All About The PORN

It’s like the internet is growing up a bit. There’s certainly enough porn to justify .XXX, if .biz gets its own extension.

But the arrival of .XXX begs the question:

How much of the internet is actually for porn?

PlugthequestionintoGoogle and you reach an abandoned corner of the net: an article from 2005, a mess of answers from 37-80% and the Avenue Q Wikipedia page.

Surely there must be a better way.

So I asked Ogi Ogas, one of the amazingly nerdy neuroscientists behind A Billion Wicked Thoughts, who says he and co-author Sai Gaddam are sitting on what they think is “the most comprehensive collection of porn-use stats on the web.”

(At least, till they stopped counting  last July. Now they’re busy with their book tour.)

So Ogi: How much of the Internet is actually for porn?

There are a couple ways of thinking about the proportion of the Internet that is porn:

●      In 2010, out of the million most popular (most trafficked) websites in the world, 42,337 were sex-related sites. That’s about 4% of sites.

●      From July 2009 to July 2010, about 13% of Web searches were for erotic content.
Both of these are from our research in Billion Wicked Thoughts. We consider our data the best available. It’s an impossible task to say exactly what % of *ALL* websites are pornographic or anything else, because the web is both so enormous and so dynamic; looking at the million most popular sites is a very reasonable sample.

You could also look at the number of “adult sites” that are blocked by various parental filtering software programs–for example, CYBERsitter claims to block 2.5 million adult Web sites–though it’s not clear how they’re deciding a site is an adult site; the sites may not necessarily be sexual sites, and they may be exaggerating their numbers.

Only 4% of the top million websites? That feels… underwhelming. I was thinking at least half.

There have been a bunch of false and ultimately mythic stats floating around for years that say half the Internet is porn or one third of the Internet is porn, though this has never been remotely true.

In the early days of the Web, when the vast majority of users were guys, there was a much greater proportion of searches for porn–I think in 1999 that 4 or 5 of the top 10 searches on the Web were for porn–though the % of websites that were porn may actually have been lower than today.

Web filtering companies used to always release competing figures on the number of porn sites they blocked, but these numbers were almost certainly boosted to get sensationalist headlines  and to seem competitive with other filtering companies that filtered “less” adult sites. For example, N2H2 claimed there were 260 millionpornsites (ed. correction: pages) –haha, one for every American citizen! 🙂 Conservative groups are always coming up with porn figures that are crazy high, too, especially with regard to children’s exposure to porn.

You and Sai Gaddam are sitting on arguably the largest collection of porn data in the history of mankind.  Was this the first burning question on your minds?

This was one of the first questions we tackled while working on Billion Wicked Thoughts. We did our best to locate every previous measure and quickly realized that most available stats were completely fabricated or bogus.

The only systematic scientific attempt to determine how much of the Web was porn was Berkeley professor of statistics Philip Stark’s 2006 study carried out at the behest of the US Department of Justice under Bush.

Stark found that about 6% of searches were for sexual content – he must have used crazy stringent definitions of “sexual content” because all the numbers we found in our own data sets was higher. Stark also found that about 1.5% of all web sites were porn sites. We took issue with his method of random sampling sites; we looked at the million most popular websites in the world, since we figured that would give a more realistic indication of a random person’s experience on the Internet.

So how do you go about measuring how much of the internet is for porn?

I think the two best metrics for analyzing the level of human interest in sex on the Internet is: (1) how often do people freely search for it and (2) what amount of web traffic goes to porn sites.

The best way to evaluate (1) is by counting porn searches on Internet search engines; the numbers are usually from 10-15% these days (higher as you go back in time to more men and less women online).

The best way to evaluate (2) is by looking at the number of sites out of the million most highly trafficked websites and seeing how many are porn sites (about 4% according to us, higher than Philip Stark’s random-sample 1.5%).

You could even count the monthly traffic to all of these porn sites, which I admit we didn’t do, though it would be pretty straightforward. In our book we have a table of porn traffic to the five most popular porn sites, varying from about 7 million to 16 million visitors a month.

What about porn downloads? Isn’t that a lot to account for?

The only reliable source I know of that can measure “porn downloads” is Nielsen, but I’m not sure how they measure this. We actually spent some time trying to get Nielsen to share data with us, but they never did, so I have to be skeptical of their calculations. I’m sure they’re not considering torrents or other P2P sources of downloads.

I also don’t know how they’re categorizing porn. Also, now that video streaming is so widespread, I’m sure the percentage of downloads that are porn is lower.

.XXX domains go on sale today. Will the number sold tell us how much of the internet is for porn?

Probably not. All the online porn webmasters I know don’t like the .XXX domain, since they think it will be too easy for ISPs and other network administrators to block them. On the other hand, I suspect many porn operators might simply use two (or many more) domain names, including a .com and a .XXX. But there’s also tons of erotic sites run by amateurs, not for profit, and they probably won’t feel any compulsion to switch to .XXX.

But they could establish some sort of minimum?

Yes, the number of .XXX sites will certainly place a lower limit on the number of porn sites on the Web. I bet we’ll see many articles about online porn start with something like, “There are over 200,000 .XXX sites on the Web,” giving an artificially low sense of the total amount of porn because of the ease of calculating that statistic.

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.

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.

Any idea how big the porn industry is in dollars?

There’s no knowing how much money goes into the porn industry. You should treat any such statistic about how much money is spent on online porn as bogus and completely unreliable. We spent effort on this in the early going, but you quickly see that the vast majority of porn operators are small (1-10 employees) who hide or cook their books.

The big companies report earnings, but talking with industry professionals suggests there’s all kinds of financial shenanigans going on even with the big ones. (Maybe not Playboy or Penthouse…) There’s no clearinghouse of information on adult companies, so any estimate of the online porn market is going to contain wild extrapolations.

A $3 billion online porn industry in the USA? I don’t think so. PornHub, the most popular online porn video site, has 16 million viewers a month, but they’re still no DreamWorks. Where’s all the millionaires?

Last question. Does anyone still pay for porn?

Utah may have the highest per-capita porn subscribing rate. I’ve heard from different adult operators that the Republican states have higher per-capita subscription rates. Meaning, they’re more likely to pay money—they don’t know about free porn viewing.

Read my rundown on Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam’s A Billion Wicked Thoughts in The Internet is for Porn (So Let’s Talk About It) for




Robert’s View

Summary Facts about Porn:
●  13% of Web searches were for erotic content.
●  CYBERsitter claims to block 2.5 million adult Web sites.
●  All the online porn webmasters I know don’t like the .XXX domain, since they think it will be too easy for ISPs and other network administrators to block them.
●  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!
●  PornHub, the most popular online porn video site, has 16 million viewers a month, but they’re still no DreamWorks. Where’s all the millionaires?
●  Utah may have the highest per-capita porn subscribing rate.

Pornhub-wannabes and Porn Start-ups are not Chaen’s Angels VC favorite as it hardly makes any profit.

Read more about Chaen’s Angels VC and which Business Industry LEAST Interested by CAVC Investors >>