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Pornhub Sexual Wellness Center: don’t get your hopes up

Young people in the UK are crying out for good sex education, and they’re not alone. Many adults, annoyed by the poor sex ed they received in school, are keen to learn more too. They want to get inclusive, non-judgmental advice and guidance about sex and relationships. So usually I’d welcome any new sex education initiative – the more info people have, the better, right? Well, not necessarily. Let’s talk about the Pornhub Sexual Wellness Center.

What is the Pornhub Sexual Wellness Center?

Recently, Pornhub announced the launch of its ‘Sexual Wellness Center’ – run by clinical psychologist Dr Laurie Betito, its mission statement is to ‘provide you with the real information you need about sex.’ The aim is to give PornHub users ‘information on a wide range of topics pertaining to love, sexuality and health.’

So. Let’s say up front that this is a laudable aim. It’s good that Pornhub wants to provide users with sex education and information. As a goal, I like it. I’ve no idea how well it will work, given that most people come to Pornhub to get off, but the possibility that – post-wank – users will click on a link and get educated about sexual issues is one I’d welcome. It’s also not totally unrealistic to believe that they will – my own experience on this site is that people who come for filthy stories are often happy to stay and click around articles about politics too. Just because you’re catering to wankers, you don’t have to assume that they’re only in it for the filth.

However.

There are many potential pitfalls if one of the world’s largest porn sites decides to become a portal for sex education, and while I’m sure the people responsible for this project mean well, I think it could have a net negative effect on online sex education as a whole.

Problems with the Pornhub Sexual Wellness Center

Competition

The problem with Pornhub is that it – as part of the massive porn company MindGeek – is incredibly successful. Not a problem for Pornhub itself, obviously, but a problem for other people in the adult industry. If you run an independent porn site or studio, with a fairtrade business model, your marketing efforts are going to look like a teeny tiny drop in the ocean compared to the power that Pornhub can wield. In short: you cannot really compete on the same terms. You can’t aim to knock Pornhub (or any of the other major tube sites) off the first page of Google, because you don’t have the press or SEO clout that they have.

This isn’t Pornhub’s fault – it would be ludicrous to expect a porn company to deliberately try and be unpopular in order to give its competitors a fair crack. However, as soon as it enters the sex education space, alongside companies it is competing with charities and educational organisations too. What looks from the outside (and what I’m sure is intended to be) a nice, feel-good, supportive measure, is actually something that risks taking traffic and attention from other educational resources.

Pornhub’s response when I put this to them:

“We know that there are already some awesome resources out there but we thought it important that we create our own platform, linked to our main site, which caters specifically to our community. The questions have already been pouring in, and we’re having content created to answer these accordingly. One of Pornhub’s strongest components is our community in that we rely on them and their feedback to help improve general user experience. This is something that people have been asking for for quite some time and we are so excited to finally launch. We welcome questions and feedback at [email protected] There will most likely be collaborations and promotion of existing sex ed sites and contributors in the future.”

So that’s good, right? Kind of. I think it depends a lot on whether the information and advice provided is great. If Pornhub’s sexual wellness center were absolutely the best in the business, and answered its users’ questions more thoroughly than anything else could.

Quality

I am sure that the website will grow into something useful for many people. However, at the time of writing this – and even more so at the time of launch, when Pornhub was press releasing the site and talking to journalists to build buzz – the website itself was incredibly sparse. There were a few articles about STIs, one or two blog posts covering specific questions about sex and relationships, and a few more piecemeal blog posts.

Again, it’s not the end of the world if a site tries to do something good and fails to be perfect, but the problem with launching the site before you’ve covered all the bases is that you can give fairly one-sided advice. There’s a post on the site entitled ‘what is consent?‘ – excellent start. But it’s very sparse and includes things which could be confusing, especially to people who are coming across the topic for the first time:

“Submission is also not the same as consent.  In other words, trying to convince someone to have sex with you by insisting, or guilting them into it is a way to get them to submit to your demands.  That’s not ok.  In fact that would also be considered sexual assault.”

There’s no mention here of consensual submission as part of BDSM, which I’d expect from a porn site. Especially one which has over 2,000 videos turn up when you search for ‘submission’, and 4000 when you search ‘BDSM.’

Searching for ‘g spot orgasm’ or ‘prostate orgasm’ currently turns up nothing. Likewise ‘vaginismus’ and ‘premature ejaculation.’ ‘Erectile dysfunction’ turns up one article on potential ED caused by anti-depressants, but nothing more than that.  ‘Female ejaculation’ turns up one article on the withdrawal method of contraception, which actually makes no reference to squirting whatsoever. Even a topic you’d think Pornhub would be all over – masturbation – only turns up a couple of articles with a passing reference to wanking, and one writer profile. Compare that to the wealth of information when you search ‘masturbation’ on sex ed sites Bish and Scarleteen.

Marketing

When I first kicked off about the Pornhub sexual wellness center on Twitter, my main issue was with the fact that it looked more like a marketing push than a genuine attempt to offer sex ed, primarily because it was not actually linked to from Pornhub itself. When I spoke to the press team at Pornhub, they said:

“The sexual wellness site is now linked on the main site. The intention was always to link to the wellness center from the main site, just like we do our Insights blog, but our deployment schedules didn’t match up. We’ll be adding more exposure as we gain content. There will be links in our footers by the end of the week. There will also be a link in the network bar at the top in about 2 weeks.”

