Oh my God, Becky – look at Pornhub’s statistics on Russia and anal sex videos

Someone who reads this blog has suggested that I write an overwrought essay about the latest Pornhub study, which has found that anal sex porn is “more popular in Russia than any other country.”

Naturally, I am very offended by the suggestion that my writing is overwrought, and I am stomping my foot as I let the eye-watering Moscow sunset bathe my form in amber-esque light, or whatever.

I also looked at the study and realized that there is quite a bit that needs to be said about anal sex and Russia, especially in light of recent events.

Some disclaimers:

By itself, the Pornhub study doesn’t provide concrete facts about Russia itself – no matter how many punchlines we can get out of citing it.

I really wish the Pornhub study came with dates attached. Are they tracking user data for the whole history of the site?

Finally, the plural of anecdote is not data, and so this isn’t going to be one of those posts where I use a porn site’s statistics to talk about Russian men and what they’re like in bed.

Moving on:

References to anal sex occupy an interesting niche in Russian culture. Because plenty of noise has already been made about Russia’s seeming anal sex obsession in light of its controversial law against homosexual propaganda to minors/general issues of homophobia, it’s worth pointing out some context.

For example, as political expert Pavel Svyatenkov brilliantly argued last year, a lot of Russia’s issues surrounding gay rights actually stem from the fact that anal sex is associated with humiliation in Gulag culture.

As Svyatenkov wrote:

“The philosophy of Soviet-developed homosexuality penetrated [translator note: pun not mine] even those social classes which, by definition, should not have harbored it. What does a manager mean when he says that his ‘bosses fucked [him] in the ass?’ He obviously means that he received a ‘severe reprimand from management.’ To put it in other words, the relationship between the powerful and the subordinate is interpreted via a homosexual sex act.”

Svyatenkov is specifically talking about attitudes surrounding homosexuality, of course. And his comments make even more sense in light of the Pornhub study. A taboo wouldn’t be a taboo if it didn’t have cultural roots/causes.

The Pornhub study, meanwhile, suggests that more people in general search for straight anal sex – though not by that much.

Prominent Russian sexologist Yevgeny Kulgavchyuk recently gave an interview to The Village, where he talked about how, in his view, very few women actually enjoy anal sex.


 “I’m tired already of saving poor women from [anal sex]. Men who have watched too much porn are trying to conquer all of their women via the backyard. If the gentleman’s size is small, a woman’s erogenous zones are positioned a certain way, then some couples do get pleasure out of it. But for the majority of women, anal sex only creates painful sensations and anal fissures. And we’ve already talked about how sexual relations shouldn’t harm our health.”

Now, if you’re reading this in the West and you’re pretty liberal, there is a good chance that you are kind of surprised right now.

Obviously, our medical establishment does talk about the risks of anal – but then again, our prominent sexologists often focus on the fact that it doesn’t HAVE to be all that risky (or, for that matter, painful).

In general, I’ve found that Western sex columnists/therapists/whatever take the following view:

People should do what they want to do as long as they are being responsible and respectful of each other.

And that’s different from Russian sexologist Kulgavchyuk’s approach: He doesn’t trust his clients to figure out, and uses his position of authority to “save” a woman from unwanted anal sex.

And it’s not as if Kulgavchyuk is ZOMG in the wrong. He’s operating within a different matrix, where a) doctors are vested with more authority than their Western counterparts (look at the history of Soviet medicine to understand why) and b) women in heterosexual relationships are traditionally understood to be more vulnerable parties.

(For example, when I was pregnant, my doctor went out of her way to offer to sit down for a “chat” with my husband and explain to him that he shouldn’t be too demanding as far as sex goes. I hadn’t at all indicated to her that his attention was unwanted. But within the context of relationships in Russia, where people are much more frank about power differentials and abuse is sometimes understood as practically a given, it made perfect sense for my doctor to offer to “save” me.)

**So does all of that have to do with that Pornhub study?**

Well, we can infer that in this environment, one where mutual exploration/communication isn’t necessarily understood as the default, anal sex is considered way more of a taboo. If both men and women are being denied a middle ground where anal sex is something they can work on and even enjoy – even as they live in a culture that is relatively permissive and where porn is readily accessible – it becomes that much more of a forbidden fruit.

