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Pornhub’s 2017 year in review: What relationships and sex educators can learn from the data

Pornhub, the world’s largest porn site, reports that in 2017 the globally most searched for term was ‘lesbian’. Their annual statistics show that what some educators might consider fringe sexual interests are now very popular online. In particular, Japanese animated pornography (called Hentai) and family related terms such as ‘step mom‘, and ’step sister‘ all appear above more traditional expected pornographic terms such as ‘massage’, ‘threesome’ and ‘cheerleader’.

This does not mean that relationships and sex educators need to completely change their materials about the potential impact of consuming pornography. Instead, we must be ready to respond to what may seem like unusual questions. Being asked about tentacles (see below), bondage or incest laws may not always be intended to create a reaction, or get a laugh, but a genuine curiosity or concern created by online pornography.

Operating in a similar fashion to YouTube, anyone can upload video pornography to the Pornhub website. The videos are free to view and users do not have to sign up to the service to gain access (but they are encouraged to sign up to leave comments etc.). The website says all users must be over 18 to use the site but it does not make any checks to ensure this is adhered to; it would be easy for someone under 18 to view pornography on the website. From acet UK’s work in schools we know it is a website many young people are aware of.

For over 5 years, Pornhub has been regularly releasing statistics and data about their pornographic video sharing website, which is the largest in the world. In 2017, it reports receiving 81 million average daily visits. By comparison, Facebook has an estimated average 97 million daily visits, but Wikipedia is about half the size at around 44 million, and has only about 3.5 million daily visits (footnote 1).  So, whilst many consumers of pornography might use other sites, the huge amount of traffic this website receives means the data generated represents a significant percentage of online porn users and therefore provides a useful window into pornographic trends and details.

A key section for educators in the data is the reports of what people are searching for. The pornographic content uploaded onto this website is wide ranging and diverse in style and content. The variety and complexity of niches mean that browsing through categories does not seem to be the preferred method of accessing videos. Instead people search the website to find the specific content they want to view. The words searched for are a good way to gain an understanding into what themes people want to see in pornography and, beyond that, may also point towards people’s sexual interests in general.

It is important to recognise that people may choose to watch a sexual act that they themselves would never want to participate in personally. However, a number of studies report that consumption of themes through pornography does impact consumers attitudes, desires and behaviour. For example, adolescents who watch pornography, including male to female anal sex, are more likely to report having heterosexual anal sex (footnote 2).

Looking at the data reveals some interesting but irrelevant facts such as the UK site traffic dropping by 3% during the Great British Bake Off finale. However, there seems to be some key things relationships and sex educators could learn from the most popular terms. The global top 5 search terms of 2017 on Pornhub were

  1. Lesbian
  2. Hentai
  3. Milf
  4. Step mom
  5. Step sister

‘Lesbian’ is number one partially because it is the clear favourite of the 26% of website visitors who identify as female. By comparison, ‘lesbian’ is only the 7th most popular search term for visitors who identify as male. Some anecdotal reports suggest many heterosexual women are viewing lesbian pornography as they find its style gentler than most heterosexual pornography (footnote 3). As relationships and sex educators, we need to be aware that young people may have questions about a range of sexual practices they may come across online and this could be out of curiosity rather than their personal desires.  

‘Hentai’ is a term that may not be familiar to every relationships and sex educator but it is a growing area of interest in online pornography, holding the second spot in global search rankings. This article defines Hentai as ‘a subgenre of the Japanese cartoons, containing overtly sexualized characters and sexually explicit images’. Hentai has been gaining in popularity over the last few years and jumped up 6 spaces in the global ranks in 2017. One feature of any cartoon, or animated pornography, is the possibility of showing physically impossible, damaging or illegal (on film) sexual practices.

Hentai often tends towards the strange and the bizarre with tentacle creatures interacting with human bodies being a common theme. The popularity of this once rare pornographic material may be the root of some of the stranger and more obscure sexual questions asked by young people, for example “What would happen if you had sex with a dolphin?”. Along with breaking down the data by country and gender, the report also breaks down the data into age brackets. It may be very significant for relationships and sex educators that the Hentai category is viewed by 18-24 year olds (the youngest age group reported on) 65% more than the older age categories.

‘Milf’ is another term that may not be common to everyone; it was created in the 1990s and popularised by the film American Pie. Milf is an acronym for ‘Mother I’d Like to F*ck’. In contemporary pornography, it is often used as a shorthand phrase for older female porn performers. The search term is number one for website users over 45 years old, but it is popular across generations, remaining in the top 4 for all age groups. As ‘milf’ has grown in popularity, the search term ‘teen’ has dropped. At one stage ‘teen’ was the global number one, but in 2017 has dropped down to 7th position. In the UK, ‘teen’ does not even make it into the top 12 search terms.

‘Step mom’ and ‘step sister’ sit at number 4 and 5 on the global search terms list. The rise of family related terms over the last few years is a worrying trend. Many pornographic productions push cultural taboos in an attempt to gain attention in the competitive market. The sexualisation of people living under the same roof in family units has significant potential for harm. With home life and family relationships being potential routes for strong emotional support for young people, it could be very confusing to have this undermined with sexualised messages from pornographic media. Relationships and sex educators need to have conversations with young people about safeguarding issues and help them to identify sexual activity that constitutes abuse, with clear guidance on how to access further support if concerns are raised

Although we may be shocked and concerned by some of the trends in porn we need to accept that the sexual messages young people are exposed to online in the 21st century are different from the mainstream sexual media of the past. If young people have questions, we should be ready to respond with clarity and compassion. As young people try to make sense of confusing and sometimes contradicting messages about love, intimacy and pleasure they need adults ready and able to help them dismiss media myths, challenge negative ideas presented by porn, get support if they have been disturbed or alarmed by something they have viewed, and develop healthy views on relationships and sex.  


If your organisation is interested in receiving bespoke training on how to talk to young people about porn, do contact us here. Or you may want to check out our full 4 day relationships and sex education training programme. Click here to see our upcoming in London and Chester.



1) Website daily visits statistics are from

2) Flood, M (2009) The Harms of Pornography Exposure Among Children and Young People, Child Abuse Review Vol. 18: 384–400

3) Pearson, C. (2015) Why So Many Straight Women Watch Lesbian Porn