How to Do It

How Likely Is It That I’m Seeing Actual Kids When I Watch “Barely Legal” Videos Online?

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How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!

Dear How to Do It,

My question has to do with casually viewing porn on the internet. If you believe the New York Times, child pornography is basically everywhere. As I am someone whose tastes run to younger-looking, smaller-breasted women (but no kids!), I am concerned about the possibility of accidentally viewing something illegal. Just how hard (or easy) is it to run across child porn? If I stick to sites like Pornhub or xHamster, am I safe?

—No Kids

Dear No Kids,

This is one of the best questions this column has received. It’s so simple, yet I couldn’t find clear information no matter where I looked, and its answer points to a moral muddiness—if not flagrant hazards—we are willing to tolerate for the sake of democratized access to pornography.

The short answer is: You cannot be sure of the legality of any individual video on tube sites, especially if it’s an amateur video. To avoid illicit material, your best bet is to purchase professional porn.

Child sex abuse material (the term experts prefer over “child pornography”), like you read about last fall in the New York Times, is more prevalent on the dark web than the so-called clear net, or publicly accessible internet, but it has certainly appeared on mainstream sites. Here are three different reports—one from 2018, one from 2019, and one from 2020—about arrests of alleged abusers spurred by the upload of child sexual abuse material to Pornhub. Last year, the Sunday Times reported that an investigation showed that material featuring people under the age of 18 had remained on Pornhub for three years.

This is not to single out Pornhub. The New York Times reported that platforms as wide-ranging and popular as Facebook, Bing, and Dropbox have been used to disseminate child sex abuse material. BuzzFeed recently published a story about questionable (if not illicit) material showing up on TikTok in India, and I’ve read stories about Snapchat being used to exchange child sex abuse material as well (like this one—link is decidedly NSFW, and the story within is harrowing). Sure, there’s a Pornhub problem here, but more broadly, there is an internet problem here.

Tube sites are simply less regulated than the sites of official porn studios. Most professional porn companies adhere to a federal law that requires producers to verify and keep records of the age of their models. But a court in 2018 held that the law only applies to primary producers, as in those who make porn, and that it violates the First and Fourth Amendments when applied to  “secondary” producers like distributors and online tube sites, and so they are not required to keep such records on file. (The Supreme Court has not definitively resolved the issue.) Reached by email, First Amendment lawyer Larry Walters said that intermediary platforms “should not be burdened with the obligation to verify the age of models depicted in content uploaded by third-party users,” because “doing so places blame on the wrong party, and stifles online innovation.” He compared the sites’ responsibility with that of a telephone company, which provides a service that could be used for illegal activity through no fault of the company.

Nonetheless, Pornhub vice president Corey Price told me through Pornhub’s communications director that when uploading photos and videos, “users must verify the content and assure they are 18 years of age and have on file records certifying that all models contained in the content are over 18 years of age.” That to me sounds like an honor system. (Price did not respond to a follow-up question about that through the communications director.) Price added that every video uploaded to Pornhub is manually reviewed by a human. It is also scanned by “A.I. technology to compare all uploaded content to a third-party content database to verify for digital fingerprints on noncompliant content.” But just this month, Vice’s Motherboard published an investigative piece that reported lapses in Pornhub’s fingerprinting methodology for identifying and removing illicit material made by the company Girls Do Porn.

“Child sexual abuse imagery is in direct violation of our Terms of Service,” Price wrote. “We take the protection of our community very seriously. We are also continuously striving to improve these processes and are currently working on implementing additional safety features to this end.”

Alex Hawkins, vice president at xHamster, a similar tube site, outlined a similar process of human and bot review. “Because we’re very aggressive in our patrol of content, the criminals know not to use us,” he wrote in an email. He said attempts to upload illegal content on xHamster are rare: “We only see about one attempt to upload illegal content in every 20,000 videos.”

“If anything, we’re overly cautious,” he added. “If we’re not able to verify the age of someone in an amateur video, or if we sense anything suspicious, the content does not appear on the site. Similarly, words, categories, subjects that might refer to illegal content cannot even appear in a description.”

Shelley Allwang, the program director of the Child Victim Identification Program at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, told me that by cataloging metadata, the organization is able to generate a unique fingerprint (or “hash value”) for each piece of known child sex abuse material. The organization works with law enforcement agencies, domestically (on local, state, and federal levels) and abroad, which send it seized material for cataloging. NCMEC makes these “hash values” available to companies so they can identify offending material. The rep for xHamster said the company had not worked with NCMEC but is “open to it.” Pornhub declined to discuss this on the record.

