(Illustration: Tara Jacoby)

Why People Still Pay For Their Porn?

Contrary to popular belief, Free Porn Day isn’t just another way of saying “every day”

By Allee Manning

On Wednesday evening, the first annual Free Porn Day begins. If you were unaware of this newly minted holiday, 100 adult sites with paywalls are teaming up to offer their varied offerings for free for 24 hours, in hopes of attracting more customers. Depending on who you are, this either sounds great or raises the question: Who still pays for porn?

“We’re in a world of digital subscriptions, where products like Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, Apple Music are being heavily adopted,” said Chris Gentiles, VP of Product at adult site Evil Angel, and the brains behind Free Porn Day. “The adult film industry has not been able to enjoy the fruits of this trend due to extreme piracy and free content issues.”

“The irony for us is that porn is more popular than ever but fewer people are paying for it than in a generation or two,” added the company’s Chief Financial Officer Adam Grayson, who says that the total number of Evil Angel subscribers who pay up to $139.95 per year for access to the site’s videos is “in the mid-five figures.”

On this day, the participating studios are making more than one million videos — some 30 million hours of content — freely available to peruse. Their goal is to show the porn-consuming public why they ought to pay for content in an internet age overrun with free adult offerings. While millions of people turn to tube sites (the free YouTube-inspired sites that rely on paid advertising in order to stay afloat like Pornhub and YouPorn), the porn industry is having trouble getting people to pony up — even though they actually create lots of the content that ends up on those tube sites illegally and for free. In order to combat this and hopefully divert viewers to the original source, many adult video studios instead choose to work directly with these sites by allowing them access to cut-down “teasers” of their full-length videos.

Though inquiring minds would love to know, it’s difficult — if not impossible — to get hard data on who actually pays for porn today. It’s not that subscription sites are necessarily holding out on this demographic information, they simply don’t have it themselves. Anonymity is presumed to be important for potential subscribers, and requiring a detailed signup form is a risk most subscription sites aren’t willing to take.

But, one likely theory is that whoever is going to paid sites is doing so because they’re looking for something they can’t find for free.

“Ten years ago, tubes were pretty amazing,” Grayson admits. “You could get pretty much anything on there. But legality and enforcement have really reeled them in. Studios are much better at enforcement of [laws surrounding] their intellectual property.” And while it’s a notoriously tough area to regulate, you’d be hard pressed to find a full-length, HD version of any porn flick on the tubes.

As one might imagine, many subscription sites find their fans in those that feel tube offerings are too tame, and have more specific kinks and fetishes. Like Free Porn Day participants Tainster, a member’s only network with approximately 8,000 members, and Kink.com, which both offer movies featuring acts like waterboarding, combat, urine play, extreme anal sex acts, and “slimewave” (think bukake dialed up a few hundred notches). And then there’s the truly niche content, novel in its specificity. For example, PetiteBallerinasFucked is mere months old and already offers over 20 videos of content fitting that description. Even the most popular of all tube sites doesn’t have a single video tagged with “ballet” or “ballerina.”

Such is among the reasons that Rocco, a middle-aged porn consumer who drops between $100 and $150 per month on pay-per-download porn. As a fan of porn that delves in mind control/hypnosis/conditioning, he says that “free stuff is a drop in the bucket compared to what’s available for sale.”

In addition to the kinky, there’s another obvious demographic drawn to what subscription sites have to offer. Despite the fact that over three-quarters of American women between the ages of 18 and 30 watch porn at least once a month, there is an underlying premise that tube sites are geared towards the interest of men. For instance, in Pornhub’s 88-category breakdown, “for women” is nestled in between “French” and “fisting,” listed as though it is a niche interest. Of course, personal preference is based on far more than just gender, but data does show that women (regardless of sexuality) tend towards lesbian porn — something experts have theorized can be attributed to its focus on female pleasure rarely seen in heterosexual porn. Enter the rising prominence of premium female-friendly pornography (which is, in nature, appealing to people of any gender who get off on legitimate depictions of female pleasure).

Todd Spates, chief marketing officer at Yanks, known for its unscripted masturbation and authentic girl-on-girl content featuring “women of all ages and shapes and sizes and colors,” says that the 14-year-old company doesn’t “set out to make porn for women,” but he believes that the Yanks demographic is primarily female based on subscriber feedback.

“Our scenes have always been shot by women,” Spates said. “Being produced by women has always given us a very female-friendly product.”

“We introduce the model as a person; we introduce an emotional connection,” he added, noting that Yanks prohibits tube sites for using the commonplace derogatory terms like “bitch” and “slut” for women when posting their clips online.

Cindy Gallop, a sex educator and founder of the social sex startup “Make Love Not Porn,” which features depictions of real sex, finds much of the content freely available on tube sites isolates women and “right-minded men.” The result: a considerable market for pornographers heading in the other direction.

“Women are finally coming into our own sexually,” she told Vocativ. “And women are the majority of purchasers and influencers of purchases. And women share. We share the shit out of everything in a way that men don’t, because we’re the talkers, we’re the gossipers, the advocates, the ambassadors. So when you have women wanting porn from a female lens, women will pay for that. And women will spread the word.”

Another larger trend in the movement towards pornography that suits all needs and desires is a growing interest in content that is ethically produced: well-paid, wholly consensual, and made in legal working conditions.

“Like feminist-based content, ethical content is a frame of mind that informs production more so than it is a specific form,” Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals, a sociologist and author with expertise in the realms of porn and sexuality, told Vocativ in an email. “The vast majority of the content tube sites display is pirated (read: stolen). As such, even if the content itself is ethically produced, because of the piracy cycle that is inherently exploitative of producers and performers (many of who are simultaneously producers of their own content), content viewed on piracy-based tube sites is unethical.”

Turns out, support for the industry (not least of all its performers) is reason enough for some to choose subscription and pay-per-view sites over the potentially sketchy free offerings from the tubes.

In addition to the hardcore, the kink-happy, the female, and the ethics-oriented consumer, another demographic that tends toward high-end, subscription porn: obvious as it is, one group willing to shell out are the connoisseurs — those that care enough about the content they’re viewing to care if it’s available in HD, watermark-free, has some semblance of continuity, a beautiful mansion backdrop, or that they’re able to use improved searchability to find the exact type of video they’re looking for.

“[Watching porn on tube sites] is like saying you’ve eaten lunch because you went to SAM’s Club and got a few cocktail weenies from the free sample lady,” Rocco told Vocativ over email. “A few dollars make a WORLD of difference.”

This story originally appeared on Vocativ on September 7th, 2016.

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