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5 Ways COVID-19 Changed the Porn Industry—Maybe Forever

By July 30, 2020 No Comments
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The COVID-19 pandemic has, in some way, changed almost every facet of our lives as individuals and as a society.

It’s changing how we spend money, how we spend our time, what our relationships look like, and how we earn our livings. The porn industry is tied up in all of those categories and has been in the minority of industries that have thrived rather than suffered during this time.

Let’s take a look at 5 ways the porn industry has changed since March.

Related: How COVID-19 Has Worsened The Existing Issue Of Human Trafficking

1. Demand has grown significantly in a short amount of time.

When a global pandemic locks people in their homes indefinitely and severely limits their social engagement and activities, boredom will skyrocket and people will look for whatever they can access to pass the time. Not surprisingly, porn has been a massive player in this boredom war. As quarantine continued on earlier this year, porn traffic saw spikes across major online platforms.

And it seems that increased consumer demand for porn as quarantine relief has not dwindled. In the words of Mike Stabile of the Free Speech Coalition industry group, hordes of locked-down individuals are “stuck at home and looking for an outlet.” Compared to March, Pornhub traffic was up 22% in April, the first full month of stay-at-home mandates.

Related: “Sextortion” Scams Dramatically Increase Since COVID-19 Quarantines Began

Social media-based adult content site OnlyFans announced a groundbreaking 75% rise in new sign-ups in March, with new porn creators making up 50,000 of them. Subscriptions rose 50% in April. Recognizing its blossoming popularity, Beyonce released a song in April mentioning OnlyFans. Combine Queen B’s shout-out with the bored home-bound masses, and what do you get? According to the site’s COO, OnlyFans is seeing about 200,000 new users and 7,000-8,000 new creators every day.

It’s safe to say that while other industries have suffered, porn has only launched into new realms of demand and interest.

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2. Quarantine and social distancing have shifted the industry even more strongly toward at-home and amateur porn.

Amateur and performer-produced porn has already been on the rise in recent years compared to content produced in a traditional studio set-up. But the coronavirus pandemic has given that slow shift a global evolutionary shove.

As noted above, the most popular performer-produced site, OnlyFans, has become dramatically popular. This site allows individuals to subscribe to specific models’ or performers’ social media channels where they can access explicit content and request personalized videos and communication.

Related: Why Increased Traffic To Porn Sites During The COVID-19 Crisis Is Problematic, And What We Can Do About It

As Forbes explains in a recent article on the matter, many of these premium adult social media accounts have had an influx of creators as well as consumers. Porn performers had to abide by the quarantine as much as anyone—in their departure from centralized filming studios in March, these performers flocked to sites like OnlyFans, IsMyGirl, and FanCentro.

FanCentro performer MelRose Michaels explained how everything fits together to support homemade adult content—porn sets were closed, but performers stuck at home (either alone or with other willing participants) could produce content and distribute and market it themselves through these premium sites. The quarantine provided a natural space and time buffer for these performers to learn how to handle filming, lighting, sound, self-marketing, and video distribution.

And these traditionalists-turned-self-made are not the only “porntropreneurs,” as PhD candidate Sophie Pezzutto called them. People stuck at home who have never done porn before have taken advantage of this hot money-making opportunity while stuck at home in an economic crisis that saw American unemployment applications hit 26 million and counting.

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3. Loneliness has pushed more people to visit camming sites.

Media outlets and porn performers alike have been drawing connections between the pandemic-inspired rise in porn traffic and the sense of social isolation that accompanies a stay-at-home quarantine.

Forbes notes that “premium ‘influencers’ have a connection to fans in a way that a studio or tube site never could. In a world under lockdown that personal connection is more vital than ever.”

Related: Why There’s Been A 106% Increase In Child Sexual Exploitation Reports During The Pandemic

Cam girl Red Delicious explained to The Observer the new relational connection her fans seem to be seeking when they engage her content. “People tell me that they want to keep using my services because I’m always happy and enthusiastic about life,” she noted, “and I know that clients are seeking a distraction from the doom and gloom. Clients are also now keener to discuss meeting me after social distancing ends and want to give me their phone number or email with a view to actually dating. There is a greater desire to connect beyond camming now.”