You can probably see how the system in place, while thorough enough to prevent child sexual abuse material from being common on clear net sites, isn’t perfect. (Keep in mind that “children” refers to anyone under 18 and that there are pubescent victims in known child abuse material.) With a safety net that relies on scanning for matches with precise metadata of preexisting videos, material falls through the cracks.

Allwang reminded me that NCMEC is a reactive organization. Its success in tracking down and eliminating child sexual abuse material depends in part on participation of members of the public who come across it. Allwang encouraged people to report any suspicious material to NCMEC’s CyberTipline. “Even if they’re not totally sure, even if they just have a sneaking suspicion, or the feeling that it might be, we would way rather get those reports in,” she said. (Minors who are aware of abuse videos featuring themselves can reach NCMEC via its Get Help Now site.)

I’m not singling you out or shaming you for your porn-viewing habits, reader, but the taste in younger-looking women that you describe having does complicate things in some people’s opinion. As Daphne Young, chief communications officer of the child abuse prevention nonprofit Childhelp, told me, “You’ve broached on a really difficult topic because there is a culture of pornography trafficking in an underage aesthetic (and potential sex-trafficked victims being abused on camera) that seeks to conceal itself with obfuscating language.” She said that when she was part of a child welfare think tank, the technology for flagging child sexual abuse material was impressive, but “widespread usage of such technology is still in a discovery/solutions phase.”

XHamster countered that most of the material on its site featuring younger-looking performers is legal, and not barely. “There are plenty of people who work in [the younger-looking model] niche, and it’s not uncommon to find that someone in pigtails is actually 30,” xHamster’s Hawkins said. “Once a video is flagged, we can then work with the uploader to get proof of age or, if we don’t hear back from them, take it down.”

Researching this question, I thought back to Traci Lords, who was one of the most successful performers in porn in the mid-’80s. After the FBI was tipped off that she had been underage while filming the majority of her catalog, her movies were pulled from shelves and destroyed. Producers were arrested. Some thought porn, as a medium, would never recover. The message rang through our culture: Having a 16-year-old girl appear in porn was unacceptable. Yet we now live in a world where we know, even if we don’t see it and just read the news, that child sex abuse material sometimes ends up on wildly popular tube sites like Pornhub (to say nothing of other illegal content like revenge porn or hidden-cam videos, which are common). It’s a world where you don’t even have to be looking for porn to come across this material. This risk does nothing, it seems, to scare the sites’ audiences away, and so for the sake of free porn, or even for the sake of freedom of expression, we are essentially shrugging our shoulders.

Dear How to Do It,

My wife and I have been married for three years now and together for five. We have a great sex life that has its ups and downs but is always satisfying and ultimately enhances our relationship. We both identify as bisexual, even though neither of us have never been with another partner of the same sex.

The question I have involves an accidentally newfound talent and kink of sorts. We were recently playing with some new toys and discovered that I have an uncanny ability to deep-throat. We’re talking a 12” toy almost all the way down. We were both shocked and pleasantly surprised. It really enhanced our fun and turned me on in a way I’ve never experienced before. I want to try to incorporate this more into our sex life, but my wife is a little gun shy about using a toy like a strap on. Are there any things you’d recommend to help her be more comfortable in this new role or position? She’s never had a penis and seems frustrated with using one.
We have had numerous discussions about what we consider our limits and ways to make this fun for the both of us, but I think I’m too close to the situation and need some outside advice. What would you recommend?

—Big Gulp

Dear Big Gulp,

Congrats on your inner cavern. It should serve you well. What will not serve you well is forcing this issue. Your wife is uncomfortable with the idea, so respect that. If she had written to me to ask how to get used to a strap-on, my answer might be different, but it sounds like she’s not that into it. Play with the toy without strapping it to her body. Let her dictate how much further she is willing to take things, if at all.

Here’s another angle, if it hasn’t made it into your talks about this yet: Why don’t you find a hung guy to invite over for a three way so that you can serve him well together? That, I think, is at least worth a discussion.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a married middle-aged woman. Like many of your other questioners, I’m not that happy with my sex life. My husband and I have sex once or twice a week, on the weekend mornings. It’s pretty much scheduled. We usually have to watch a sex video so I can get off. I find getting off hard work, and not that satisfying. However, I do get off frequently, with manual stimulation from my spouse. I keep myself in good shape, and my spouse is happy with our sex life. I go down on him quite a bit to keep him happy. He thinks since I do get off, everything is fine. He’s a bit smaller than average down there and I never orgasm from intercourse.

