What might make your search for porn more efficient and nuanced? YouPorn has one answer: emojis.
And it has a point. Emojis are an integral part of digital interactions: On any given day, 60 million emojis are used on Facebook and 5 billion are used on its Messenger app. The little picture symbols of faces, objects, and increasingly more stuff are so wide-ranging that it seems a matter of time until we have an emoji for everything.
So far, however, there is no explicitly sex-related emoji—and yet, YouPorn just introduced a “search by emoji” feature (link is safe for work). Over 75 different emoji have been matched to specific sexual search terms, and by typing one of those emojis into the search bar, the site will pull up content that matches those search terms. Each emoji is only associated with one specific term (👠 correlates to “fetish,” for instance, and 🍆 refers to a large penis). Users can combine emojis to get more specific: Two hearts (❤️❤️), for instance, will pull up romantic-themed content.
The new feature is a response to a significant increase of users viewing content on mobile. Charlie Hughes, vice president of YouPorn, told Quartz in an email interview that 76.5% of viewers watch via mobile, and that this figure is likely to grow. The Pornhub Network of sites, which YouPorn is a part of, is owned by the digital media company MindGeek and receives over 151 million daily visits.
YouPorn is the first adult entertainment site to support searching by emoji. (Previously, Pornhub had a service where you could type in an emoji and then be sent a corresponding video, but there’s no emoji search function rolled out across the site.) But it is not the first online platform to do so: Typing emojis into YouTube, Google, and Instagram, for instance, will generate results that are related to the emoji used.
And it’s far from the first platform to acknowledge the ways specific emojis have taken on sexual meanings. There was an incident in 2015 when Instagram banned the eggplant emoji because people were using it to tag sexually explicit content. (It is now allowed again.)
Philip Seargeant, a senior lecturer in Applied Linguistics at the Open University in the UK, told Quartz in an email that emoji use evolves, as all language does. The use of emojis is “hugely important as a way of framing emotional content,” he said, “but it’s also a means of creative expression, which is what leads to slang uses like the eggplant.” Seargeant, who is working on a book about emojis, added, “Ironically, it’s because the emoji lexicon itself has no symbols relating to sex that it’s become so popular to use metaphors to refer to sex (the same is true in verbal language as well, to be honest).”
Vyvyan Evans, author of The Emoji Code: The Linguistics Behind Smiley Faces and Scaredy Cats, provides an analogy for the language of emojis. “The reason for emojis’ global appeal is this: It is to textspeak what body language is to spoken communication,” Evans wrote in an editorial. “The emoji’s primary function is not to usurp language but to fill in the emotional cues otherwise missing from typed conversations.”
YouPorn’s move relies on this truth, that emojis are already being used to nonverbally express sexual desires. And of course, they’re super efficient: a quick way to get users the porn they want, whenever they want it, wherever they are.