And they did link for a while. Unfortunately the link from the homepage has now disappeared, and I can’t find anywhere else on the site where the sexual wellness center is actually linked. Happy to be corrected on this if you can spot links anywhere.

Why do I give such a massive shit about this? Well, because if the aim is truly to offer sex ed to Pornhub users, Pornhub users need to be able to find the information. If the blog isn’t linked anywhere from Pornhub’s site, then the effect – perhaps not the intention, but the effect – is that the wellness center will start gaining Google rank, getting links from external sites, and bringing in brand new users for PornHub while its current users remain completely in the dark about the site’s existence.

It’s the difference, I think, between genuine CSR (corporate social responsibility), and straight-up marketing. The former is a company looking at specific ways it can help and giving over some of its otherwise profitable time/budget in order to do that. The latter is a company that has realised you can put a dollar value on people thinking you’re doing a good thing. These two things overlap a lot, naturally, and it’s good that companies try to do good things, regardless of their reasons for doing them. But I am criticising the way in which it has been presented and received.

Reception

Here, I think, is the main issue I have, and it’s not really Pornhub’s fault: people are acting like PH is the first organisation to ever have offered sex ed. 

PinkNews celebrated the launch of the site with the headline “Pornhub launches online sex education centre because no-one else is doing it”, which must come as a surprise to all the adult sex educators out there, as well as those who run sites for young people.

When I got annoyed on Twitter, it was partly because I’d seen a few people in my timeline saying things like ‘hooray! Pornhub is helping with sex education!’ while the first visible post on the site was one entitled ‘test.’ Other outlets – like Mashable – are framing it as something that will help children, a valiant effort to fill the void caused by a dearth of sex ed in schools.

“For a growing number of American kids, porn is their sex ed. Now Pornhub is hoping to offer their audience some more formal lessons in how to be a healthy and happy sexual being.”

Mashable isn’t the only outlet that has framed it as advice for young people, though Pornhub says it is absolutely for over 18s:

“We want this to be a site for everyone over 18. We have only just launched, but there is content coming that is intended to answers questions about many different facets of sexuality, for folks of all different ages, genders, orientations and levels of experience. The subsite has the same RTA adult content labeling as Pornhub which means it is still blocked by all parental controls and content filtering.”

Phew. Because here’s the crux of my issue: while it might be nice that Pornhub wants to provide some sex education, and sex ed from qualified people is definitely a good thing, the website will inherently be flawed if it’s hailed as a substitute for more comprehensive advice. It can be a starting point. It can – I hope – link out to other excellent sex advice sites (like the ones listed at the bottom of this page). But to welcome Pornhub’s sexual wellness center as a solution to the problem of poor sex ed in schools is shoddy, and disappointing.

Apologies for the overused analogy, but it would be like congratulating McDonald’s for setting up a nutrition website. The website might be helpful and welcome, but the source is never going to be an unbiased one, and it’s certainly not a substitute for advice from independent experts.

It’s laudable that Pornhub wants to answer its users questions on sex ed. Personally I’d be more excited if Pornhub started funding organisations who are already doing great work, rather than setting up a site that is likely to compete with them. But whatever. Pornhub is a business. It’s not up to me to tell them what to do with their business.

But if the dearth of sex education is a problem, we shouldn’t be just grabbing at any old thing for a solution. We shouldn’t uncritically celebrate Pornhub’s entry into the sex ed market just because we’re desperate for people to get any sex ed whatsoever. Companies can do good things, and they can do bad things, and they can do mediocre-but-well-meaning things. It’s up to us to look at what they’re doing and decide whether it’s valuable to us.

Here are some sex ed resources that I think are great. Feel free to add more in the comments and I’ll update this list. 

Meg John and Justin

Dr Petra’s advice in the Telegraph (for Q+As)

For young people:

Bish UK

Scarleteen

Brook

The Mix

3 Comments

  • Wasteoftime says:

    By selling porn it automatically breaches the first and most important rule of sex education. Respect women. The site shows gonzo teen porn ffs. Do you eally think all these young women have agency and ‘choice’.. you should.be campaigning.to have the men who.make.it adrrested and the site shut down.. now that would.be good sex education.

  • Wasteoftime says:

    ‘It’s not up to me to tell them what to do with their business.’

    It is if.they are abusing women.. or not paying.taxes or just being immoral bastards. What a vacuuously capitalistic alt right thing to.say.

    • Girl on the net says:

      My point is:
      – I am not the government
      – I am not an employee of/boss at PornHub

      Therefore my job isn’t to tell them what to do but to persuade consumers to a) vote with our clicks/wallets and b) be critical where necessary.

      On top of this, your comments are rude and ignorant.

      “selling porn it automatically breaches the first and most important rule of sex education. Respect women.”
      Many women sell porn. Assuming that porn is *all* made by men totally ignores women’s agency, as well as the facts of their lives and experience. In order to actually respect women, you need to understand that some of them will make choices you do not personally agree with. We can tackle exploitation in the porn/sex industry (of which there is clearly a fucking LOT) by putting consent and choice at the core of everything. You have begun the debate by immediately declaring that no woman in the sex industry is capable of making a valid choice.

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