The irony here is that these hyper-sexualized encounters aren’t going to ease the serious loneliness caused by quarantine, or any loneliness for that matter. People are craving an authentic personal connection, and porn is not a healthy answer. Subscribing to a cam girl’s channel may seem more personalized than mainstream sites, but it’s still a business transaction and not a relationship. And giving money for a sexualized “connection” will only leave consumers lonelier when the camera shuts off or it becomes clear the consumer-performer relationship is strictly transactional.

Related: Quarantine To Blame For Surge In OnlyFans Subscribers And Sextortion Cases

Sociology professor Barbara Bents defended porn as loneliness relief to The Observer, stating that “there are a lot of lonely people for whom sexual services are a gift. This pandemic has taught us all that humans need physical contact.” We couldn’t agree more that COVID-19 has highlighted the intrinsic human need for touch, connection, and social engagement. But many studies show the opposite of porn being a “gift” to meet those needs. Porn promises connection but delivers only false, empty fantasies that exploit real people’s real needs.

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4. Consumer interest is gearing more toward “real” and the “raw” content rather than over-produced videos.

In line with point #3 above, it seems that people have been craving something real while stuck at home with limited access to normal pursuits and normal life.

“People [have been] craving raw, unpolished access to whoever they’re fans of,” performer MelRose Michaels said. “I think the shutdown will further accelerate that transition.”

And as this driving interest in “the real” leads consumers to choose personalized cam performances over widely circulated mainstream videos, there’s the risk that more than ever, the distinction between reality and fantasy will be blurred.

Related: What Happens When The World Mixes COVID-19, Anxiety, And Pornography?

Someone can go to a performer’s premium Snapchat account and request specific performances or chat directly with the performer, but the suggestion that such interactions are more “real” is a fake promise. These emerging platforms are still porn, still commercialized sexual performances, still hyper-sexualized scenes that can rewire a consumer’s brain and alter their expectations of reality. In short, even this kind of porn distorts real connection, real love, and positive sexuality by turning the “real” that we all crave into consumable snippets of exaggerated fantasies.

Back to PhD candidate Sophie Pezzutto, who is studying the porn industry—this is all connected to the larger modern societal movement where quick, cheap transactions drive human behavior and the “real” can become more and more lost. “We’re all becoming more commodified,” she said.

5. Individuals who are jumping on the at-home porn craze are likely unprepared for the social, technological, and career consequences yet to come.

Buzzfeed covered a recent town hall meeting meant to educate pandemic-era newbies in the porn industry organized by the Free Speech Coalition. In that meeting, porn performer Asa Akira warned potentially naïve newcomers of the impending risks of jumping in amidst all the hype.

“People will find out,” said Akira. “Your best friends and your worst enemies will all eventually find out that you’ve done porn.”

RelatedIf You’re Stressed, Bored, Or Lonely, Is Watching Porn A Healthy Escape?

With other industries shutting down and laying off employees, many individuals who have never created pornographic content have grasped at the chance to make top dollar while camming at home during quarantine. As we know, there have been countless performers like Mia Khalifa who have left the porn industry only to battle rumors, challenges to their reputations, and refusal to remove content of them for years to come. The internet is not a forgiving place, and once porn is uploaded, it can wreak havoc on people’s lives.

In fact, the damage has already begun for people like new OnlyFans performer Kirsten Vaugn, who was fired from her job as a mechanic when her coworkers started watching her OnlyFans page at work and her boss decided the liability wasn’t worth it, despite Vaugn’s strong job track record.

Related: Landlords Are Soliciting Sex For Rent From Tenants Affected By COVID-19 Shutdowns

As Buzzfeed puts it, “anyone joining now should not expect to remain anonymous online [after the pandemic ends], and should seriously consider the potential consequences.”

The irony of all this is that people are turning to porn in an effort to counter the isolation, loneliness, boredom, and stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, but research is clear that that porn isn’t the answer. As the pandemic continues, we hope healthier pastimes will emerge that can actually alleviate some of the burden we all feel.

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