Pornhub's Top Searches Reveal Surprising Link Between Fantasy & Pop Culture

What makes a person read a headline and think, "What about that, but doing sex?”

There is a rule of the internet that says if you can imagine it, there’s porn of it. And if Pornhub’s 2018 search trends are any indication of what our country is imagining, we gotta…. we gotta get it together. Like, come on, guys.

Since 2012, Pornhub, one of the world’s leading online porn destinations, has released an annual Year in Review, an extensive recap of not only what people were getting it off to, but where, and on what device, and for how long over the previous year. Its most overall popular search terms are a rotating gallery of mainstream conceptions of sexy, like “MILF,” “lesbian,” and “hentai.” These terms routinely top the most popular list, and had the Year in Review existed, like, 40 years ago, there’s a good chance they’d have topped the list then, too.

But 2018’s trending search terms felt particularly ripped from the past year’s news cycle. “Stormy Daniels” was number one on the Top 10 searches that defined 2018, according to Pornhub. There was also “Fortnite” - yep, “Fortnite,” the ultra-popular video game - which was second on the defining trends list. “Tinder” was eighth, and was particularly popular with women. And “Bowsette,” the viral, fan-generated mashup of Bowser and Princess Peach from Nintendo’s Mario franchise who seemingly tricks Mario into having sex with her, was ninth.

So what makes a person read a headline and then think, “Yeah, what about that, but doing sex?” According to Dr. Catherine Salmon, a professor of psychology at the University of Redlands who specializes in pornography, at the core of Bowsette’s sexual allure is a pretty simple element: novelty.

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The Relationship Between Porn and Novelty

While these titillating trends may come and go, their novelty is at least one thing that they all have in common, Salmon explains.

“The way that trends fluctuate or change from year to year - that just reflects whatever is on people’s minds. If things are in the news, people will respond to them physically,” said Salmon. “But there are common themes that underlie everything: sex with new people, sex with different people. Situations that tap into the psychology that finds novelty arousing.”

Essentially: pop culture serves up shiny new things to feed our endless hunger for something different.

But how do you explain the massive popularity of “Fortnite” as a search term, or the fact that an animated character like “Bowsette” was searched over 3 million times in a week? Well, pornography is the marriage of sexual and emotional impulses, says Dr. Salmon. Consider the way many porn scenes are shot: with a focus on faces, particularly “O” faces. Oftentimes, a large part of the porn fantasy is that your partner enjoys having sex with you.

“We interact with media in the same extent - we identify with it,” says Dr. Salmon. And as we live in a world increasingly inundated with technology and animation, we more readily interact with and relate to non-human entities like cartoon characters. So when we become emotionally connected to, say, a video game character, it tracks that we also might seek out porn featuring that character.

But Dr. Salmon also warns of reading too deep into online porn trends. After all, she points out, the average amount of time spent on a site like Pornhub tends to be around 10 minutes - just enough time to, you know, do….it. Users aren’t exactly engaging in extensive introspection during that time.

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