Picture: 123RF/Iculig
Picture: 123RF/Iculig

It’s that time again, when we look back on the year that was. It’s been a mixed time for SA, with judge Ray Zondo cracking the whip against corruption and the economy teetering on a tightrope.

Talking about whips cracking and reflection, it is also the time when Pornhub, the world’s biggest online porn site, releases its year-end stats on the previous year — or as it likes to call it, "the best place to discover and reflect on what we’ve collectively been searching for".

2017 marked the 10th anniversary of the site, which last year catered to 28.5-billion visitors, an average of 81-million people a day.

"With 24.7-billion searches performed on the site [in 2017], there was clearly a lot to find," the review reads. "This translates to about 50,000 searches a minute and 800 searches a second. This is also incidentally the same number of hamburgers that McDonald’s sells every second, which has nothing to do with us but somehow makes the numbers easier to digest."

The review includes many colourful anecdotes to put people’s search for pleasure in perspective. For example, 4-million videos were uploaded that year, which is more videos than the number of people who visit the Great Wall of China. Or the fact that the 595,482 hours of video translates into 68 years of porn. "To put that number into perspective, in 1949 (68 years ago) the world’s first commercially available computer was released. If you had somehow managed to log into Pornhub on your new Ferranti Mark 1, you would still be watching new videos from 2017 today."

But the most intriguing fact is that SA has once again cracked the top 20 of the countries that use the site, moving up one spot to 19th. It is the only African country to make the list — even though Ethiopia is on the rise, moving up a staggering 68 places.

In terms of SA’s preferences it would appear that all those promos on DStv’s E! Entertainment for Keeping up with the Kardashians have played a part in bolstering Kim’s top spot in our "pornstar" searches. And "black South African" remains top of the list of SA’s most popular terms.

The review finds that SA viewers take "several moments to themselves at an average of 11 minutes and 02 seconds being spent on the site per visit", coming in second globally to the Philippines, where people linger for 13 minutes and 28 seconds.

The site’s videos get an average 80% positive "thumbs up" interactions — which is further bad news for Malusi Gigaba, whose home video holds a negative rating of 40% since its upload to the site.

But what has led to this local increase?

"The world is moving at a pace the likes of which we have never seen before and as such, stress levels have gone way up," says Dr Laurie Betito, sex therapist and director of the Pornhub Sexual Wellness Centre.

"[Porn] is a way for people to disconnect from reality and delve into the world of total fantasy, forgetting about all the stresses that real life brings."

Local clinical sexologist and couples and sex therapist Marlene Wasserman agrees.

"Sitting in front of the screen immediately calms the brain down and then when you have more stress you need to have more calm to your brain," says Wasserman. Furthermore, the combination of porn and the end result invariably leaves one feeling more relaxed.

It is why Wasserman launched a campaign on Instagram (under her brand, Dr Eve) this month on porn education — to demystify the stigma and shame surrounding our watching habits.

"This is a time that we are feeling much more stressed and your likelihood [of] watching porn is going to increase," she says.

Is it any wonder that our watching habits reached new heights in 2017, with all the stress SA has been under for the past few years?

Between #ZumaMustFall, the #GuptaLeaks, constant breaking news on state capture, the midnight sacking of multiple ministers, the looming economic downgrade, the Life Esidimeni mental hospital disaster, the Knysna fires, Cape drought and Helen Zille’s colonialism-endorsement tweets, it’s no wonder we were looking for relief from somewhere.

"It’s got nothing to do with sex," says Wasserman. "You will find that when people are really stressed, or what we call ‘mad, bad, sad’ or even lonely, then that is when they turn to porn."

Another reason why we may be on the up and up is thanks to accessibility, says Wasserman.

According to online statistics website Statista, by 2019 the number of cellphone users in the world is expected pass the 5-billion mark.

A report by tech site Dscout monitored 94 users out of a group of 100,000 participants, focusing on their interactions with their phones over five days. It found that on average they tapped, swiped and clicked their phones 2,617 times each day. The top 10%’s average interactions doubled to 5,427.

"It’s so accessible," says Wasserman. "And it’s because of this accessibility there is more time, more usage of it. Before, with censorship, you didn’t have ready access. It wasn’t like there wasn’t any interest in it. It just wasn’t as available. That’s why we think there is this whole porn explosion … but our desires are still the same, there is just more accessibility."