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All aboard the Boob Bus: A brief history of Pornhub (2007 – 2021)

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Since launching in 2007, Pornhub, one of the world’s biggest porn sites, has proved massively influential across global adult content industries and wider mainstream culture.

The Canadian-owned site’s success has been a huge factor in porn shifting away from a closed-door, shame-soaked culture characterized by sad sweating male masturbators, towards phone-accessible mainstream acceptance.

This achievement, based on killing old pay-for-physical-format-porn models off in favour of largely free online access to content, has dovetailed with Pornhub being involved in a slew of controversies. From safety issues to morality quests to accusations that its business model has cheapened the porn industry, Pornhub is constantly under scrutiny.

Through 2021, Pornhub was overhauling its moderation and verification systems after being accused of hosting illegal content, and hundreds of thousands of videos have been removed from the site. With much of the porn industry worried about falling foul of tougher porn laws, in the US at least, it could prove a pivotal time for the site and its owner: the MindGeek company.

Despite the controversies Pornhub remains enormously popular, with 130 million daily visitors in April 2021. Here’s how the site got to this point.

2007: Porn free

Pornhub's original logo from 2007
Pornhub’s original logo from 2007 had a completely different aesthetic to the more approachable versions that followed soon after.

Just prior to 2007, porn was often consumed in the US via paid-for subscription sites that flooded your screen with garish popups. Or a DVD ordered online, or from a shop with blacked-out windows. Or maybe even via a magazine harvested from the top shelf of a gas station news rack.

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Then in Montreal, four Concordia University friends founded a new project: Pornhub. Stephane Manos, Ouissam Youssef, Feras Antoon and Matt Keezer were the friends involvedwith Keezer buying the Pornhub domain name for a reported $2,750.

Before Pornhub launched on May 25, 2007, the four friends had launched other porn download sites and enterprises between them, including porn studio and pay site [NSFW] Brazzers, founded in in 2005. With Pornhub — originally operating under the company name Interhub — for the first time they began honing in on porn categories that users responded most to online.

Pornhub remains free to access (although there is a Premium subscription option), and made money from banner ads hovering near porn videos divvied up into categories, such as ‘big breasts’ and ‘MILFS’: two of the most popular early sections. Within seven months of its launch the site had one million daily visits, and was already getting accused of ripping off other porn sites with its uploaded videos. Accusations of copyright infringements would follow Pornhub, sometimes in the courts, for years.

2010: Where MindGeek Began

In 2010 Interhub, the company Pornhub operated under, and Mansef, a company other porn sites owned by the four founding friends operated under, was sold for an estimated US $140 million.

Pornhub has largely looked the same since around 2010
Pornhub has largely looked the same for over a decade, as shown in the screenshot above from 2010.

The buyer was a German named Fabian Thylmann. He bought up other porn sites and operated them under a new business entity called Manwin, later rebranded to MindGeek: the company that owns Pornhub still, in 2021.

By 2010 Pornhub had over 100,000 videos uploaded, and over 10 million daily visits.

2011: The Changing Facial of Porn

Through the decade beginning 2010, Pornhub succeeded in pushing porn consumption more mainstream – both in terms of consumer statistics and general acceptance.

The site’s marketing was cheeky, unashamed and fun, in contrast to the seedy, aggressive tone the sector was often associated with. Critics would say this was not always reflected in Pornhub’s videos, and that behind a quirky marketing façade troubling content was allowed to proliferate on the site.

In 2011 Manwin bought YouPorn, one of Pornhub’s biggest rivals, which remains one of the most popular porn sites in the world. Manwin acquired RedTube, another hugely popular porn site, two years later.

boob bus bree olsen
Pornhub’s Boob Bus (which seemed to actually be a van)

By February, 2012 Pornhub had 25 million daily visits. 2012 was also the year Pornhub began hosting events and gearing up marketing stunts. The site sent a ‘Boob Bus’ around New York, offering free lessons on how to examine breasts for signs of breast cancer, “because Pornhub cares about your great assets”. Hardcore porn performer [NSFW] Bree Olson, a former medical student, was the face of the stunt.

2012 – 2014: HD Porn, Malware… and Coolio

In August 2012, Pornhub began hosting high-definition (HD) videos, then in September 2013 launched its amateur payment program, allowing porn performers to earn money from videos they uploaded to the site. 2013 was also the year that Manwin, the company Pornhub operated under, was rebranded to MindGeek.

By that point Pornhub hadn’t managed to fully haul the reputation of porn sites in general from associations with potentially harmful computer viruses and unscrupulous advertisers. In 2013 security expert Conrad Longmore reported that users of Pornhub, along with other popular porn sites, were at risk from falling victim to potentially harmful malware infections via adverts on the site.

Still, Pornhub’s popularity continued to rise, and by February 2015 the site clocked up 50 million daily visits. This figure may have been aided by ‘Gantgsta’s Paradise’ rapper Coolio becoming an ambassador, of sorts, for Pornhub in 2014, by releasing ‘Take it to the Hub’.

Pornhub Coolio
Wanksta’s Paradise: Coolio and friends in the ‘Take it to the Hub’ music video

2015 – 2020: A PR Makeover, Virtual Reality and Growing Opposition

In 2015 Pornhub created a way to attach itself to trending worthy causes and topics: Pornhub Cares. The tone of these marketing efforts was largely tongue-in-cheek, from initiatives based around how to jerk off in an environmentally sustainable way, to guides to cleaner sex during the Covid-19 pandemic. In the summer of 2016, Pornhub joined the porn sector many believe represents its future, debuting VR porn videos on the site.

A less cuddly portrayal of the site was forthcoming in The Butterfly Effect, a 2017 podcast documentary series by British writer Jon Ronson. It was a brilliantly executed, human-focused, intimate look at the US porn film industry. In the series Ronson examined how free porn sites, mainly Pornhub and MindGeek’s other brands, had forced porn creators to pander to search terms and porn site categories, and churn out far more content than before Pornhub came along.

What many view as Pornhub’s ethical reckoning began in 2020. In December that year a New York Times investigation alleged that children had appeared in Pornhub content, and that content featuring violence had been allowed on the site.

Pornhub Transparency Report 2020

Since that accusation, multiple women have sued Pornhub in the US, branding the site a “criminal enterprise” that they claim has violated sex trafficking laws. US politicians have pushed for law changes to make websites such as Pornhub more legally responsible for the content they host, and to toughen up consent and verification rules. In tandem with this increase in pressure, credit companies have got tough on banks working with porn sites.

2021: Falling In line, not Falling Behind

Pornhub has reacted to the scrutiny, overhauling its consent and verification processes and removing hundreds of thousands of videos. MindGeek’s majority owner in 2021, Bernd Bergmair, has kept a secretive profile as the controversy unfolded, although Tortoise reporters tracked him down for a podcast episode entitled Hunt for the Porn King, released in May 2021.

While US law changes had the potential to affect porn sites of all sizes, Pornhub’s popularity remains largely undiminished. In April 2021, the site had 130 million daily visitors.

Pornhub colorized old porn

Meanwhile, Pornhub has not let up with the quirky marketing tricks. In May 2021 the site released a series of historical erotic videos, colorized from the black and white originals. It reportedly used articificial intelligence (AI) trained to “detect the subtle shades of penises, nipples, and turn-of-the-century bush.”

Who knows what 2022 will bring for the site, but we’ll be sure to update this page in due course.

Read next: The Evolution of VR porn: Sword of Damocles to VRBangers

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