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Why Today’s Internet Porn is Unlike Anything the World Has Ever Seen

Porn is incomparably more accessible and more extreme than anything available before the internet. A couple of ratty old centerfold magazines found in the park are nothing compared to the hardcore, high-definition videos that minors have access to today.

The year was 1953, and Hugh Hefner had just published the first copy of Playboy. Although the magazine only offered still images, the growing popularity of Playboy meant that pornographic imagery was becoming increasingly available to the public. Flash forward to the 1980s, and VCRs suddenly made it possible for people to watch movies at home. Instead of having to go to sketchy movie theaters, consumers just went to the back room at their local movie rental place. Sure, they still had to go out to find it and get their IDs checked, but porn was even more accessible than it ever had been.

And then the internet happened.

Once porn hit the web in the 1990s, nothing but a few keystrokes stood between anyone with an internet connection and the most graphic material available. For the first time in history, people could watch anything they wanted, whenever they wanted, from the comfort of their own home. Add to that the dawn of the smartphone a decade later, and boom—porn was more available, accessible, affordable, and anonymous than ever. Online porn was “big business” in a way the world had never seen.

Porn in the age of the internet

Today, porn sites receive more website traffic in the U.S. than Twitter, Instagram, Netflix, Pinterest, and LinkedIn combined.Semrush Blog. (2021). Top 100: The Most Visited websites in the US—2021 Top websites edition. Accessed on 24 May, 2021. Retrieved from https://www.semrush.com/blog/most-visited-websites/COPY  Pornhub, one of the leading porn sites in the world, claimed that in 2019 they had 42 billion visitors with 39 billion searches performed. That’s 115 million a day—almost 5 million an hour, and almost 80,000 a minute—and that’s just one site. To put that in perspective, in the time it takes you to read this article, that one porn site will have recorded more than 200,000 visits, according to their own estimates. As for 2019 uploads to the site, PornHub estimates 12,500 gigabytes per minute—enough to fill the memories of every smart phone in the world.Pornhub Insights. (2019). The 2019 year in review. Retrieved from https://www.pornhub.com/insights/2019-year-in-reviewCOPY 

Together, the top five porn websites in the world account for more than 6 billion visits per month, nearly one a month for every person on Earth.Castleman, M. (2018). Surprising new data from the World’s most popular porn site. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/all-about-sex/201803/surprising-new-data-the-world-s-most-popular-porn-siteCOPY 

The argument that porn is nothing new—that it’s been around forever and never caused any great harm—seems pretty naive when you think about how different today’s internet porn is from anything that existed before. Porn is incomparably more accessible and more extreme than anything before seen, even a generation ago—a couple of ratty old centerfold magazines found in the park are nothing compared to the hardcore, high-definition videos that minors have access to today.Price, J., Patterson, R., Regnerus, M., & Walley, J. (2016). How much more XXX is generation X consuming? evidence of changing attitudes and behaviors related to pornography since 1973.53(1), 12-20. doi:10.1080/00224499.2014.1003773COPY 

The far-reaching effects of internet porn

As the internet has grown, it has also allowed for more graphic and more extreme pornographic content. With so much porn available, pornographers compete for consumers’ attention by constantly pushing boundaries and exploiting taboos. According to studies analyzing the content of popular porn videos, it’s estimated that as few as 1 in 3 and as many as 9 in 10 scenes show acts of physical aggression or violence, while about half contain verbal aggression.Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Sun, C., & Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and sexual behavior in best-selling pornography videos: A content analysis update. Violence against women, 16(10), 1065–1085. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077801210382866COPY Fritz, N., Malic, V., Paul, B., & Zhou, Y. (2020). A Descriptive Analysis of the Types, Targets, and Relative Frequency of Aggression in Mainstream Pornography. Archives of sexual behavior, 49(8), 3041–3053. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01773-0COPY  These studies also found that women were the targets of aggression or violence about 97% of the time.Fritz, N., Malic, V., Paul, B., & Zhou, Y. (2020). A Descriptive Analysis of the Types, Targets, and Relative Frequency of Aggression in Mainstream Pornography. Archives of sexual behavior, 49(8), 3041–3053. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01773-0COPY  And yet another study found that 1 out of every 8 porn titles shown to first-time visitors to porn sites described acts of sexual violence.Vera-Gray, F., McGlynn, C., Kureshi, I., & Butterby, K. (2021). Sexual violence as a sexual script in mainstream online pornography. The British Journal of Criminology, doi:10.1093/bjc/azab035COPY 

Related: How Porn Can Promote Sexual Violence

“Thirty years ago ‘hardcore’ pornography usually meant the explicit depiction of sexual intercourse,” writes Dr. Norman Doidge, a neuroscientist and author of The Brain That Changes Itself. “Now hardcore has evolved and is increasingly dominated by the sadomasochistic themes… involving scripts fusing sex with hatred and humiliation.”Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books.COPY 

In our post-Playboy world, porn now routinely features degradation, abuse, and humiliation of people in a way never before seen in the mass media.Vera-Gray, F., McGlynn, C., Kureshi, I., & Butterby, K. (2021). Sexual violence as a sexual script in mainstream online pornography. The British Journal of Criminology, azab035. doi:10.1093/bjc/azab035COPY  “[S]oftcore is now what hardcore was a few decades ago,” Doidge explains. “The comparatively tame softcore pictures of yesteryear.”Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books.COPY 

Related: How Porn Can Become An Escalating Behavior

Today, porn’s effects have permeated nearly every aspect of our lives. Technology has changed not only the content of porn, but also how, when, and at what age people begin consuming it. Studies show that most young people are exposed to porn by age 13,British Board of Film Classification. (2020). Young people, pornography & age-verification. BBFC. Retrieved from https://www.bbfc.co.uk/about-classification/researchCOPY  and according to a nationally representative survey of U.S. teens, 84.4% of 14-18 year-old males and 57% of 14-18 year-old females have viewed pornography.Wright, P. J., Paul, B., & Herbenick, D. (2021). Preliminary insights from a U.S. probability sample on adolescents’ pornography exposure, media psychology, and sexual aggression. J.Health Commun., 1-8. doi:10.1080/10810730.2021.1887980COPY  That’s a lot of underage exposure to an industry that claims to be “adult” entertainment.

Related: How Porn Can Distort Consumers’ Understanding Of Healthy Sex

Today’s internet pornography is a phenomenon that’s completely different from still images in Playboy magazines or a few porn flicks checked out from your local movie rental place. The availability, accessibility, affordability, and anonymity of internet porn has had unprecedented negative effects on individuals, relationships, and our culture as a whole. But the good news is that in response to the unprecedented proliferation of pornography in our culture, there is also an unprecedented number of resources to help—whether through spreading awareness about pornography or helping those who feel caught in a porn habit they can’t seem to break. As people continue to learn, research, and become more informed about the potential negative effects of internet pornography, they’ll be armed with knowledge to create a healthier world.

Need help?

For those reading this who feel they are struggling with pornography, you are not alone. Check out Fortify, a science-based recovery platform dedicated to helping you find lasting freedom from pornography. Fortify now offers a free experience for both teens and adults. Connect with others, learn about your unwanted porn habit, and track your recovery journey. There is hope—sign up today.

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