Kane Geary O’ Keeffe observes the ways in which online pornography sites have adapted to audiences since the outbreak of the pandemic.
It’s no longer taboo to address the fact that online pornography is a mainstream staple of online entertainment (despite what your parents may think). After a year-long flirtation with indoor boredom for many, the popularity of porn websites has skyrocketed since March of 2020. This rise in popularity has brought with it a wealth of research into the changing pornography landscape as it has adapted to meet the needs of a quarantined world. These changes not only include structural reform for popular websites such as Pornhub, but an increased market for covid themed pornography as audiences prove that truly nothing is safe from the varied kinks of the internet.
Statistics from Pornhub show that online traffic increased by 26.9% in the UK at the beginning of April, as the notion of lockdown loomed over many modern nations. While this coincided with the website offering free premium accounts to viewers in locked down countries in a bid to keep people indoors, the website still claims a 17.5% increase in traffic when compared to pre Covid years even after this offer finished. With this pandemic-inspired increase in traffic comes with it a rise in searches related to the zeitgeist. Alex Hawkins of porn site xHamster noted large increases in searches for public sex scenes since Spring 2020, along with scenes featuring kissing. The consensus being that porn viewers are looking for experiences that they crave but can’t currently access. This makes sense considering the touch starvation many of us have been feeling throughout the pandemic.
Other reasons for this pandemic inspired spike in porn traffic take a darker turn. With the rise of the global pandemic, the notion of mortality on an international scale has permeated every facet of society. This awareness of our mortality ties into what the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology calls ‘terror management theory”. The journal notes that “when we are reminded of our own mortality, we subconsciously alter our attitudes and behaviors to help us cope with the ‘terrifying’ prospect of our eventual death.” Their research also observes that a fear of mortality prompts heightened sexual desire and sexual behaviour as a coping mechanism. This fear of mortality leads to a larger engagement with sexual entertainment such as online porn as a result.
These fears also lead into what may be the strangest (if unsurprising) additions to the porn landscape, the rise of covid themed porn. Pornhub reported 1.8 million coronavirus-themed searches by the end of March 2020. Many of these searches relate to porn featuring masks, gloves, and hazmat suits. Tying this back to terror management theory, it’s easy to see this rise in Covid porn as stemming from an eroticisation of fear as a coping mechanism. This trend has grown throughout the pandemic, even sprouting large budget Covid porn films such as Adult Time’s Future Darkly: Pandemic. This film features multiple steamy segments which relate to Covid-19, such as “Laura’s Delivery,” about a bored housewife caring for a Covid-19 patient who slips into bed with an Amazon deliveryman, and “Alex and Anna,” about a couple reuniting after lockdown (complete with PPE sex). There’s even a full, edited version of the film on Youtube, further accentuating pornography’s breach into mainstream online entertainment.
“Alex and Anna”
A positive side effect of such a large audience now engaging with online porn sites has been the restructuring of Pornhub’s uploading policy. In December of 2020, Pornhub purged over 9 million of the website’s 13 million videos to combat the uploading of nonconsensual material. Pornhub removed any video not uploaded by a ‘verified’ partner of the website. This was also done in response to reports such as those conducted by the Internet Watch Foundation, which found 118 instances of child sexual abuse material on Pornhub in the last three years. With more eyes on online pornography than ever before as a result of the pandemic, it’s crucial that websites like Pornhub continue to ensure that the online porn landscape remains a safe one for everybody involved.