News & Politics

What's the Most Popular Porn Site on Earth? (And What Does That Say About Our Relationship to Sex?)

A webcam site featuring mostly underpaid women from non-Western countries gets the most views. What does that say about Western sexuality?

 This whole article is pretty interesting – who would have guessed that porn only accounts for 4% of the internet? – but this part stood out:

So what's the most popular porn site on the planet?

The single most popular adult site in the world is, a webcam site which gets around 32 million visitors a month, or almost 2.5% of all internet users!

You're telling me a webcam site is more popular than PornHub?

LiveJasmin is the most popular adult site on the web by a huge margin.

Basically, it's interesting that what men prefer the most is watching women strip on a webcam and being able to talk to them while they do, telling the women what they want to see. Once this became available (through high-quality broadband streaming of webcam video) it just shot to the top of popularity; it's even more popular than the tube sites like PornHub and RedTube.

The fact that 2.5% of the billion people on the internet are using LiveJasmin each month is pretty extraordinary.

A global phenomenon! Where do the webcam women come from?

Almost all of the webcam girls are from eastern Europe or southeast Asia. At $8-$15/hour with no benefits, it doesn't pay enough for American women… except teenage girls and college students.

Most of the foreign women do it without the knowledge of their friends and family and only do it for Americans so that acquaintances in their homeland won't hear about it.

I am apparently not a very savvy consumer of internet porn, because I've never heard of And I am certainly far from anti-pornography; if you want to get naked on your webcam/watch people get naked on their webcams, fantastic, enjoy yourself. I personally find the whole concept of webcam porn kind of cheesy and hilarious and I guess sort of like the pornography equivalent of a Xanga journal, or the next logical step after some hot AOL Chatroom action? Do you start the webcam session by asking, "18/f/NY wanna cyber?" But also I am 86, so what do I know. Have fun on your webcams kids.

Oh, but. Obviously, this isn't a one-way exploitation street – it's not just western men (or just men generally) who are consuming internet porn, and it's not just south-east Asian and eastern European women who are in porn. But western men do account for a disproportionate amount of online porn consumption. And they're consuming porn that is produced at bargain-basement prices by women who have significantly less financial autonomy than many American and western European women. At the same time, there's plenty of porn out there that involves American and western European women, or actresses who have greater bargaining power and are paid much higher wages. I wonder how much of the thrill, for some men, involves the potential for exploitation – the power that comes from being able to pay a woman to do something for you, on your terms, that she might not do if she had a broader range of options.

That isn't to say that women only do porn because they don't have options – I'm hesitant to write about this stuff because there are such established feminist camps here, and the conversations tend to recycle the same old arguments. So I'm not saying that women always go into porn out of desperation; I'm not saying that women in porn are always victims; I'm not saying that choosing to go into porn when it pays you $15 an hour and that's way more than you'd be getting paid elsewhere is in any way an irrational choice.

I am saying that I've walked down the street in Phnom Penh and seen tons of white American and European men negotiating with Cambodian men for the sexual services of Cambodian women, often minors; I've seen my male travel companion offered "whatever you want – girl, boy, how old? 15? 14? 13? 12?"; I've seen women trailing a few feet behind solo white dudes, the dude not even looking at her. Seeing that, I have never in my life had such a visceral, ragey reaction to strangers; I have never shot so many filthy looks at men I don't know; I had never before seriously thought to myself, "I fucking HATE men." Until I saw all those white men in Cambodia.

I don't think sex work is wrong. I am certainly not under the impression that every woman in a lower-income country is doing sex work out of pure desperation, or doesn't want to be doing what she's doing. I don't think every dude who has ever gone to a strip club or paid for sex is an irredeemable shithole. I do think men who get off not just on sex but on exploitation are irredeemable shitholes, though. And yeah, they should have a legal right to access porn and to pay for sex (with people who are above the age of consent). But I still think they're shitholes for going to an economically struggling and spiritually wounded country so they can have sex with people who they believe have less of an ability to say no.

