Pornhub Launched A 'Sexual Health & Wellness Center,' But The Site Is The Wrong Messenger

Mainstream pornography preaches messages about sex that are usually negative and dehumanizing to women.

To explain the problems mainstream porn represents for feminists (or more accurately, anyone not at the top of the porn industry food chain) could easily take years of research and tome-length exposition.

I don’t have the time right now, and even if I did, I doubt most readers would welcome a journey requiring that level of investment. But if you’re curious about what other more established voices on this topic have had to say, I’d reference you here, here, and here for quick, well-written introductions on the subject.

At hand today is Pornhub, and specifically its recent introduction of the Pornhub Sexual Wellness Center. This new addition to the enormously popular site (60 million users a day) is meant, ostensibly, to at least address some of the concerns presented by the porn industry. There are pages dealing with female pleasure and why condoms matter, for example. That’s great.

What is not great is pretending that a few website links somehow erase the vast amount of blatantly misogynistic content on offer at Pornhub’s much more established (and lucrative) main site. To that end, Leah Fessler’s analysis for Quartz of the inherent contradictions with Pornhub’s attempt to counterbalance negative ideas promulgated by mainstream porn with a few ho-hum mantras about sexual health is well worth a read. Below, I’ve asked Fessler a few questions about her dive into Pornhub’s go at keeping the mainstream porn cash flowing while claiming they’re on board with sexually healthy interactions and relationships.  

1. In What’s wrong with this picture: Pornhub, the web’s biggest porn site, is now teaching sex ed, you write, "If any industry has negatively impacted young peoples’ understanding of healthy sexual behavior, it’s mainstream porn.” Can you elaborate on that? What specifically about mainstream porn makes its influence in shaping concepts about sexuality so pernicious? 

I think the most damaging way that mainstream porn impacts young people is in its presentation of female pleasure and consent. Mainstream porn primarily teaches men that women orgasm nearly instantaneously from penetrative vaginal sex, and often extremely rough sex and degrading communication. Rarely is this the case, and rarely does mainstream porn depict the type of foreplay that helps many women orgasm, such as manual clitoral stimulation, oral sex, breast and nipple stimulation, sexy and love/emotion-oriented talk, etc.

By depicting often false narratives and degrading images about women's pleasure, mainstream porn can teach young people, especially boys, unhealthy lessons about how to please a woman and how to treat her in bed.

More, the concept of consent is nearly absent in mainstream porn. Actors rarely ever are seen asking their partners what they are okay with doing sexually, and discussing openly what they like and don't like sexually. This sets up the message that sexual discussion at large, importantly including explicit and enthusiastic consent, is not only awkward but taboo. This lack of healthy consent can and does lead to extremely damaging sexual behavior and assault.

2. You quote Peggy Ornstein in your article as saying, “… the best sexual education would be to deconstruct the porn industry but that’s never going to happen.” That’s probably a given, since your article points out mainstream porn is a business worth $97 billion. But are there any practical ways to at least move in that direction? 

Importantly, not all porn is bad, and there is a ton of indie, alternative, and women-centric porn that accurately represents healthy sexual behavior, women's pleasure, healthy sexual communication, and are far more inclusive and respectful of the LGBT community. I think that this is an important sector to explore.

More, there are many sites that are working toward healthy online sexual education, that are also very sex positive — sites such as OMGYES and Confi are great examples. I think that the key to healthy sexual behavior and communication depends entirely on improved sexual education. Our cultural norms around women's pleasure, consent, and penetrative vaginal sex are largely shaped by the way our educational system teaches young people about sex (basically, we learn to put a condom on a banana if we're lucky, and that male ejaculation leads to pregnancy. While there are some excellent movements happening in sexual education in private and public schools, sex ed is seriously lacking in the vast majority of states, many of which still only teach abstinence).

3. After finishing the article, it’s clear this effort by Pornhub is woefully lacking. Do you think Pornhub will get away with the “cognitive dissonance” you rightfully point out — between promoting sexuality in a way that is misguided at best and often abusive, and educating users about “healthy” sexual behavior and relationships?

It's impossible to know whether Pornhub will "get away" with the seemingly dissonant agendas they're preaching. While it's honorable that they're making an effort to promote healthy sex ed, it's true that a large amount of their content remains degrading and negative (on their main site). I don't know whether this new sex ed site will be successful, but in an ideal world I'd rather see young people and all adults get their sex education from other healthy, progressive, sex-positive educational resources (whether online or in person) — those which are not associated with mainstream porn.

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