Why Self-Regulation Can’t Fix Pornhub (or the Pornography Industry)

Following up on announcements it made in December 2020, Pornhub has provided more details about how it intends to “address” abuse on its platform. By trotting out a list of proposed “improvements” using buzzwords such as “biometric user verification,” “improved moderation,” and “transparency reports,” the MindGeek-owned website is hoping that its proposed pornography regulation tactics will redirect attention away from a fact it is unable change: Pornhub and the entire pornography industry it is a part of are inherently designed to profit from marginalization, abuse, and exploitation.

MindGeek’s business model—which is a (massive) subset of the pornography industry’s business—is predicated on harming performers. They cannot make money unless performers are harmed. No amount of “self-regulation” is going to be able to magically “fix” the racism, misogyny, and violence inherent to the production of pornography.

It’s a basic economic principle. All businesses operate according to the relationship between demand and supply. The commercial sex industry and its myriad players are no different.

The demand that the pornography industry supplies requires a product designed to feed depersonalized and dehumanized sexual appetites. Because there are not enough willing participants (“supply”) to satisfy the demand, Pornhub and the pornography industry at large resort to exploitative means—rape, abuse, trafficking, and more—for procuring the “supply” needed to feed the demand.

No amount of self-regulation is going to be able to magically fix the racism, misogyny, and violence inherent to the production of pornography. Click To Tweet

Contrary to the narrative that Pornhub would have the public believe about these abuses being isolated to “unverified” users and entities, sexual abuse and exploitation have long come standard in the making of “verified” and “studio-produced” material. The very material the pornography industry produces is based on depersonalization and dehumanization of its supply sources (a.k.a. human beings), so why would it bat an eye at the use of force, fraud, and coercion for acquiring “verification” and “consent” from those sources?

The problems are not just theoretical. There are many real-world examples that highlight 1) how pervasive the problems of sexual abuse and exploitation are in the pornography industry and 2) how impossible it is for those harms to ever be regulated away.

Example 1: Pornography’s role in the global explosion of child sexual abuse material

No one should need a primer on how horrific and destructive child sexual abuse material is, but many people are in the dark when it comes to understanding just how pervasive it has become.

NGOs and law enforcement have been sounding the alarm on the proliferation of child sexual abuse material for years but, even after groundbreaking reporting from the New York Times helped surface the reality that reports of online child sexual abuse material are growing exponentially (there were 18.4 million reports in 2018 alone), the problem is still widely underreported and misunderstood.

No human being is physically or mentally capable of being able to handle the task of moderating abusive sexual content on a regular basis—let alone when that involves child sexual abuse material. But, beyond that, to pretend that “improved moderation”—or any of Pornhub’s proposed “improvements” for that matter—are any sort of solution in light of our world’s child sexual abuse crisis is to completely ignore the research-backed links between pornography and child sexual abuse.

Minimalist iconographic rendering of an adult male filming two children as a statement against child sexual abuse
The Research-backed Links Between Pornography and Child Sexual Abuse

Example 2: The rampant misogyny and racism in pornography

Something to ponder: can any of Pornhub’s announced updates address the pornography industry’s long-held predilection for producing racist and misogynistic material?

Pornography fosters aggression by normalizing and depicting verbal and physical violence as enjoyable. Research has shown that aggressive acts against women in pornography occur in roughly 87% of the scenes and, 95% of the time when these acts are committed, women respond with expressions of pleasure or neutrality. A BBC study of men aged 18 to 39 found that 70% of them had engaged in violence during sex and half of them said they were influenced by pornography. Promoting the idea that a man hitting or injuring a woman can be a feminist act blurs the lines in a way that can endanger all women and girls. Sexualizing violence isn’t a tactic for flipping the script on, reducing, or condemning violence against women—it’s a tactic for justifying it.

Feminism is a concept with content – it’s a political commitment to women’s equality in the face of male dominance. That’s what it is. No one can slap the feminist label onto a misogynist practice and magically change the nature of that practice.

These abuses cannot and will not ever be solved by the pornography industry because history has proven time and again that racism and misogyny are inextricable from sexual exploitation. Click To Tweet

Furthermore, the pornography industry traffics in racist themes, including but not limited to racial stereotypes and verbal abuse directed at Black women, on top of the violence that is already present in pornography.

There is no form of degradation, humiliation, torture, or abuse that pornography hasn’t attempted to sexualize and racism is no exception. In the days following the terrible police-perpetrated murder of George Floyd, Pornhub hosted and monetized George Floyd and police-brutality-themed pornography. Pornhub also has Holocaust pornography and slavery role play targeting Black women.

