page considers audiences for online adult content, consumption
patterns and consumer issues.
It covers -
- age, nationality and other demographics
spent online and frequency of visits
destination - which sites
are visited and what is bought
issues such as fraud, mousetrapping and spam
Who is visiting adult sites (and paying for the privilege)?
The answer is that we don't know much detail. Although
not necessarily stigmatised, consumption of adult content/services
is still a private activity
for most people and there are considerable difficulties
in gathering (and validating) data.
Much media coverage has not moved past claims that "four
out of every 10 people using the Web have visited an adult
site in the last week".
That appears to be a figure extrapolated from early studies
- such as that by Marty Rimm, highlighted here
- that were severely criticised for methodological inadequacies
- or based on the 2001 Forrester
report that claimed 19% of North American users are regular
visitors to adult content sites. Of that 19% approximately
one in four are women, 46% are married and 33% have children.
Forbes pointed to a Nielsen//NetRatings report
claiming that during April 2001 there were 22.9 million
unique visitors to adult content sites. That is less than
the 41 million who visited news sites, 34 million to finance
sites and 25 million to greeting
card sites. (In May 2001 we noted
that one US card site scored 2 million visits on Mothers
A later 2001 NetRatings poll claimed that 25 million US
users visited adult sites during September. 7% were supposedly
men with an average age of 41 (so much for teenage hormones),
an annual income of US$60,000 and a preparedness to spend
big, download music
or do other things that gladden the hearts of e-marketers.
Porn star Asia Carrera said that
Internet has been good for the adult industry as a whole,
because it's a whole new market that reaches the entire
world 24/7, and people who would never be caught dead
in an adult bookstore are now enjoying adult entertainment
for the first time from the safety and anonymity of
their own homes.
2002 US National Academies' report
on Youth, Pornography & the Internet noted
to industry statistics, approximately 70 million different
individuals per week view at least one adult Web site
on a global basis - 20 million view adult pages that
are apparently hosted on sites in the United States
or Canada. The number of paying subscribers is on the
order of several million in the United States, and may
be as high as 10 million. The majority of these viewers
and subscribers are male, though the fraction of female
viewers may be growing. On average, a paid subscription
generates $20 to $40 per month in revenue. The majority
of subscribers cancel within a month, but of those who
remain after a month, the typical retention time is
approximately 3 to 4 months.
we suggested earlier in this profile, such industry statistics
should be approached with caution.
A 2009 study (PDF)
by Ben Edelman, whose earlier research is commended elsewhere
on this site, unsurprisingly noted that consumers of adult
content were located in both the 'red' and 'blue' states
of the US. Edelman drew on two years of de-identified
credit card data from 2006 to 2008 that included a purchase
date and each customer's postal code.
A 2001 MSNBC survey
of around 38,000 surfers argued that the "average"
US surfer spent under three hours per week at adult sites.
The survey designer, Alvin Cooper, had earlier gained
attention through problematical research that labelled
the net "the crack cocaine of sexual compulsivity", with
one in 10 (self-selected) respondents claiming that they
are "addicted to sex and the Internet" - a figure
that we suggest is somewhat lower than those who'd report
an "addiction" to the telephone or television.
One outcome is the APA paper
on Sexuality on the Internet: From Sexual Exploration
to Pathological Expression by Cooper, Coralie Scherer,
Sylvain Boies & Barry Gordon. We have discussed questions
of cyberaddiction elsewhere
on this site
Metrics specialist NetValue
claimed in 2001 that in the EU Spanish users visit 'adult'
sites the most, French visit the least, and Germans spend
the most time (an average of 70 minutes per user per month).
Highlighting regional variations (or identification problems?)
NetValue commented that French seniors visit sites for
the most time each month, UK women are more connected,
in Spain more young people go online for porn than in
other countries, whereas youngsters in Denmark are less
connected. In the EU those aged 50 years old and over
supposedly spend the most time connected to adult sites.
The Spanish figure presumably reflected the age profile
of Spain's online population at the time of the survey:
users were younger than their European counterparts, with
60% under 35 years old.
British users connected for the shortest time: 36.7 minutes
per user per month. 38% of Spanish home users supposedly
visited adult sites in November 2000 (3.5 million unique
visitors at an average of 66 minutes per user per month).
In France 80% of users visiting the sites were men (average
54 minutes per month v 12 minutes for women).
Curiously, the study claims that 4% of French visitors
were under 14 years old, at an average of 26 minutes per
month. How could NetValue tell? Did the kids announce
that they're logging out in order to view the local version
In the UK, it is claimed that women are more frequent
Adult site users than in other countries (28% v 20%) but
spend less time - an average of 13 minutes per month.
The percentage of women connected to Adult websites is
higher in the UK than in other EU countries tracked by
NetValue. In Germany, 81% of visitors were men, an average
of 81 minutes per month.
Closer to home NetValue claims that 40% of internet users
in Hong Kong visited porn sites in December 2000. Visitors
grew from 434,100 in October to 451,150 in November and
then fell slightly to 420,220 in December. 70% of adult
site visitors were male. Men spent 78.3 minutes on porn
sites; women spent 49.6 minutes.
