People Stuck at Home Are Making and Watching Porn. Everybody Panic!

People Stuck at Home Are Making and Watching Porn. Everybody Panic!

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There’s some evidence that Americans are buying more junk food, drinking more alcohol, playing more video games, consuming more marijuana, and watching more porn while stuck at home during the COVID-19 shutdown. The possibility that more people are possibly watching more porn has modern culture warriors doubling down on their calls for censoring adult entertainment.

Not only is the ban-porn brigade up to its usual business, but activists have started incorporating the new coronavirus into their anti-sex work campaigns.

The latest panic kicked off in March when the website Pornhub announced it would be offering free “premium” subscriptions to people in Italy, Spain, and France. A spokeswoman for the group formerly known as Morality in Media—now rebranded as the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE)—called it a “demonic deal.”

A subsequent Pornhub traffic spike further upset moralists. Family Research Council Vice President for Policy and Public Affairs Travis Weber complained that “these pornography sites try to lure people and trap them into viewing this stuff while they’re sitting around.”

Sioux City Journal Columnist Linda Holub warned in early April, “As the country focuses on… COVID-19, there is another public health crisis that continues under the radar and is just as infectious and damaging to individuals, families and our children.” (Get back to us when porn kills 50,000 Americans in two months.)

The porn-hubbub was premature. Big spikes in traffic tumbled once Pornhub’s free-subscription promotion ended; it fell further as stay-at-home and shutdown orders wore on—suggesting the surge represented an influx of temporary new customers. Pornhub’s skyrocketing March traffic became, by mid-April, a much more modest bump.

Alas, ours is an era of easily triggered scolds and illiberal nannies who see damning decadence in anything they don’t personally like or understand. Not to mention, anti-porn “awareness” groups like NCOSE (on the right) and Exodus Cry (on the left) still have to earn their keep.

So, Pornhub’s marketing stunt and traffic spike provided a convenient news hook. But anti-porn advocates are quite capable of whipping themselves into a fervor without help.

One might think the fact that porn studio production in the U.S. and Canada has been suspended until further notice would be some comfort. But thanks to social media, cash apps, cam sites, clip stores, and “fan club” platforms, experienced porn performers, sex workers from other sectors who are now out of work, and cash-strapped or stuck-at-home newcomers have been producing and monetizing their own content online. And this has anti-nudity nuts up in arms.

One platform, OnlyFans, has recently been getting more mainstream attention—and with that, a hefty dose of criticism.

“Every now and then, the modern world produces a trend so ghastly you can’t help but sit back and think, would a global Islamic Caliphate really be that bad? One such fad is the sudden growth of OnlyFans, a monthly paid subscription content service,” Charlie Peters wrote this week in The American Conservative.

Platforms like OnlyFans—which give sex workers more control over their own boundaries, clientele, and earnings than the porn world has traditionally offered—appear to be especially triggering to conservative anti-porn activists, who have long insisted their biggest concern is stopping sexual exploitation, not controlling what women can do with their bodies.

This misplaced ire is especially pernicious right now, with so many sex workers put out of work by the new coronavirus. Financial desperation can force sex workers (and other vulnerable groups) into riskier arrangements and make it more likely that they’ll be victimized. Platforms like OnlyFans, meanwhile, can actually help protect “the young female population” Peters worries about by allowing consenting adults to engage in remote sex work from their own homes and on their own terms.

It’s not just conservatives twisting anti-exploitation logic to fit a pet agenda. Anti-porn advocates on the left have also been using COVID-19 to scare up sympathy. In Australia, some are trying to blame porn for purported spikes in domestic violence—something they conclude is happening based on there being more online searches for the phrase recently.

Actual shelters and services for victims of domestic violence have been reporting an increased demand for their services during the COVID-19 outbreak, but they attribute this increased demand to abusers being forced to stay home and the stress of unemployment triggering abusive behavior—not otherwise non-toxic partners being radicalized by an extra 15 minutes on Pornhub.

Both the liberal and conservative iterations of the new porn freakout focus on pornography instead of addressing actual threats to vulnerable groups such as sex workers and those in abusive relationships (which are much more related to material resources than symbolic patriarchy or sex traffickers). Focusing on porn, in other words, lets anti-porn crusaders cosplay the ethical position while ignoring the actual contours of people’s suffering or endeavoring to do anything about it.

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