Mastercard Cutting Ties With Pornhub Isn’t The Victory We Think It Is

In early December, credit card giant MasterCard announced it would no longer process payments made by its customers on Pornhub.

By Gwen Farrell3 min read
Mastercard Cutting Ties With Pornhub Isn’t The Victory We Think It Is

The announcement followed a shocking investigation released by The New York Times’s Nicolas Kristof, which found that the porn site — which garners billions in ad revenue with an equal number of visits each month — regularly peddles illegal content of underage minors, including sexual abuse and trafficking. 

While this is disturbing for obvious reasons, unfortunately, it’s hardly unexpected. Porn is such a prolific force in our culture that we shouldn’t be surprised that its influence extends to all toxic aspects of the victimization of young girls.

While MasterCard was the first to cut ties, they weren’t the last. Discover and Visa followed suit and went a step further, severing ties with Pornhub’s parent company Mindgeek, which owns a number of other pornographic sites. 

Discover and Visa went a step further, severing ties with Pornhub’s parent company Mindgeek.

Some have praised MasterCard for its actions; others have criticized the action for what it means for personal freedom and the authority with which financial corporations can dictate the direct uses of their customers. For the victims of these incidents, published and viewed without their consent by billions of people, it’s too little too late. And while it might seem like a victory, it only proves what critics of the industry have been saying for decades. 

We Let Porn Become Too Powerful 

I remember sitting in my private Christian elementary school when I first heard the metaphor that porn is like a wildfire — let it burn uncontrolled, and it will destroy everything in its path. Say what you will about the state of our nation’s sex education these days, but that’s always stuck with me when other things haven’t.

Porn apologists believe that consuming and even participating in porn is okay, as long as everyone involved is a consenting adult. That’s the narrative, anyway.

The porn business is beyond being fixed, secure, or safe. 

But what do actual hard statistics say? Mutual satisfaction and pleasure are not the goals of porn (far from it). Men ages 18-25, even those who are in good physical shape, begin to struggle with erectile dysfunction much earlier. With the active and consistent consumption of porn comes a skewed view of healthy romantic and sexual relationships, in favor of ones that thrive on degradation, exploitation, and aggression. Say what you will about the “empowerment” of sex work, but it doesn’t look like there’s much independence, fulfillment, or freedom actually going on in the industry.

Those who criticize porn and its effects and advocate for its end, full stop, are classified as unrealistic, prudish, or even God forbid, conservative. 

Porn sites know all of these facts — that their biggest opponents are often seen as regressive and out-of-touch, and that sex, especially violent, exploitative sex, sells. 

The Truth about the Industry

With all of this in mind, the fact that one of the biggest sites out there publishes content profiting from rape, assault, abuse, and trafficking is another symptom of the disease. 

Nicolas Kristof, who headed the original Times exposé, surmised that Pornhub “escaped responsibility for sharing the videos and profiting from them,” whether or not offenders were brought to justice. In addition to Kristof’s initial exposé, he also found that it was relatively easy for videos that had been previously removed to be re-uploaded and published under Pornhub’s new “commitment to trust and safety.”

This new policy came following MasterCard’s announcement, which saw the removal of around 10 million videos, which, according to the Times, involved countless scenes of underage girls and assaults on unconscious women. 

Limiting the power of porn sites and dissolving the videos which continue to cause pain and trauma to victims is a step in the right direction. But unfortunately, it’s not really a victory.

There’s no empowerment in the lives ruined and reputations lost through Pornhub. 

A victory would look like these so-called updated policies being implemented ages ago. A victory would look like an actual commitment to protecting underage women and ensuring the videos of assault never see the light of day, least of all for thousands of people to consume each hour. 

MasterCard’s measures, however beneficial to the end point, shouldn’t have been necessary in the first place. But in the competitiveness of the industry, each encounter is viable for business — no matter how old the girls involved, no matter if they’re conscious or not. No matter if they were trafficked, abused, raped, coerced.

Remember the wildfire I mentioned earlier? It’s blazing. This whole incident, which has ruined too many lives to count, is all the evidence we need to see that the industry has no control over its own business. There are no checks and balances wherein the people who make a living in the industry have their content published and the victims forced into it don’t. There’s no commitment to safety; there never was. There’s no empowerment in the lives ruined and reputations lost through Pornhub and countless other porn sites. 

The Media’s Disturbing Response

While this story has been brimming for the past month, only recently have we seen the media’s response. If you can call it that. 

Pornhub lamented MasterCard’s decision, citing the lives of models that will be ruined due to the income that they rely on from the business. This was the sticking point outlets were quick to attach themselves to. 

Most notably was Salon’s recent piece, with the staggering title “The anti-porn religious lobby just destroyed the livelihoods of thousands of pornographers.”

Yeah. The religious, conservative, prudish right that cares about the trauma of victims of abuse and assault are the ones destroying livelihoods here.

To porn apologists, the pornographers are the ones we should be worried about, not victims of abuse.

Angela Jones, who is responsible for the piece, alleges that “only 0.0008 of videos on Pornhub featured sexual abuse.” Even if that’s the case, it’s already too many.

She even goes so far as to throw a bone to victims of that abuse, saying, “Certainly, sex trafficking is a scourge.” But apparently to porn apologists, the livelihoods of pornographers are the ones we should be worried about, not the irreparable harm and unspeakable damage caused to those featured in porn videos without their free and legal consent. 

Closing Thoughts

Critics of porn call it a victory. Porn apologists call it censorship. In truth, it’s neither. If this is censorship, it’s the very least we can do for the victims of coercion, abuse, and rape who’s most vulnerable moments were taken from them and recorded for views and for money.

If it’s a victory, it’s a pervertedly twisted one. The business is beyond being fixed, secure, or safe. It profits from exploitation and victimization. That’s what viewers want, and it’s only a matter of time before that content is re-uploaded under the guise of “verification” and commitment to safety.