A May 2001 Nielsen//NetRatings report claimed that the
average US male user spent nearly 10 hours 24 minutes
online during the month, compared to 8 hours 56 minutes
by women. Men went online 20 times in the month, compared
to 18 times by women and viewed 31% more pages (760 to
580). SatireWire published this reponse;
there is a more insightful analysis of issues in Days
& Nights on the Internet: The First Decade of A Diffusing
by Philip Howard, Lee Rainie and Steve Jones.
A NetRatings spokesperson attributed the variation to
adult content sites:
is a huge list of sites that get 70 percent or more
of their audience from men, and almost all of them are
adult sites ... These sites have a lot of pop-ups, which
increases the number of pages viewed, and visitors tend
to spend a long time on adult sites and look at a lot
of pages seeking a particular kind of content.
August 2001 report
from NetValue claimed that UK web surfers are among least
active porn users, although more than 25% of the online
population (3.8 million households) visited an adult content
site in June. The supposed demographic included students
(23%), manual workers (15%) and professionals (12.8%).
NetValue doesn't supply a breakdown for online Archbishops
and High Court judges.
Spain again topped the list with 40% visiting an adult
site. Germany, France, Italy and Denmark were in front
of the UK. Poor Sweden scored a mere 19%, although it's
unclear whether that's because the Swedes amuse themselves
in other ways or the metrics are skew-whiff. Germans supposedly
retain number one ranking as the longest users, online
at XXX sites for 60 minutes compared to the UK 45 mins.
In 2001 Internet.au suggested
that figures from Jupiter Media Metrix revealed that
are the greatest consumers of online pornography in
the world in terms of the proportion of the population
visiting adult websites at home. A snapshot of Australians
online shows 33 per cent of the nation's 6.8 million
Internet users accessed pornography from home in December,
up from 25 per cent in January.
survey of 1,500 subscribers to a UK geek magazine - not,
we suggest, necessarily representative of the overall
online population - reported that 77% had visited an adult
site, over 30% were regular visitors, 10% had paid for
membership and 13% "engaged in sex" with someone
Another report claimed that
20% of the adult Internet is driven by gay men. While
the straight market is considered to be saturated, there
is still believed to be room in the gay market for expansion
reflecting preconceptions questioned here.
Comprehensive public dissections of traffic (do some categories
of sites get more visitors than others) and online purchases
That inhibits assessments of whether
categories of sites get more traffic than others (eg
unique individuals, repeat visits)
'clickspace' of those sites reflects offline demographics
identified by the Kinsey
Institute and other research initiatives
categories of subscription sites experience greater
'churn' than others
patterns are changing in response to perceptions about
privacy and security
from some publicly listed retailers of adult products
give an indication of gross sales of videos, knickers,
vibrators and other products. Those reports however don't
have much granularity and it is unclear whether particular
enterprises are representative of sales online and off.
Figures on file-swapping and self-publishing aren't available.
is profiled in Sex Collectors: The Secret World of
Consumers, Connoisseurs, Curators, Creators, Dealers,
Bibliographers & Accumulators of 'Erotica' (New
York: Simon & Schuster 2006) by Geoff Nicholson
One US promoter of adult sites as a way to "get
rich quick" quipped that
are undemanding, provided a certain minimal level of
quality is maintained. Even if that level of quality
falls to incredibly abysmal levels, customers are reluctant
to complain, because complaint indicates consumption.
Card, in the dissenting Jupiter Media Metrix report noted
on the preceding page of this profile, commented that
consumers tolerate advertising disruptions, difficult
navigation, delays, poor content quality and "a generally
unpleasant online experience" while surfing. Perhaps
that's because, to use the words of one industry consultant,
content sites succeed because they offer two things
unavailable in an offline video store: anonymity and
have noted major problems with billing, non-provision
of services and difficulty in ending subscriptions. We
have discussed some of those business practices in the
following page of this profile.
Comprehensive figures are not available: in practice statistics
for complaints to financial service providers (banks and
other credit card companies) or are advice bureaus are
the most tangible indications of consumer problems.
At an anecdotal level it appears unlikely that many participants
in the industries would get quality assurance certification.
Recurrent problems include -
contracts for subscription or other services
about terms & conditions
in ending contracts (eg consumers are required to advise
of a cancellation well in advance, are referred to an
email address or telephone number that is unattended,
or are required to write to an office in the Caribbean)
browser hijacking or browser theft (eg being taken into
a loop - generally of screens directing you to a sponsor's
site - that requires the user to close the browser or
even the machine). Some users have found that their
browser preference settings are changed, generally to
an unwanted new start-up/home page
where an adult site operator gains control of an existing
innocuous domain whose visitors are then flicked to
an entirely unwanted destination, increasing the operator's
traffic figures (and thus advertising revenue). It is
discussed in a crisp paper
by Ben Edelman on Domains Reregistered for Distribution
of Unrelated Content: A Case Study of Tina's Free Live
and under-delivery (the user pays for download of a
video clip but nothing appears or the clip is shorter
descriptions (the "hot new" high quality content
turns out to be a blurry scan of what appears elsewhere
on the web) and links
for services that were not ordered or for subscriptions
that have ceased
on spam to attract
traffic (as a twelve year old acquaintance commented,
even one graphic offer for a penis extension is just
one too many if you are a girl)