Back in 1996, just several years after the World Wide Web went live, a young man named Peter Morley-Souter drew a comic scene that depicted his initial shock at seeing a couple of his favorite cartoon characters, Calvin and Hobbes, having sex with Calvin’s mother. He figured if there was porn of Calvin and Hobbes, everything could be made into porn, which resulted in the caption “Internet Rule #34: there is porn of it.”
In 1997 there were approximately 900 online porn sites. Today millions of companies and outlets are generating porn clips directly online in quantities impossible to calculate accurately. In 2013 alone, PornHub had nearly 15 billion views, or 1.68 million visits every hour for the entire year. Just type “porn” into Google and you’ll get hundreds of millions of results, with the entire first page of hits offering free instant streaming videos. Another site, Sexualitics, run by French statisticians and sociologists reveals more specific comparisons of porn use. You can graph out search terms using their Porngram tool.
In 2011, 24 out of the top 500 most-viewed general websites in America were dedicated to porn. To put this in context, nearly 47 of the top 500 sites were different countries’ Google homepages. Now consider that the most popular porn sites, LiveJasmin and XVideos, had more traffic than 36 of them, including Google Canada, Mexico, Australia and Germany. LiveJasmin and XVideos were also visited more often than CNN, AOL, Myspace and even Netflix. However, unlike many of the other popular sites, which have a general audience, the porn websites’ audience was primarily males under 24 years old, most of whom were viewing in isolation from home or secretly at school.
In 2015, PornHub took over as America’s most popular porn destination. Because guys are more willing to pay for porn, porn will continue to cater towards male tastes, but in spite of that, PornHub female viewership is on the rise, especially after the release of 50 Shades of Grey – both the book series and the film (see here and here). Data from the web traffic reporting site Alexa from 2011 and 2015 backs this up – in 2011 the audience of every porn site was skewed male, in 2015 a quarter of the most popular porn sites had slightly more female traffic. Also between 2011 and 2015, the number of porn sites in the top 500 dropped from 24 to 12; and more young males are now accessing the sites from school (versus home or work). “Lesbian” is the most common search term for young women.
All of the most popular porn sites offer free content and also offer more exclusive features, such as higher quality high-definition (HD) videos or live webcam viewing for a small fee. You can pretty much find anything you want free of charge, however, and you can access these videos nearly any time, anywhere in the world that Internet exists.
It is safe to say online porn is the marketplace of virtual pleasures. Although the top 5 percent of descriptive tags are associated with 90 percent of the videos, the popular site XNXX has compiled over 70,000 different tags to help users find the specific and less common content they’re looking for. The notion that somewhere on the web anything you can imagine exists as porn has become difficult to disprove as the Internet becomes more saturated with X-rated images and videos.
As mentioned earlier, the most common viewer of porn is a man. Young men in particular. Many young women have watched porn too. Ninety-three percent of boys and 62 percent of girls have seen Internet porn before they turn 18, according to a 2008 study in CyberPsychology & Behavior. Seventy percent of boys have spent more than 30 minutes looking at porn, as have 23 percent of girls. Eighty-three percent of boys and 57 percent of girls have seen group sex online. Eighteen percent of boys and 10 percent of girls have seen rape or sexual violence. These rates have increased in recent years (see survey links below). Read about how porn is influencing teenager’s perspectives and behavior in this recent Vanity Fair article.
One in three boys are now considered a “heavy” porn user, watching more times than they can count. In the UK, PornHub was the thirty-fifth most visited website for children aged 6 to 14 in 2013 (see here, p. 232). A survey found that the average boy over there watches nearly two hours of porn every week. One in three of the young men categorized as “light” users spent less than an hour a week viewing porn, while four out of five who were categorized as heavy users (only a small percentage of those surveyed) watched more than ten hours a week. Surveys have shown similar findings in the US (see here – survey before high-speed Internet porn and here – survey after high-speed Internet porn). Keep in mind that majority of PornHub users are millenials, and their average session lasts nine minutes, so even one hour a week could translate into one session per day. Though the popular time to use porn is between 11 pm and midnight, a third of the light users said they had missed an important deadline or appointment because they could not break away from their pornographic adventures. Hence the new term – “procrasturbation” – which means procrastinating through porn.
In 2011, social psychologist Phil Zimbardo and I conducted a survey of over 20,000 people (75 percent of respondents were guys), one of the questions we asked was:
Keep in mind this question includes video games, not just porn. People were allowed to select as many answers they identified with. Here are some interesting highlights to note:
- 78% of boys age 12 and younger chose “Provide a sense of mastery and control”
- 84% of guys ages 13 through 17 chose “They’re fun and easily accessible”
- 85% of guys ages 18 through 25; and
- 84% of guys ages 26 through 34 chose “Provides instant gratification”
Anonymity was also mentioned by many guys as a contributing factor.
Porn addiction is not officially recognized yet by health communities, though we predict it will be in the coming years – read about Arousal Addiction here and this article about young men seeking treatment for what they feel is an addiction here.
Thumbnail image of the woman lying on a bed courtesy of adamr on FreeDigitalPhotos
 Ogas, O. and Gaddam, S. (2011). A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World’s Largest Experiment Reveals About Human Desire. New York, NY: Penguin Group (USA), Inc. p. 8.
 Retrieved June 8, 2011, from Alexa: http://www.alexa.com. Charts available upon request.
 Retrieved August 10, 2015, from Alexa: http://www.alexa.com. Charts available upon request.
This page was last updated September 17, 2015.