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Netflix’s Pornhub documentary glosses over one major thing: the fetishisation of childlike bodies

While ‘Money Shot’ reveals how Pornhub attempted to eradicate child pornography from the site, writes Ellie Muir, it skims over the worrying fact that many porn narratives are built on the omission of consent and the sexualisation of children

Saturday 18 March 2023 14:35 GMT
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(Netflix)

There are many troubling facts laid bare in Netflix’s new documentary, Money Shot: The Pornhub Story. The Canadian-owned porn site has been embroiled in numerous controversies since its creation in 2007. But the documentary seems to wash over one glaring, indisputable, worrying truth: that childlike bodies have a huge appeal among porn consumers. Pornhub, in catering to these demands, has had a hand in the fetishisation of infantilised bodies.

“Young”, “teen” and “school girl” are all popular search terms on the site. Hit enter on this query, and you’ll see women of an indeterminate age wearing knee-high socks, low-buttoned shirts and short, checkered, pleated skirts.

The school-girl trope is everywhere. In sex shops, raunchy school uniforms are sold as costumes. Amazon sells thousands of versions of them online and Britney Spears wore one in her most famous music video. In mainstream porn, the idea of a virgin girl being yanked into intimacy with an older man is sold as a titillating scenario. Here’s a sample set from Pornhub: “Daddy chases school girl in the mall and f***s her in the toilet”; “Redhead school girl f***s her favourite teacher”; “I f***ed a school girl while she was doing homework”.

These videos detail the classic school skirt riding up to reveal bare buttocks, which is a ubiquitous image in internet pornography. The performers’ bodies are hairless. And perhaps their breasts are smaller or appear to look underdeveloped, giving the impression that they could be a child. In short, these narratives fetishise the idea of underage sex (which is therefore rape, since those younger than 16 in the UK cannot provide consent).

In Netflix’s documentary – which interviews sex workers, porn industry professionals and anti-porn “morality” campaigners – filmmakers explain that when Pornhub launched in 2007, its user policies allowed anyone to upload or download any type of video to and from the site. They find that MindGeek, the tech company that owns Pornhub, had employed only 30 moderators to check the site’s unregulated content. Those employees had to view 800,000 videos per shift. Inevitably, with that kind of gruelling task and heavy workload, thousands of videos that displayed illegal content, such as sex trafficking and child pornography, slipped through the net and could be downloaded by anyone on the internet.

This remained the case until 2020, when evidence that there was child porn on the site prompted Visa and Mastercard to suspend card payments for advertising on Pornhub and its parent company MindGeek in December of that year. In the same month, Pornhub responded to outcries from campaigners by removing thousands of unauthorised videos and enforcing an identity verification system for users uploading content.

The changing of Pornhub’s verification policies was meant to remove child pornography from the site. But the sexualisation of child-like bodies rages on three years later.

Pornhub cannot, of course, be solely responsible for a genre of porn. But in catering a buffet of sexual options, it has played its part in categorising a plethora of our fantasies, kinks and fetishes since its creation in 2007. It has hundreds of categories for users to pinpoint exactly what they want to watch. For example, “hentai” porn (animated characters often with exaggerated sexual features), “furry” (anthropomorphic animal characters) and “creampie” (lots of semen, everywhere) were three of the most popular Pornhub categories last year. These are a few examples of the niches that Pornhub has been involved in categorising and naming, alongside the “school-girl” niche.

The difficulty with calling a porn category problematic is that people are, of course, entitled to their sexual preferences. And sex workers are allowed to cater to this demand. It is especially tricky in cases where a young-looking woman in a video is indeed a sex worker above the age of 18 – not a child. But I’d argue that porn narratives that use fictional, animated cats as the protagonists are a lot less harmful than those that involve a hypothetical child being lured in by an adult man. Ultimately and quite unsettlingly, the demand and supply for these videos continues to normalise the sexualisation of what would theoretically be rape, if the subject was actually underage.

‘The changing of Pornhub’s verification policies was meant to remove child pornography from the site. But the sexualisation of child-like bodies rages on three years later’ (Netflix)

Those who believe the “sexy school-girl” trope to be nothing more than a fantasy or a nostalgia hit should look at the effect this has on real-life school girls. Research has found that one in 10 girls have been catcalled before their eleventh birthday (I was wearing my frumpy school uniform the first time it happened to me). On average, the majority of the catcalling a girl will experience is between the ages of 11 and 17. Women over the age of 40, by comparison, report getting catcalled significantly less.

As conversations around consent evolve and improve, it seems that porn and the sites that host it, are not catching up. The narrative of “sexy school girl” porn videos are built on the idea of a power imbalance and the omission of basic consent. It’s not something we should just sit back and accept as a harmless fantasy.

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