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What can we learn from Pornhub’s sexual wellness centre?

Let’s talk about sex, baby – and consent, STIs, intimate relationship issues, masturbation practices and anatomy

Pornhub’s pretty good to its users. They funded scholarships, sponsored a clothing line fighting domestic violence and started a banging record label. Plus, lonely hearts (and hands) across the world were appeased when on Valentine’s Day, the biggest adult entertainment site in the world made premium content free. Now, the porn giant’s turning its attention to the sexual health of users across the globe by launching a new digital sexual wellness centre.

Sex and relationship education is notoriously shit just about everywhere: whether you’re a 15-year-old girl getting told by your RE teacher in ‘Education For Love’ that abortion leads to breast cancer, a 22-year-old virgin scouring forums for People Like You (of which there are many, trust) or a closeted 16-year-old drowning in heteronormativity. It’s despicable that young people continue to be taught in abstinence-only programmes, in places where even mentioning gay sex is banned and consent isn’t elevated as the issue it should be. It leads to unrealistic expectations of sex, body image issues, unsafe practices, pregnancy, STIs: it goes on. And though Pornhub is over-18s only (heh), these issues seep into adulthood. So why not harness a platform that has access to 70 million users a day?

The venture taps Dr Laurie Betito, a renowned sex therapist and psychologist, with a goal to provide Pornhub users with science-based, insightful information on everything they need to know about sex in one place. At present, there’s two major categories – Get Healthy and Sexuality – with hopes to expand as questions come in from users. Get Healthy delves into everything from female and male anatomy, to STIs, reproductive health and issues surrounding transgender people. Sexuality covers relationships and ‘real talk’, looking at aspects of intimacy and the all important one: consent.

We speak to Dr Laurie Betito about the new Pornhub platform, a digital off-shoot of the entertainment giant doing more for our sexual health that our governments and schools.

How did this project first come about?

Dr Laurie Betito: Pornhub had an idea, and wanted to do something to talk about sexual wellness. We had someone in common who put us together, and it was something that I'd wanted to do, not necessarily on a porn site, but the opportunity came up. I had an idea of going bigger with sexual education and the two ideas came together, and then we developed the site.  

Who are you hoping to reach?

Dr Laurie Betito: The main goal is to be people who are already going onto the porn site. It’s meant for the people that are already there so they have a place to go, where they have quality sexual health information. All our contributors and myself are all experts in the field. There’s scientists, doctors, therapists, coaches and addiction specialists all contributing to the site. We hope people will be on there, detour somewhere and end up on our site.

How interactive will it be?

Dr Laurie Betito: Interactive in the sense that people can send in their questions yes, and maybe their questions will give us ideas of the kind of things that are most commonly asked and then we'll write about that. At some point, we'll do some video interactive stuff where I will be answering questions live. 

What kind of topics are you looking to cover initially? And how inclusive will it be?

Dr Laurie Betito: We have sections on sexually transmitted infections, we have the basics on physiology – we go from the very basic to the more complex. We'll be talking about LGBTQ topics, we have alternative lifestyles topics, and I'll be talking about loads of different sexual dysfunctions, addictions and compulsive sexuality. We'll also explore love and dating issues, and questions people have about things like casual sex. All of it will be science based.

Hopefully everybody will get something out of it. We have writers who will be writing on gay sex and trans issues for example, and the particular issues facing the gay community.

Why is Pornhub the right platform for sex education?

Dr Laurie Betito: It's not that it's the platform for sex education; we're not drawing people to Pornhub to get sex education, we want to draw the people who are in Pornhub to get better educated. It's the right platform because it has 70 million visitors a day! It's the biggest platform that exists to disseminate information. It’s a great opportunity to reach as many people as possible with good information.

“You can teach them as much you like about no sex before marriage, but the reality is that in the places of the world that teach abstinence only, there is a higher rate of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections”

Why do people turn to porn more and more when they’ve questions about sex?

Dr Laurie Betito: I think some of the questions I’m getting from worldwide can be really basic. There’s lot of stuff missing. I think much of the sex education is focused on pregnancy prevention and sexually transmitted infections, but people want to know more than that. People want to have discussions on everything from masturbation to pornography use, to consent and healthy relationships, and all these things are missing in most curriculums. It needs to go further. This is what I'm hearing just based on the questions that I'm getting. We’ve got to get young people to critically think about what they're looking at too.

Even though our site is not made for teenagers but for adults, we know that teenagers also use pornography to get some of their sex education, and it’s not a balanced view. They can learn some things but they certainly can’t learn everything about healthy sexuality from porn. We wanted to offer a site where they could go to for quality information, otherwise, there is no distinction between the fantasy and the reality. 

I suppose it varies so much worldwide – some places are going to have more abstinence-based sex ed when religion comes into play for example. 

Dr Laurie Betito: And yet you still go to porn! You can teach them as much you like about no sex before marriage, but the reality is that in the places of the world that teach abstinence only, there is a higher rate of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. It’s not working, so people turn to the only source they have which is pornography. Hopefully people can now come to us.

What do you think is the most concerning thing that arises from a lack of sex education? 

Dr Laurie Betito: A lot of anxieties around sexuality, and a lot of young people think they're not normal, so they live with a lot of worries. I can't tell you how many times I hear from people that for years have thought they are not normal because of this or that. It blocks people from thinking even in a healthy fashion of sexuality. I also think people need all the information to make responsible choices for themselves, whether you want to engage or choose not to, which I’m all for. If you choose not to, then good for you, it doesn't make you abnormal either. People are worried about still being virgins at 20. It’s too bad that people live with such anxieties surrounding sexuality. Too many people are having sex without condoms as well.

Some topics may seem basic to some also, but they’re a completely other world to others.

Dr Laurie Betito: Many, yes. It's such a taboo thing to talk about openly. I'm getting a lot of messages from men who are concerned even about the way their penis looks, and its functionality. They don't even go to their doctors who they should be asking. They need an anonymous forum, but people are finding it difficult to find the right sources. Now obviously it’s very difficult when we’re getting hundreds of questions to answer every one of them. We’re trying to group them together and make it easier for people to find something related to their questions, whether it be erectile dysfunction or infertility. 

What are the most popular things you get asked?

Dr Laurie Betito: A lot of questions come in about masturbation practices; people concerned that they’re doing it too often, not enough, too hard, that it’s affecting them somehow, and they don’t know because they’re afraid. They don’t know because many people have been told that masturbation is a sin and is bad for you. I also get a lot of questions about relationships and desire. Plus, a lot of penis things, a lot of foreskin questions and ejaculation questions. I’m getting a lot of questions about STIs, attraction, desire, sexual orientation, identity. It runs the range.