The prevalence of porn on the internet – and a tribute to the late Gary Wilson

Gary Wilson, co-founder of the website Your Brain on Porn passed away recently. He was a pioneer in the field of porn addiction harms advocacy and was one of the first to sound the alarm on the potential effects and associated harms of internet porn. Gary was an honest, authentic and true champion of truth and science. His website, http://www.yourbrainonporn.com served as both a clearing house for the rapidly growing research and as a source of support for the growing numbers of, mostly but not all, young men struggling with issues which they suspect are related to their use of porn. His legacy will live on and his name will be remembered long after some of his critics’ are forgotten and relegated to the wrong side of history.


How much porn is there on the internet? The answer depends on your source, but It is estimated that between 4 and 37% of all internet traffic is pornography related, depending on where you look.[1] One intriguing source of statistical data relating to pornography is Pornhub’s annual year in review. Porn Hub, while not the site with the most traffic on the net, is the only site that publishes annual “year in review” statistics, which includes the year’s top search terms, site visit stats and most popular categories. In December 2019, Pornhub published its seventh annual year in review statistics for the previous 12 months. It triumphantly boasted of its’ continued growth:

            Pornhub keeps on growing and it doesn’t show signs of letting up. In 2019 there were over 42 Billion visits to Pornhub, which means there was an average of 115 million visits per day. One-Hundred-Fifteen Million – that’s the equivalent of the populations of Canada, Australia, Poland and the Netherlands all visiting in one day![2]

            The equivalent of the populations of Canada, Australia, Poland and the Netherlands. Given the population of the world is currently estimated at 7.5 billion, 42 billion visits for the year of 2019 equals 5.6 visits per person on the planet. Let that sink in for a moment before we move on.

            Other sources relating to the internet, numbers and porn show a variety of, depending on your perspective, disturbing statistics. According to a 2006 study of Google searches[3], “adult” was the biggest search category for mobile device searches, counting for 20% of all searches. Other popular search terms included “sex”, “porn” and “free porn”. A 2014 study estimated that 4% of all websites on the internet are dedicated to porn, which may not seem like a lot, but when one looks at the traffic on Pornhub as a guide to how many visitors porn sites may be serving, the numbers start to add up.

            Here are some more, numbers that is.

Every Second:

  • 28,258 users are watching pornography on the internet.
  • $3,075.64 is being spent on pornography on the internet.
  • 372 people are typing the word “adult” into a search engine.

Every Day:

  • 37 pornographic videos are created in the United States.
  • 2.5 billion emails containing porn are sent or received.
  • 68 million search queries related to pornography- 25% of total searches- are generated. 
  • 116,000 queries related to child pornography [sic] are received.

According to the National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families, (2010) 47% of families in the United States reported that pornography is a problem in their home, pornography increases the rate of marital infidelity by more than 300%, and 56% of divorce cases involve one party having an “obsessive interest” in pornography.[4]

Another way of estimating porn’s prevalence and rising popularity is to take a look at the global ranking of websites with the most traffic. Every year, Similar Web ranks the worlds’ 300 most popular websites. In 2016, it ranked both mobile and desktop data statistics together for the first time and noted a rise in the popularity of ‘adult’ sites. In 2016, the world’s most popular website was Facebook however for the first time, adult websites featured heavily in the top ranked websites, including 11 porn sites in the top 300 most popular sites globally for that year. Pornhub, attracting 1.1 billion visits a month in 2016 globally, saw 54% of its visits from mobile phones, with an average user session lasting about 8 ½ minutes. It rose from 38th place to 23rd, a higher position than online stalwarts such as eBay, MSN and Netflix.[5] However, then as now, Pornhub was not the worlds’ biggest porn site, Xvideos was. It ranked number 18 in 2016 with 1.5 billion monthly visitors.

The popularity of adult content website traffic has risen steadily since. In July 2020 the most recent rankings show adult websites now account for 4 out of the top 20 websites visited, with 3 of those being in the top 10. Xvideos.com is still the world’s biggest adult website coming in at number 7 in Similar Web’s list of the world’s most visited websites. Not far behind is Pornhub at number 9 and xnxx.com at number 10. To give you an appreciation of context, Xvideos’ popularity in 2020 is usurped only by Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and Baidu.com – China’s version of Google. Or, in other words, Xvideos is more popular than Amazon, Netflix, Reddit, Ebay and Microsoft.

Given the prevalence of pornographic content on the net, is it any wonder that more and more users would find themselves becoming “addicted” to “fapping” (internet slang meaning to masturbate to online porn). Or that more and more of these users would find each other on internet forums and chat rooms where the problems related to too much of a good thing first started to appear.

In Gary Wilson’s famous TED Talk, “The Great Porn Experiment” from May 2012, which now has over 14 million views, he mentioned that researchers were struggling to find a ‘control group’ with which to conduct comparison studies, simply because they could not find enough non porn viewing male participants, with which to conduct their studies. This and the numbers mentioned above should indicate that whatever one thinks of internet pornography itself, its impact on a generation of young men cannot be underestimated. I recently re-visited his Ted Talk on the topic and was absolutely appalled by the “Note from TED under the talk stating, “This talk contains several assertions that are not supported by academically respected studies in medicine and psychology. While some viewers might find advice provided in this talk to be helpful, please do not look to this talk for medical advice.” This is absolutely not accurate. There were, at the time of this talk, and certainly since, a multitude of studies on the effects of internet porn and its associated harms. For TED to place such a statement under this talk is a form of disinformation and does not reflect what the actual research shows. But more on this later….


[1] Web Porn: Just How Much is There? https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-23030090

[2] Porn Hub, 2019 The Year in Review. https://www.pornhub.com/insights/2019-year-in-review

[3] A Large Scale Study of Internet Web Search, 2006. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/221514705_A_large_scale_study_of_wireless_search_behavior_Google_mobile_search

[4] Internet Pornography by the Numbers. https://www.webroot.com/au/en/resources/tips-articles/internet-pornography-by-the-numbers

[5] Top 300 Biggest Websites. https://www.similarweb.com/corp/blog/new-website-ranking/

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