What Pornhub’s Most Searched Terms tell us about our sex lives

From incest to Rick & Morty parody porn, writer Rebecca Rhys-Evans investigates how culture creates trends in pornography.



Pornography, porn, hard-core, soft-core, smut, filth, adult material, explicit content – whatever you want to call it, we know you’re watching it. Pornhub has released its Most Searched Terms of last year and the jury is out. The weird and wonderful genres of your favourite pornos have been ranked in popularity and some of the results may surprise you. For instance, incest porn is having a moment. Have you ever considered sleeping with your sibling? According to Pornhub you have. Well, according to Pornhub’s Most Searched Terms of 2017, at least someone out there is getting their way around the whole family, with ‘milf’ ‘stepmom’ ‘step sister’ and ‘mom’ taking places 3-6 in the top 10, even beating ‘anal’, ‘big tits’ ‘threesome’ and many other delightful genres you’d think would hit big. Apparently these days we’re also really into Hentai – a term which is up 6 places since the year before, taking the second spot just behind ‘lesbian’ – the firm favourite over the last three years. For those that don’t know what Hentai is (I didn’t), it’s a  western term for cartoon sex in the style of Japanese anime and manga.








Pornhub received on average 81 million daily visits last year, with almost 25 billion searches which is 50,000 a minute. One of the most intriguing part of Pornhub’s collated data is how trends appear. Everything effects what we watch and how we watch it. In 2008, 1% of porn was watched on mobile or tablet, today that figure stands at 75%. In the US, porn is defined by its contemporary culture; stats from 2011 demonstrate that shows such as Honey Boo Boo and Duck Dynasty sparked interest in Redneck porn, and last year fidget spinners and Rick & Morty were up there too. The holidays also make an impact, with a spike in leprechaun searches on St Patrick’s day, cupid getting 652% more interest on Valentine’s and Mother’s Day apparently makes us horny for Mom’s. Current affairs, climate and major sporting events have their effect as well – snow storms, the Superbowl and the Presidential election all see a major increase in the site’s traffic, supposedly due to our extra time at home.

The gaming industry plays a major part in dominating genres, too. Fortnite for example is regularly searched for on Pornhub as well as Redtube, Reddit and xHamster. When the game went down in April this year, users were sure to get their Fornite kicks elsewhere, but instead of playing the game, they were playing themselves to a porno version. Fortnite isn’t the only game setting people off, in 2017 Overwatch introduced a new female character, Brigitte, and in 10 days the game saw a 6000% increase – that’s 2 million searches in 10 days.

Campaigns such as ‘Me too’ and Hillary’s running for President meant ‘Porn for Women’ got a staggering 1400% increase, making it the top trending search of the year. This category dubbed ‘Porn for Women’ is essentially content driven towards a female audience, that usually contains softer heterosexual porn with a heightened sense of erotica. The male star will pleasure his female co-star more than you’d usually see in regular pornography aimed at men (which quite often includes 10 minutes of blow jobs and practically zero cunnilingus), and tends to show less aggression or demeaning attitudes towards the female characters.  

Making a new appearance is ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response), a term for hypersensitivity felt usually on the scalp, neck and spine when hearing soft sounds, without being touched. Most often someone will whisper and make quiet but distinctive noises with objects such as a hairbrush or ice in a glass, giving the viewer a euphoric tingling to their skin.

Oddly however, despite millennials being sexually liberated in their quest for the perfect porno, studies say we’re having less sex than any generation before us. So what’s the deal? Are we settling for solo sessions instead of the real deal? Or are we sexually woke with farfetched fantasies in porn that are unattainable IRL? I’m an advocate for adult film. It allows us to engage in fantasies that perhaps we can’t in reality. But it’s important to remember pornography isn’t exactly a new thing. Before the internet we had mags stashed under our beds, adult movie theatres and long before that Japan had The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife – a good example of early-19th century erotic art, and was essentially the start of tentacle porn (yeah, you read correctly, tentacle porn). Which by the way, after a long incognito search on the dark depths of the internet, I found is VERY much a thing. This aside, should we be worried about the stats? Should we worry about the incestuous themes and videos that vastly deviate from not only real life situations but real people?

Fortunately for mankind, the majority of people have an innate repulsion to incest as biologically it’s harmful to our evolutionary growth. There are studies however that show we are attracted to those that appear similar to us, i.e. our family. As much as Freudian theories are disputed, this argument is one that seems to resonate. Many believe the idea of incest is popular due to its fundamentally taboo nature. What psychological studies do prove is that 1) people love anything they’re not meant to and 2) people are, usually, physically repulsed by incest. But as porn presents fauxcest – where the porn stars aren’t actually related, it forms a perfect combination of being psychologically taboo, without triggering natural avoidance tactics by your brain that would usually leave us feeling physically sick.


Another point of concern for me is Hentai, or cartoon porn in general. From the few I watched to research this piece, the videos depict unrealistic young women (that are often in schoolgirl uniform) with tiny, hairless bodies and enlarged breasts that engage in non-consensual or degrading sex. The female’s voice is high-pitched, her eyes are large, cheeks rosy, her expression childlike, and she acts completely unknowing and innocent. The lines between adult and child is blurred as is the line of consent. Although cartoon porn advocates will argue this is a safe forum to explore sexual desires without harm to real people, to me it’s normalising very dangerous behaviour such as rape and bestiality.

As Hentai takes the second spot on Pornhub’s Most Searched Terms 2017, I wonder and worry for the next few years. VR porn also moved up 14 spots last year, where users are putting on a headset to engage in 3D virtual reality pornos. If Hentai is the trend of today, is VR the trend of tomorrow? Will we settle for fake sex if it’s convincing enough? My concern is that we already are.

Thankfully, it’s not all bad.  We should be celebrating that ‘porn for women’ is the top trending genre and it’s a relief to know that Milf’s are slightly more appealing than teens. The top searched for porn actresses shows more diversity than ever too, with Mia Khalifa (aka ‘The Hijab Pornstar’) ranking number 2, and Bollywood pornstar Sunny Leone number 5. Racial terms are also on the rise, with ‘ebony’, ‘Japanese’, ‘Korean’, ‘Chinese’ and ‘Asian’ all making the top 20, and ‘trans’ has also seen a 124% increase.

One thing that’s for sure is that the stats don’t lie. Pornhub isn’t questioning people post-wank like an exit poll – this is the hard truth. I’d like to take a liberal stance on this and recognise our different sexual attractions, I know that this is something that makes us human. But in a world where we normalise inappropriate behaviours, eroticize incest and sexualize cartoons – can we really predict the lasting effect it will have on us and our sex lives?

This category dubbed ‘Porn for Women’ is essentially content driven towards a female audience, that usually contains softer, more erotic heterosexual porn. The male star will pleasure his female co-star more than you’d usually see in regular pornography aimed at men (which quite often includes 10 minutes of blow jobs and practically zero cunnilingus), and tends to show less aggression or demeaning attitudes towards the female characters. 

Words: Rebecca Rhys Evans

Illustration: Charlotte Tymm