography, which is increasingly amateur porn, has changed the form and content of porn, and crucially these technological shifts have caused changes in the resonances and experiences of porn users and producers. The growth of websites known colloquially as tube sites — sites devoted to sharing and disseminating amateur porn — have created a profound cultural shift in the types of pornography that are valued both culturally and economically. The explosion of amateur pornography on the Internet has led to what I elsewhere termed the demystification of porn.

Importantly, the demystification of porn and the growing number of amateur pornographers posting videos of sex online ushered in a new cultural trend, where consumers of pornography began to desire amateur porn. Critically, the porn industry has, for so long, been an exclusionary one. Many amateur content creators are actively challenging cissexism, racism, sexism, heterosexism, fatphobia, and ableism within the porn industry. This shift has been critical to developing more inclusive, queer, and ethical porn, which fosters new ways of thinking about desire, erotic life, fantasy, and how people can and do have sex in the world.

The creation of corona porn further highlights how individuals and amateur pornographers have significant power in shaping porn markets. According to the statisticians at Pornhub, searches containing “coronavirus” first appeared on January 25th. In 30 days, from mid-February to mid-March, there were 9, 127, 482 searches on Pornhub using coronavirus-related search terms. These data suggest that a demand for such porn emerged not long after the virus began to spread — see rule 34 in action.

The rise of coronavirus porn was not solely the brainchild of pornographers and sex entrepreneurs looking-in cash-in on disaster capitalism. As psychologist Justin J. Lehmiller noted, in the article, How the Pandemic Is Changing Pornography, what we are seeing is an eroticization of fear and consumption of corona porn is merely one of many available coping mechanisms.

Following this psychological line of thought, we might argue that corona porn is the sexualized version of any number of memes circulating the Internet — aimed at cheering people up through humor.

Many of the memes circulating the Internet are funny, but I’d argue corona porn does even more — it is also effective satire. I see corona porn not only as a means of making a buck but as social commentary, and as part of community care. We are living through a pandemic, our lives have been upended (albeit in unequal ways), people are dying, and people are worried about how they will pay their bills. This is a serious time, and this is all the more reason for us to use humor, especially sexualized humor, to help us through. The creation of corona porn also makes a statement about human resilience and a collective desire to help our communities navigate this difficult time.

As a porn studies scholar, I sat down to conduct content analysis and analyze these videos — my academic cover to justify watching smut while I should be working on my online teaching duties. For people with hand fetishes, I found a video of a femme person seductively sanitizing their hands. I found videos of women having a “squirting orgasm during coronavirus quarantine,” MILF and BBW Cougar teachers giving students home visits, “sexy Chinese nurses” taking care of patients, and amateur men-on-men action in “Covid-19 cosplay.”

People of various races, nationalities, genders, sexualities, ages, and body types are creating coronavirus porn — see rule 34 in action.

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Image source and credit: Pornhub, video posted by zetkar

Many of the titles and videos are social commentary regarding the hoarding of goods such as toilet paper and people present pussy, creampies, blowjobs, and barebacking sessions as cures.

Image source and credit: Pornhub, video posted by LilMissSarah
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Image source and credit: Pornhub, video posted by Bertha_and_Ricardo
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Image source and credit: Pornhub, video posted by SexySpunkyGirl
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Image source and credit: Pornhub, video posted by Cherie DeVille
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Image source and credit: Pornhub, video posted by DeepKeyhole

In the picture below, from the Pornhub video: COVID-19 Coronavirus:Horny Slut Has to Use Protection During Outbreak!” Little Squirtles and Chase Poundher brilliantly incorporate education into their video, demonstrating proper mask usage and discussing how the virus spreads. Below them, Tessa Tasty sexily strips down and demonstrates proper handwashing. Yes, PSA corona porn exists — see rule 34 in action.

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Image source and credit: Pornhub, video posted by LittleSquirtles
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Image source and credit: Pornhub, video posted by Tessa Tasty

The most satirically satisfying videos I found were of people in full-on hazmat suits, latex, medical, and other militarized crisis gear.

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Image source and credit: Pornhub, video posted by Nikki_Oliver
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Image source and credit: Pornhub, video posted by RubberHell
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Image source and credit: Pornhub, video posted by AmyKat
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Image source and credit: Pornhub, video posted by Discover Davina

I see coronavirus porn as a form of sexualized parody, which often has delightful elements of camp. Surely, pornographers are thinking about their economic survival, but satire and what people see as inappropriate humor are critical to survival in hard times. In such an unpleasurable context, the desire for coronavirus porn is rational, and for many, its consumption is not only an effective coping mechanism but a pleasurable antidote.

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Image source and credit: Pornhub, video posted by DirrtyPinoy

DirrtyPinoy’s video on Pornhub declares that “A Cure For the Covid19 Virus is a Sloppy Blowjob and a Torrid Bareback.” Note, they said, “a cure.” In social distancing, this pandemic has not only asked people to stand 6-feet away from others, wash their hands, use sanitizer, and #staythefuckhome. This pandemic is forcing people to change their sexual practices. It has shut down porn studios, brothels, entire red-light districts, and sex clubs. The coronavirus porn we are now seeing is a satirical commentary regarding the sexual anxieties and general panic surrounding sex, quarantine, and disease.

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Image source and credit: Pornhub, video posted by YourHottKiss
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Image source and credit: Pornhub, video posted by Alice Redlips

Critically, corona porn is a reflection of people’s desires to still explore and enjoy sexual pleasure even under the worst conditions. We all know that neither the best head nor the most gratifying anal will cure the respiratory failure that is killing some people who have Covid-19. However, many people quarantined at home trying to ward off the virus and flatten the curve, still want and desire sex and sexual community. So, yeah, mind-blowing dental-dam-free cunnilingus or a barebacking session won’t cure Covid-19. However, watching these acts alongside symbolic markers of the pandemic surely help many people cope and survive. As Alice Redlips and her 3.2 million views suggest, coronavirus porn is a literal fuck you to the pandemic. So, I say, let’s be grateful for rule 34.

Professor of sociology studying African American protest, race, gender, sexuality, sex work, and queer methodologies and theory — drangelajones.com @drjonessoc

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