WAIT WHAT?

What’s wrong with this picture: Pornhub, the web’s biggest porn site, is now teaching sex ed

So long, awkward condom-on-banana high school demos—PornHub, the world’s largest distributor of adult entertainment, is the new go-to for sexual education. Or at least it wants to be.

The global porn website launched its “Pornhub Sexual Wellness Center” this week, with a press release calling itself “an online resource aiming to provide readers with information and advice regarding sexuality, sexual health and relationships.” The site will feature original editorial content from doctors, therapists, and sexperts. Like its main site, Pornhub’s Sexual Wellness Center is free for all users.

Dr. Laurie Betito, a clinical psychologist and author who has spent over 30 years helping people overcome their sexual issues, will direct the site. In this promo video she explains, “At the Pornhub Sexual Wellness Center we are fully dedicated to your health and education,” her goal being to “create a place where information pertaining to the physical, psychological, and even the most intimate aspects of sex is available to all.”

The ironies of Pornhub’s endeavor, of course, are clear. If any industry has negatively impacted young peoples’ understanding of healthy sexual behavior, it’s mainstream porn. And if any company epitomizes mainstream porn, it’s Pornhub.

While many of Pornhub Sexual Wellness Center’s contributors, like sexuality thought leader Emily Negoski, are top tier, the site collectively feels like a wash of disconnected, elementary, and at times, even inaccurate information which, without proper context, serves limited educative power.

Undoubtedly, Pornhub’s new site contrasts the porn industry’s historical blind eye to its detrimental role in shaping users’—especially young users’—beliefs about sex. Pornhub alone draws over 60 million visitors a day worldwide, and while their average viewer is 35 years old, 60% of visitors are between 18 and 34 years old. Mainstream porn routinely presents false narratives about female bodies and pleasure, eroticizes sexual abuse, and entirely ignores sexual consent.

“The commodification of sex is what the porn industry represents,” says Peggy Orenstein, author of the hit book Girls & Sex. “Their goal is to sell you commodified sex—to get you off hard, fast, and quick, and make money off of it. Everything else is a lie, it’s a contract that performers have signed to perform acts that they look like they enjoy, whether they actually do, or don’t.”

Today porn has become stand-in for sexual education, particularly in the US. Given that in 2014, 76% of US public and private high schools taught abstinence as the most effective method to avoid pregnancy and 88% of schools allow parents to exclude their children from sexual health education, reliance on porn for sexual education is unsurprising.

So yes, Pornhub’s attempt to create a factual sexual health partner site is a big move within the industry. For many users, especially women and LGBT people, Pornhub’s mere acknowledgement of the necessity of clitoral stimulation, or the importance of wearing a condom, is huge.

Whether the porn industry ought to be meddling in sex ed at all is also a valid question. Can a site that grosses billions of dollars per year and develops brand loyalty through eroticized abuse, lies about women’s bodies and desires, and disregard for contraceptives simultaneously teach users about consent and safe sex? The cognitive dissonance is, perhaps, too overwhelming to take this pursuit seriously.

The quality of information presently posted on Pornhub Sexual Wellness Center, unfortunately, may not make up for the onslaught of abuse presented on Pornhub’s home site.

On “Female Reproductive Anatomy,” presumably a core post for the site, one learns these “facts,” among others: The clitoris is an erogenous “button” (actually, it’s a network of bulbs and glands beneath the skin with an external hood and glans. And pressing on the clitoris like a button, frankly, sucks); the female reproductive anatomy really does have three holes (actually, it has two, as the anus serves no reproductive function. Also, the vulva and urethra are not “holes”); and (surprise) babies come from a man’s sperm joining with a woman’s egg.

There is no post specifically dedicated to female sexual pleasure, and the brief “Arousal” section on “Female Reproductive Anatomy” only mentions the clitoris, without description of other vaginal pleasure sites, how to touch these sites, or other female erogenous zones. The post on consent never mentions the lack of consent in most mainstream porn, or that such videos represent unhealthy consensual behavior. And while the site does have quality information on STDs, no STD or anatomy information is accompanied by photographs or diagrams, which are essential to effective sexual education.

“This information is embedded in this world of mainstream pornography,” says Orenstein, who believes that for Pornhub to post sexual education information affiliated with the 97-billion-dollar mainstream pornography industry is “at best confusing, and at worst hypocritical and disingenuous.”

More, while Pornhub’s Sexual Wellness Center nods to corporate responsibility, its press release never mentions the cause and effect relationship between porn and warped sexual beliefs and behaviors, nor does any post on the new site. More, Pornhub.com—the wellness center’s parent site—does not feature a link, tab, or advertisement for the new Pornhub Sexual Wellness Center. By letting users intuit motivations behind the sexual wellness site, Pornhub shirks responsibility for the damage it’s now apparently invested in remedying.

Ultimately, Pornhub is entering territory it—by warrant of its affiliations—may best avoid. “Sexual education is really not really their purpose,” says Orenstein. “It’s almost like a white-washing scam to justify the kind of anti-female pleasure, misogynist, distorted sexuality that often eroticizes humiliation, that’s devoid of intimacy, and at best mis-represents female pleasure.” Creating a sexual wellness site, says Ornstein, seems like a way to “get away with” the abusive mainstream pornography Pornhub otherwise promotes.

The pitfalls of Pornhub Sexual Wellness Center are obvious when compared with various competitor sites. Confi, a site driven to empower body, relationship, and sexual confidence through credible health information, uses ample diagrams and illustration to cohesively educate users. With coverage on everything from erectile dysfunction and giving oral sex to the hymen and sexual assault, Confi demonstrates the specificity and depth necessary for effective digital sex ed.

While Pornhub’s step toward sexual wellness is a much-needed nod to porn’s influence on sexual knowledge, thus far it’s insufficient and more importantly, off-brand. If Pornhub truly believes in sexual wellness, perhaps the top hits when one searches “sexual wellness” on Pornhub’s main site shouldn’t be videos of women being gagged by penises and incest. “Of course, the best sexual education would be to deconstruct the porn industry,” says Orenstein, “but that’s never going to happen.”

As for now, users are better off checking sites like Confi or OMGYes, watching documentaries such as Hot Girls Wanted, and seeking non-judgmental, factual sexual education from adults and institutions they trust.

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