These problems can’t and won’t ever be solved by the pornography industry because history has proven time and again that racism and misogyny are inextricable from sexual exploitation.

Pornhub equals Racismhub
Pornhub’s Darkly Ironic Claims About Racism and Social Injustice

Example 3: The use of sex trafficking for the production of pornography

GirlsDoPorn was a popular and verified partner channel on Pornhub. It was a production company that had documentation of verification and consent for its “performers.” Yet behind the documentation loomed an operation that used abusive and exploitative tactics to acquire the “verification” and “consent” it needed to profit from the supply of women it abused.

Elsewhere, in a case that represents the tip of the exploitative iceberg in this regard, one Cissy Steele manipulated and exploited Jane Doe in order to traffic her to multiple “legitimate” pornography production companies—including Diabolic Video Productions, Black Ice Ltd., Zero Tolerance Entertainment, Third Degree Films, and Elegant Angel, Inc.—for the creation of pornographic material they then distributed and profited from online.

And then, as if all of the above isn’t enough to punctuate the point, there’s the historical and ongoing scourge of cyber-sex trafficking inherent to the quote-unquote “independent” webcamming section of the pornography industry to consider.

Regulations requiring verification and consent have long failed to prevent pornography producers from using force, fraud, and coercion to obtain quote-unquote verification and consent. Click To Tweet

These examples beg an important question: how could something like Pornhub’s announced “biometric user verification,” which amounts to asking for a recent picture and a government-accepted identification document of some kind, prevent abuse from occurring in the production of material for the Pornhub Model Program when similar legal measures have been unable to prevent the abuse and exploitation perpetrated in the production of material by pornography studios that are already bound to more regulation of a similar nature?

The reality is that regulations requiring “verification” and “consent” have long failed to prevent pornography producers from using force, fraud, and coercion to obtain “verification” and “consent.”

Blurred image of a person sitting on a bed representing the federal charges against Girls Do Porn for trafficking
GirlsDoPorn’s Exploitation and Trafficking Are Not an Anomaly in the Porn Industry

Performers are trafficked into commercial sex industries at young ages. Drugs and alcohol are used to coerce and sedate performers. Abuse, both physical and sexual, happens on and off set. Studies and research have found that pornography performers have a “high burden” of sexually transmitted disease, that female pornography performers have significantly worse mental health than other women their age, and that performers experience physical trauma on set and often leave the industry with financial insecurity, mental health problems, and health risks that aren’t limited to sexually transmitted diseases.

Attempting to apply regulations to the pornography industry is tantamount to trying to apply a Band-Aid to a firehose.

Pornography content moderation is an impossible and traumatizing task. Transparency reports for pornography websites are functionally meaningless when there is virtually zero accountability for abuse and exploitation in the production pipeline. Requirements for documentation have proven wildly ineffective at preventing abuse and exploitation. It’s well past time to face the facts: no amount of self-regulation will ever be able to address the core issues of misogyny, abuse, and exploitation that animate and pervade the commercial sex industry at large.

When will the world finally understand that it cannot regulate away the harms of pornography?

When will the world realize that abolition is the answer?

No amount of self-regulation will ever be able to address the core issues of misogyny, abuse, and exploitation that animate and pervade the commercial sex industry. Click To Tweet

At the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, our work is premised on Abolitionist principles. This means we:

  1. view the commodification of people for sex as inherently harmful,
  2. support laws which seek to decrease and ultimately end demand by strongly penalizing those who pay to use the bodies of other people for sex,
  3. work to create robust services for those seeking freedom from organized systems of sexual exploitation,
  4. prevent sexual exploitation by opposing policies and reforming systems which facilitate harm, and
  5. support legal reforms that decriminalize victimization.

If we are to build a world free from sexual abuse and exploitation, we as a society have to take the role of the pornography industry seriously. Opposing pornography isn’t a moral position. It’s a social justice position. It’s a human rights position.

You can be a crucial part of building that better world by filling out the following easy-to-use action form below in order to send emails directly to executives at major payment processing companies that currently work with Pornhub and other exploitative entities.

Contact Executives at Payment Processing Companies and Urge Them to Stop Working with Pornhub

The Numbers


NCOSE leads the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation with over 300 member organizations.


The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has had over 100 policy victories since 2010. Each victory promotes human dignity above exploitation.


NCOSE’s activism campaigns and victories have made headlines around the globe. Averaging 93 mentions per week by media outlets and shows such as Today, CNN, The New York Times, BBC News, USA Today, Fox News and more.



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