So there are nuances here, is my point – and there are ways that men in particular consume porn and consume sex that, even if you're pro-sex-work and sex-positive and have no desire to outlaw pornography, still merit the same kind of good hard look we cast on other pieces of popular culture. The behaviour of men deserves serious scrutiny when we're talking about industries that are built largely to cater to their desires. Supporting the rights of workers and making efforts to de-stigmatise sex work doesn't have to be at odds with recognising that porn and other sex industries will of course replay and often magnify gender, racial and other inequalities; given that those industries are less in the mainstream eye and are categorised as vices, it's not surprising that some of the worst gender, racial and national arrogances can come into pretty clear view.

So with that said, what seems to be the draw here is the power aspect, not the "hey naked girls" aspect. And it's awfully hard to divorce the power aspect from race, country and economic conditions. There's a reason so many men go to Cambodia for sex tourism rather than spending that money on a well-paid sex worker in their home countries (and it's not because it's cheaper, even if the particular sex act might be). There's a reason that in a sea of free porn, so many men are drawn to a website where they (a) get to tell the women what to actually do, and (b) can very easily be under the impression that the women on the site are there out of financial necessity.

That is disappointing, to say the least. Not because we don't outsource all kind of other shit and exploit folks in developing countries in far more destructive ways – we totally do that. But there's an arms' length relationship when you buy shoes that were made in Indonesia that goes away when you're paying for sex. And also, sex isn't shoes. That isn't to say that paying for sex is always bad, but it is to say that in my ideal world, sex should be mutually pleasurable and consensual. Paying doesn't necessarily remove pleasure or consent from the person being paid. But if you're seeking out a sex worker who has the least economic opportunity possible, I have to wonder if part of the draw for you is the fact that you have power over the person you're paying in innumerable ways, and they're less able to negotiate.

And that is sad, because sex where both people want to be there is great. And pictures of naked people or naked people putting their parts in or around each other can be pretty great too. But when the most popular porn site on the planet isn't "here are people fucking in all kinds of cool/weird/freaky/fun/beautiful/ugly/confusing/terrifying/ohmygodwhatisTHAT?! ways" but instead "here are underpaid women, some of whom are teenagers, performing according to male orders", we have a problem.

Porn isn't the same thing as real-life person-to-person sex, but of course it is a reflection of our cultural values and beliefs around sex; our culture also shifts according to what gets mainstreamed in porn (see, eg the cumshot and the Brazilian bikini wax). I'm not saying that's always a bad thing. I am saying it's a troubling thing when so many men prefer a "do sex for me" dynamic.

And then there's this:

Porn tourism, interesting. How about search queries? Is this a broader trend?

In our search data from English-speaking searchers (mainly Americans, Canadians, and British), blacks are the most popular ethnicity, followed by Asians, with no other ethnicity in the top 100 most popular sexual searches. I say "blacks" rather than African-American because "black" is the term people always use in their searches. Blacks and Asians also have the most porn sites devoted to them, though Latino sites are also well-represented.

We also looked at searches on PornHub, where the most popular ethnic searches are quite different: PornHub features an international audience, including non-English speakers. The most searched for ethnicities, in decreasing popularity, are: (1) Indian, (2) German, (3) French, (4) Japanese, (5) Russian, (6) Black, (7) Italian, (8) Arab.

It's hard to draw conclusions from this since we don't know the geographic regions of the audience who are searching for each of these ethnicities, though a good guess is that Indian men are searching for Indian women.

But it's worth observing that PornHub offers three specific ethnic porn categories: Asian, Ebony, Latina. This suggests that PornHub believes these are the most popular ethnicities across all of their western audiences – western because PornHub doesn't generate much revenue from their non-western audiences so don't try to cater to their tastes.

It also means that Asian women, Latina women and "Ebony" women are categorised in the same way that certain sex acts or fetishes like blowjobs or feet might be. White women are standard.

And duh, a lot of porn is racist as hell. Not news! But the porn outsourcing was, in fact, news to me. And feminist critiques of gender, racial and national origin dynamics in porn without being anti-porn as a whole is, unfortunately, a little lacking. So I'd appreciate it if we could keep the comments on that topic, rather than getting into the super-tired "porn is always bad!" or "you have no right to judge!" back and forth.

Porn is not bad, but we sure as shit can judge the parts that are. Let's start there.

Jill Filipovic is a lawyer in Manhattan who formerly served as the Gender and Reproductive Justice editor at AlterNet. More of her writing is available online at her blog, Feministe.
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