Science

Porn websites promote ‘sexually violent’ acts, study finds

One in eight videos displayed to first-time users on the UK’s most popular pornography websites depict sexually violent, coercive or non-consensual content, a new study reveals. 

The three most popular porn sites in the UK – Pornhub, Xhamster and Xvideos – all showcase content describing criminal acts, such as rape, upskirting and incest, on their home pages, according to UK researchers. 

In their analysis of nearly 150,000 video titles on the three sites’ homepages, the most frequent form of sexual violence related to sexual activity between family members, followed by physical aggression and sexual assault. 

Easy access of such content is distorting the boundary between sexual pleasure and sexual violence and ‘feeding a culture in which non-consent and sexual violence are not taken seriously’, the study authors say. 

The ready availability of sexually violent content ‘represents a stark failure’ in the duty of care that porn companies have towards their users, they add. 

Pornhub is the 10th most visited website in the world, according to figures from web analytics company SimilarWeb

Pornhub is the 10th most visited website in the world, according to figures from web analytics company SimilarWeb

WHAT IS UPSKIRTING? 

Upskirting is where someone takes a picture under a person’s clothing without their permission. 

Before 2019, there were no specific laws against upskirting in England and Wales.

But an amendment to the Sexual Offences Act 2003 – Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019 – made upskirting a specific offence of voyeurism, coming into force on April 12, 2019. 

The change followed campaigning from British political activist and author Gina Martin, who was the victim of upskirting at the BST Festival in Hyde Park in 2017. 

The research has been led by Dr Fiona Vera-Gray and Professor Clare McGlynn at Durham University’s Department of Sociology and Law School. 

‘The study draws on the largest research sample of online pornographic content to date and is unique in its focus on the content immediately advertised to a new user,’ the researchers say in their study. 

‘We found that one in eight titles shown to first-time users on the first page of mainstream porn sites describe sexual activity that constitutes sexual violence. 

‘Our findings raise serious questions about the extent of criminal material easily and freely available on mainstream pornography websites and the efficacy of current regulatory mechanisms.’ 

MailOnline has contacted Pornhub, Xhamster and Xvideos for comment. 

Canadian-owned site Pornhub, the 10th most visited website in the world, had 42 billion site visits last year.

Pornhub has already recently been rocked by allegations that it’s been hosting child sexual abuse content – leading to the site removing around 80 per cent of its videos.  

For this new study, researchers were interested in what content the pornography sites pushed to the landing page without any user intervention, therefore showing the content advertised to the new or first-time user.  

Over a six-month period, the researchers analysed 131,738 video titles appearing on the front page of the three sites – making it the largest study of online pornographic content to date.

The three most accessed pornographic websites were identified through Alexa Internet, a web traffic analysis tool.  

In December 2020, Pornhub removed all content uploaded by unverified users from its platform – about 80 per cent of its total videos - in the wake of allegations that it hosts child abuse content

In December 2020, Pornhub removed all content uploaded by unverified users from its platform – about 80 per cent of its total videos - in the wake of allegations that it hosts child abuse content

In December 2020, Pornhub removed all content uploaded by unverified users from its platform – about 80 per cent of its total videos – in the wake of allegations that it hosts child abuse content 

Researchers collected the names of the videos, rather than their content, while excluding material that was advertised to viewers as consensual BDSM (bondage, domination and sado-masochism).

‘This exclusion was made after lengthy discussion in recognition that the sexual script in BDSM content often differs from the “coercion” criteria that underpins the WHO definition of sexual violence,’ the team say in their paper. 

In total, they found 15,839, or 12 per cent of the total video titles, described sexual activity that constitutes sexual violence – equating to one in every eight titles. 

In all, 2,966 titles constituted descriptions of ‘image-based’ sexual abuse with a predominant focus on voyeurism, both explicitly and through more implicit terms such as hidden or ‘spy’ cameras and upskirting.

