How the Pandemic Is Changing Pornography

COVID-19 is affecting porn production and porn searches on popular sites.

Posted Mar 23, 2020

Shutterstock/Stokkete
Source: Shutterstock/Stokkete

Coronavirus is permeating every aspect of our lives, including our sex lives.

One area where this has quickly become evident is in the world of porn. The coronavirus pandemic is affecting not just the amount and type of porn being produced, but also how much porn people are consuming and what they're searching for on major sites. 

First, porn consumption rates are up in general. For example, as reported by Pornhub, traffic has steadily increased in March as the pandemic has spread and lockdowns have been instituted in major cities and countries around the world. In fact, on March 17 alone (the most recent date for which data is available) traffic to the site was up 11.6 percent

Porn searches are up, in part, because a lot of people are at home with more time on their hands than usual. However, they may also be up because some people are using sex as a coping mechanism for dealing with their fear of disease and death.

As I describe in The Psychology of Human Sexuality, the key idea behind Terror Management Theory is that “when we are reminded of our own mortality, we subconsciously alter our attitudes and behaviors to help us cope with the ‘terrifying’ prospect of our eventual death.”

Some research has found that when we are faced with the prospect of our own mortality, this prompts sexual desire and behavior as a coping mechanism. To the extent that the COVID-19 pandemic is making mortality more salient, it would make sense that you'd see a rise in horniness right now, which could partly explain why more porn is being consumed.

However, people aren't just watching more porn right now—they're also watching more coronavirus-themed porn. In the last 30 days, more than 9 million coronavirus searches have appeared on Pornhub. There are also now more than 1,000 videos that pop up on the site when you search for "coronavirus."

What does coronavirus porn look like? It involves a lot of people having sex while wearing masks, surgical gloves, and hazmat suits. 

Why are people looking for this kind of porn? The answer is similar to why people also tend to look for holiday porn throughout the year: It reflects our constant need for sexual novelty and humans’ ability to fetishize virtually everything. 

This is part of the reason we often see current social events reflected in our porn searches. For example, around major holidays like Valentine’s DayHalloween, and Christmas, porn searches become more festive—people start looking for porn with holiday flair.

However, what we’re seeing right now might also be an eroticization of fear. It has been well established that strong emotions are often mistaken for sexual attraction. For example, when people engage in activities that produce high-arousal states—like riding a roller coaster—and then encounter an attractive stranger, attraction to that person increases. High-fear states have the potential to amplify sexual arousal and attraction.

If people are on edge from coronavirus news (meaning they’re in a heightened state of generalized physiological arousal) and, say, see a media image of an attractive person wearing a mask, this could lay the foundation for them to start sexualizing coronavirus imagery.  

The rise of coronavirus porn and increased traffic to tube sites isn’t the only way the porn industry is being impacted right now. As recently reported in Rolling Stone, many porn performers are worried about how their work could potentially expose them to the virus. Just being in close contact with someone else (being less than 6 feet apart) poses a potential transmission risk, so it stands to reason that porn performers would be at substantially elevated risk due to the very intimate nature of their job.

Some porn performers are therefore avoiding shoots until the situation is under control to protect their health, despite the personal financial hit it will cause. Others are compensating by doing more solo cam work to minimize physical contact with others while still protecting their bottom line.

Of course, all of this is also going to have implications for porn production companies: If performers sit on the sidelines until the crisis is under control (and we obviously have no idea when that will occur), the potential financial implications for the companies are enormous. 

What we’re seeing right now is that the COVID-19 coronavirus is affecting not just the amount of porn that’s being produced, but also the type of porn that’s coming out (i.e., more coronavirus-themed porn and more solo work), what people are searching for on tube sites, and how much porn is being consumed overall. 

Facebook image: Syda Productions/Shutterstock

References

Lehmiller, J. J. (2017). The Psychology of Human Sexuality (2nd ed.). Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Goldenberg, J.L., McCoy, S.K., Pyszczynski, T., Greenberg, J., & Solomon, S. (2000). The body as a source of self-esteem: The effect of mortality salience on identification with one’s body, interest in sex, and appearance monitoring. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 118–130.