Porn & The Coronavirus

By now, most of us have been impacted in one way or another by the coronavirus, and the disease it causes, COVID-19. Either we’re working from home, we’re in isolation or quarantine, we know someone who’s had it, or we’ve had it, or a million other ways that this thing is reshaping society.

With all that time at home, it’s no surprise that the amount of traffic to porn sites has spiked in recent weeks. The pandemic is not just influencing porn being made, but also the amount of porn we’re consuming, and even what we’re searching for. Let’s take a look.

Porn & The Coronavirus

As is usually the way of these things, we’ll be looking at the statistics released by Pornhub, the only major porn site that publicizes their data because, basically, their marketing and PR is pretty on point. Pornhub is a good barometer for porn tube sites generally, so although these numbers are from Pornhub specifically, we can reasonably allow ourselves to assume that these trends are true across the industry. (The findings can be found on Pornhub’s analytics blog here)

First, porn consumption rates are up. Up, a LOT. A little like LELO’s own stats, porn traffic has steadily increased in line with the spread of the outbreak, and as lockdowns have been instituted, so traffic has increased from the respective countries, in perfect correlation. Pornhub claim that their highest increase peaked at 24.4% above normal levels, and for a website that sees 120 million unique users a day, that adds up to an extra 29 million visitors every day for that period. That’s the population of Australia.

Why? Well, the obvious answer is that people have more time on their hands… so to speak. What might be less obvious, though, is that people are using sex, masturbation and pleasure as coping mechanisms. Users are giving themselves respite from their anxieties, worries, concerns and isolation through sexual gratification. When we’re reminded of our own mortality, after all, we subconsciously become more attuned to our most elemental nature and needs: food and sex most of all. This is how many of us deal with fear, and why we find fear so thrilling.

There’s research to suggest that fear and anxiety can induce the promotion of sexual desire and behaviour more than usual. The idea of a spreading outbreak would certainly qualify as fearful and anxious, so it makes sense that some of us – or most of us – would have at least a partial sexual response to it. We’re strange animals, and that might explain the increase in porn use above and beyond the ‘more free time’ argument.

Perhaps most unexpectedly, though, is not the increase in porn consumption. It’s in what we’re consuming. Over the last month, around ten million people searched for coronavirus-related keywords. On Pornhub, a search for the term “coronavirus” currently returns 1,181 videos. That’s now in my search history forever. You’re welcome. 

What does that porn look like? Well, it seems to involve a lot of risky sex with strangers, hospital and medical settings with masks and surgical scrubs, and lots of hazmat suits. Like I said, we’re strange animals. It reinforced our constant need as a species for newness, and our ability to sexualise just about anything. And it’s no fluke: around Christmas and Halloween, holiday-specific searches also increase.

But coronavirus-themed searches might carry with them an indication of our tendency to fetishize fear. It’s well-demonstrated that strong emotions are often mistaken for sexual arousal or attraction, and I’ve talked previously on this blog about how people are more amenable to sex after a particularly thrilling experience, like a rollercoaster. Fear amplifies sexual desire in most of us, in one way or another. And that’s how we’ve ended up sexualising coronavirus imagery.

It’s not just the porn itself that’s being impacted. It’s the performers too, who, according to a recent article in Rolling Stone, are anxious about how their profession could potentially bring them into contact with the virus. The virus itself is not transmittable sexually, but the close proximity to each other of the performers makes them particularly susceptible to the contagion. But still, like the rest of us, they can’t be furloughed for long before rent and grocery bills pile up. Porn is a job. They need to work.

Many high-profile porn performers have taken a hiatus until the outbreak recedes, while others have switched over to webcam and solo work to make ends meet. But this then affects the porn production companies, who have a sudden shortage of performers. 

This is just one of the strange and unexpected ways in which the virus has upset normality. Sure, there is plenty of porn out there, no one could watch all of it in a single lifetime. But that has no bearing on the performers and producers, who need to make a living to keep producing, in an atmosphere already turned upside down in recent years.

Written by: Stuart Nugent

With 16 years in the adult industry, including many years at LELO, it's fair to say Stu has been around the sex toy block a few times. As LELO's resident sex geek, he's been featured in the Independent, the Guardian, HuffPost, Vice, Cosmopolitan, and anywhere people talk about sex. Here on Volonte, he turns his spotlight onto the important events affecting sex right now in a regular op-ed. Views are his own.

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