Upskirting was made illegal in England and Wales only two years ago, following an amendment to the Sexual Offences Act 2003. 

Video titles found by the researchers included ‘Beach Spy Changing Room Two Girls’, ‘Pharmacy Store Bathroom Hidden cam’ and ‘Upskirted in the train’.

The three most accessed pornographic websites were identified through Alexa Internet, a web traffic analysis tool. At the time of data collection, these were Pornhub.com, Xhamster.com (pictured) and Xvideos.com

The three most accessed pornographic websites were identified through Alexa Internet, a web traffic analysis tool. At the time of data collection, these were Pornhub.com, Xhamster.com (pictured) and Xvideos.com

The three most accessed pornographic websites were identified through Alexa Internet, a web traffic analysis tool. At the time of data collection, these were Pornhub.com, Xhamster.com (pictured) and Xvideos.com

XVideos (pictured) is a pornographic video sharing and viewing website founded in Paris in 2007

XVideos (pictured) is a pornographic video sharing and viewing website founded in Paris in 2007

XVideos (pictured) is a pornographic video sharing and viewing website founded in Paris in 2007

A total of 5,785 explicitly described some form of sexual activity between family members, meanwhile.  

Word frequency results showed that ‘teen’ was the most frequently occurring word in both the entire data collection (10,149, or 7.7 per cent of the total).

Other titles described forms of sexual assault with the words ‘force’, ‘grope’ and ‘molest’, as well as physical forms of violence with ‘kick’, ‘punch’, and ‘slap’.

Others described sexual acts with physically aggressive language including ‘brutal’ and ‘pound’.  

Across the UK, it is a criminal offence to possess ‘extreme pornography’ which includes simulated images of non-consensual sexual penetration and life-threatening injury.

‘However we found on the landing pages descriptions of forced sexual activity that may meet the criteria of extreme pornography,’ the study authors say. 

The research raises ‘serious questions’ about the extent of criminal material easily and freely available on mainstream pornography websites, as well as the effectiveness of current regulation. 

The team is calling on policy makers to ensure effective legislation prevents sexually violent content from being available on mainstream pornography platforms.

They’re also calling on the UK government to use the forthcoming Online Harms Bill – which will ensure businesses have a ‘duty of care’ to protect children from cyberbullying, grooming and pornography – hold companies to account.

Government should also support teachers as they deliver the new relationships and sex education (RSE) curriculum, including providing funding for specialist organisations that work against violence towards women. 

The new findings have been published in The British Journal of Criminology. 

Pornhub forced to remove 80 per cent of its videos amid claims it is ‘infested’ with child sexual abuse material 

In December 2020, Pornhub removed all content uploaded by unverified users from its platform – about 80 per cent of its total videos – in the wake of allegations that it hosts child abuse content.  

More than 10 million videos were removed as part of the Canadian-owned pornography site’s purge, according to figures on its homepage, following allegations it was ‘infested’ with videos of rape and underage sex. 

There were 13.5 million videos on Pornhub on December 13, as noted by Motherboard, but the total stood at just 2.9 million as of December 15.

As of April 6, 2021, this total has risen to 3.1 million. 

Since its launch in 2007, any Pornhub user signed up to the site had been able to upload their own content. 

But Pornhub banned unverified users from posting new content in December, following allegations made in a New York Times column that it hosted child sexual abuse material. 

Pornhub is the 10th most visited website in the world, according to figures from web analytics company SimilarWeb. 

The site is owned by parent company MindGeek, a privately held pornography conglomerate based in Montreal, Canada. MindGeek also owns other popular adult video portals, including YouPorn and RedTube.

Pornhub was created by four Canadian college friends dubbed ‘the kings of smut’ who made millions by creating the YouTube of porn. 

‘As part of our policy to ban unverified uploaders, we have now also suspended all previously uploaded content that was not created by content partners or members of the Model Program,’ Pornhub said in a blog post in December.

Read more:  Pornhub removes all unverified videos from its platform  


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