The problem I have is that he doesn’t do anything I prefer besides the manual stim. He has a short bristly goatee, which is irritating, and he doesn’t like to go down on me anyway. He doesn’t like to kiss at all, except for pecks. He doesn’t touch me very much except right on my genitals. I’m sure there are things I could be doing better than I do, but he doesn’t talk about it. When I try to tell him what I like, he says something like, “I know I do everything wrong.” I try to talk to him when we are alone either before or after sex. I try to couch it in positive terms like “I would like it if you would do X or Y.” He says he doesn’t like French kissing because he has trouble breathing, but I can’t see how that could be a problem for five or 10 seconds. I think it’s some sort of germ phobia. I feel really stuck. Other than the sex, our relationship is fine. We have disabled kids, and a divorce would be traumatic. I had a short affair 10 years ago, stopped because I felt guilty, but the sex was much better, so I know it’s not me. Any advice? I think he would feel offended if I asked to see a counselor. Since I do get off, I’m sure he would think I’m being unreasonable. He’s very defensive. Often, I’d just rather read a book than have sex with him.

—No Kissing Allowed

Dear No Kissing Allowed,

It’s troubling that he’s happy when you clearly are not, and that suggests you two have a real disconnect in communication (if not empathy). Why isn’t he reading your signs? Why is he content when you’ve expressed that you are not? Why does he get passive aggressive to shut you down when you suggest solutions? That’s not what a partnership is supposed to be.

This problem is bigger than an advice column has the capacity to remedy, but I have two suggestions that I hope will point you in a proactive direction. I want you to think back to when you first got together. Was sex enjoyable then? Was there something you both did at the beginning that you have since ceased? If not, and you proceeded with the relationship despite the red flags, why did you do that? Thinking back to the reasons you went forth with this obviously imperfect union may give you some perspective.

It is not unreasonable to wish for connected sex with your partner, so let me assure you that you’re not unreasonable. If anything, you’ve been too reasonable in your attempts to talk about this. If he won’t hear it, if he keeps casting himself as the victim of his own incompetence as a way to deflect accountability, I recommend choosing blunt words to make your point of view unmistakable. You have to get through to him. You could use some of the language you wrote in to this column while assuring him that more effort from him could help your situation. (Be careful with this: “I’d rather read a book than have sex with you” may be useful in getting your message across, but if it gives him a target for self-pity to bemoan the entire situation as hopeless, it will do more harm than good.) And don’t allow your intuition to determine your course of treatment, either—you think he’d be offended if you asked to see a counselor, but this is something you should know for sure. Your satisfaction is worth the risk.

Dear How to Do It,

Technical question here. I’m a lady, sans prostate. I gather that prostate stimulation is apparently on par with clitoral stimulation, but I haven’t tried it on a guy yet. What exactly do you do to get it started? Other than sticking a finger up there and being gentle, I’m really clueless. I feel like when guys are fingering a lady, they thrust in and out instead back and forth. What would you recommend for a newbie?

Fingering Virgin

Dear Fingering Virgin,

The prostate isn’t quite a clit cognate—that’s more like the penis head—and stimulation of it alone is not usually enough to make most guys come, at least in my experience. (There are some out there, though, and they tend to announce their ability.) But in combination with penile stimulation, prostate stimulation can take sex from good to fantastic. It can also be so intense that it causes discomfort, so I don’t recommend a lot of thrusting unless it’s specifically requested. What you want to do, while paying close attention to your partner’s comfort (as he expresses it verbally and with his body language), is insert a finger up his butt and feel along the wall of his rectum adjacent to the front of his body. Curl your finger slightly, as though you’re pointing at his dick from the inside, and locate a knob that feels about the size of a walnut. (It’ll be right around where you’d imagine the root of his dick would be.) Just move your finger around gently—swirl, tap, lightly trace it. He may feel like he has to pee when you find it, and this may be disconcerting to him if he’s never experienced it. It also may be the best feeling of his life. Keep connected and communicating to maximize his pleasure.

—Rich

More How to Do It

I’m a woman in her mid-30s who’s been married for five years to my husband. Things are, on almost every count, good between us. But there is one issue he keeps raising with me, over and over, and it’s starting to drive me nuts: He’s terrified we’ll become one of those couples whose intimacy dies and never has sex the longer we stay together. We are not this couple. But he reads forums about “dead bedrooms” and talks about friends who never have sex with their spouses and are tempted to cheat. I try to reassure him, but his constant doubts are starting to make me anxious about the future too. He’s even said he thinks some of his friends are justified in cheating. It’s starting to feel like he’s already resenting me for future wrongs I have no intention to commit.