When Donald Trump went on TV that Wednesday night in early March as one of the last people to admit what many of us had come to recognize in the previous 72 hours – the Coronavirus was the real deal – one of my first thoughts went to how this was going to be the single greatest boon to the pornography industry since the invention of the Internet.
We’re still in it – probably not even at the halfway point – and it turns out, I was unfortunately correct.
As much as I detest PornHub, I’ve got to give them credit for the statistics they provide. Granted, they are not independently verified and sometimes they leave out crucial information (such as ignoring the fact “teen” is a popular search term in their annual report) but I think they are providing a unique window into what is happening.
In late February and into the first week of March, when the virus was really starting to get its grips on Europe and gaining attention in North America, PornHub’s average worldwide viewership was up only 1% to 2% compared to an average day. In the second week of March, when Americans decided toilet paper was the hottest commodity, average traffic rose to 4% to 7% higher than an average day.
The worldwide numbers exploded on St. Patrick’s Day, rising to 11.6% and have steadily been on the rise, topping out at 18.5% above average daily traffic.
In a PR stunt a few weeks back, PornHub offered its “Premium Content” service to all residents of Italy, followed soon after by Spain and France. That cause a huge overnight spike in Italy, with average traffic up by 5.3% on March 11, but then skyrocketing to 57% above average on March 12. The number fell over the next week, but is still between 25% and 35% above average most days. When the offer was extended to France, their traffic jumped overnight from 5.7% to 38.2% and in Spain, the jump was 12.7% to 61.3%.
Perhaps most troubling is that as the pandemic became truly worldwide, Pornhub extended its free premium service to every person who can find an Internet connection on Earth. The short-term true effect of the extent of this stunt probably won’t be known until the company releases its next numbers. The long-term effect makes me cringe.
You can find data for nearly two dozen countries on their Insights Page. (No Porn Visible)
While men from the United States are looking at PornHub about 10% more than the average day, women are watching 21% more. In Mexico, the 20% rise for men is dwarfed by the 34% rise of women watching and in hard-hit Italy, while viewership for men is up 24%, it’s up 36% for women. These kinds of statistics are the same in countries like the UK, France, Spain, Japan, Canada, and almost every other civilized country in the world.
I’m not shocked by this because it tends to support statistics that show women are one of the fastest growing segments of pornography addicts along with my theory that with the Internet allowing more anonymity, women are sampling porn in higher numbers than ever. If 100 women were looking at porn in Italy on a January day it became 136 in less than two months. That’s a substantial jump and while not all will stick with it after the crisis, some will, and some of them will become porn addicts.
While most people think PornHub is the biggest porn site in the world, it was actually ranked third as of late 2019 (yet still in the Top 10 of overall sites in the world.) The other two, which I won’t name here, have not tried to build a brand the way PornHub has, nor – to their credit – have offered any special deals to try and profit off of this worldwide self-imposed isolation.
Speaking of isolation, I’ll be fascinated to see what website traffic looks like in the upcoming months for cam sites. These are the sites where a male, female or couples (the “models”) are on one end of the computer and customers willing to pay them for nudity and/or sex acts sit on the other end. They usually come with a chat interface and an option for taking the models into a private room where only one customer, paying a premium, gets to interact with the models one-on-one, a virtual “private dance” of sorts. Of course, giving these bonus sessions away during a flood of traffic is a great way to get people hooked long after the virus is gone. It’s just drug-dealing 101. Get them hooked for free now and they’ll pay for it later.
While I’m sure that these sites are seeing double-digits increases in traffic, I’m more interested in finding out how many women joined their ranks. Think about it: We have the highest unemployment claims in American history by more than 500% and many service industry employees are wondering where their next paycheck is coming from. While I’m sure it’s not a huge leap for a stripper to make the transition, I have a feeling there are likely a lot of women (and a smaller percentage of men and couples) who either have, or will, make the decision that getting naked and/or getting sexual on their webcam for what they hope are only strangers will help make ends meet. I worry these people have no idea about this online culture nor the long-lasting effects of what making this decision will cause.
Understanding this, PornHub has again flexed its PR muscle. Instead of offering its models around 50% to 60% of the money spent by customers in their chat rooms and on private videos, during the pandemic, PornHub has raised its commission to 85%. Brilliant recruiting? Giving back? Capitalizing on pain? I guess it depends on who you are in the equation.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Periscope, a streaming video platform similar to that of Facebook Live where hundreds or thousands can watch a single stream at one time. Owned by Twitter, Periscope has been known for its decent moderators and strict rules concerning nudity and sexuality.
That seemed to disappear in the third week of March, according to many users. Now, alongside people hosting cooking shows, exercise sessions and simply looking for company on the ride to work, there are plenty of nude models, people having sex and other explicit, sometimes illegal, material.
Did Periscope sent all its moderators home because of the Coronavirus? I tried to find some kind of confirmation of this online, but came up empty. It seems to me that the easiest job to do from home would be a moderator of an online chat site, right? Why would anything be different?
Of course, suspending monitoring of the rules will bring a lot of new eyes, and a lot of new streamers, to their site. Under normal circumstances, a website that goes from PG- to X-rated overnight owned by a media powerhouse like Twitter would get a lot of attention…but not so much during the modern plague. The media and those in power who would use this kind of news for views and attention have bigger fish to fry, so Periscope can fly under the radar.
I’m sure there are plenty of other instances of companies that either peddle pornography or have found a way to use pornography to their advantage during the Coronavirus crisis. If you happen to see any, please let me know as I’d like to keep track.
Yes, I believe it’s more important to stay safe and keep your family safe in this confusing, scary time, but I also believe it’s important to not develop new routines and habits that may not be easy to break after this crisis has gone away.
Ironically, I often preach against filtering software as a false sense of power a parent has over their child’s use of pornography. But, we’re living in a temporary world where they don’t have easy access to their friends’ laptops or smartphones. You can actually lock porn down as long as we remain locked down. Now, more than ever, that may be the smartest move.