I also want to bring your attention back to Gulag culture. It would be a mistake to assume that it hasn’t found its way into heterosexual relationships as well. If anal sex is understood as the ultimate expression of dominance over a passive “victim,” as Gulag culture dictates, it’s going to be a phenomenon that will continue to generate both anxiety and fascination (it is my contention that Gulag culture hasn’t been done away with – it’s been sublimated). And why shouldn’t people search for that which fascinates them online?

Kulgavchyuk thinks that his patients want to screw their wives “in the backdoor” because they’ve watched too much porn. He might be right, but it’s a chicken-or-the-egg type question, actually.

Russia still lacks comprehensive sex education. In this environment, porn isn’t used merely for pleasure and entertainment – it’s also a way to satisfy curiosity and try to make up your own mind about certain kinds of practies.

you will get pregnant and die

You’re waiting for me to mention politics, and I will. Well, kind of.

Back in the spring, Mark Galeotti criticized Washington’s “aggressively cerebral” approach to the Kremlin.

I’m not nearly as thoughtful as Mark, so in the unlikely event that Obama asked me for my opinion, I would say something like:


Once again, I refer to Pavel Svyatenkov’s assertion that power and subordination in Russia are often illustrated via the metaphor of anal sex.

Also, it is useful to remember that power occupies a different place in Russia than it does, say, in the States. In the U.S. we have a set-up that roughly translates to:

State –> Social/Political Institutions –> Individual

In Russia, it’s more like:

State –> Individual

There is no buffer.

And that lack of a buffer is expressed in Russia’s street culture (or kitchen culture, or, generally speaking, the private sphere), as the state bending you over and giving it to you.

I’ve said this is before and I’ll say it again: the best pop culture metaphor for Russian domestic policy is probably “Blurred Lines.”

“Well, that’s gloomy,” you’re probably saying. It can be. Russians are also quite funny about it.

And in that context, the Russian fascination with anal sex, as exposed by Pornhub, is also pretty damn funny.

Finally, and it really sucks that I have to point this out, but I will: desire is also just desire.

Maybe nothing that I’ve said here has ANY real, statistical bearing on Pornhub’s Russian fans.

It’s all just conjecture.

I haven’t heard of a single comprehensive study on the subject in Russia (Levada Center, I’m looking at you).

All I did was take some statistics and try to paint a picture that will fit them.

I am working backwards here.


34 thoughts on “Oh my God, Becky – look at Pornhub’s statistics on Russia and anal sex videos

  1. “Finally, the plural of anecdote is not data, and so this isn’t going to be one of those posts where I use a porn site’s statistics to talk about Russian men and what they’re like in bed.”

    OH COME ON! It’s what we WANT! Along with information on what you are like in bed and everything. I think I speak for the majority.

    OK, but that was seriously a good post. Educational. Can’t believe that creep Robin Thicke can be used to explain Russian policies. Or actually, i kind of can.

  2. To be honest, I am disappointed with this. It’s hard to put my finger on why. Or maybe it’s not that hard. I guess I just think of you as a Lady (yes, capital L) and the idea that you trawl Pornhub for their statistics is unsettling and upsetting. I don’t know how you manage to write so casually about what is essentially a very filthy topic. I don’t think that’s a badge of honor. You’re a good journalist, but I don’t understand why this warranted your attention. Disappointed.

  3. Go back to Reddit, George. Lots of women watch porn. Russians watch more. I’m sorry Russia isn’t the fairy tale land of traditional values you thought it was for some inexplicable reason. Look on the bright side though. Now you no longer have to feel so ashamed of your porn-watching habits. On second thought I want to qualify that by saying that is contingent upon the specifics of those habits. I’m saying that because conservative “gentlemen” tend to have some, shall we say, unusual tastes.

  4. Here’s the logic.
    Gulag: anal sex is something that is painful and humiliating for the receiving party and enjoyable on the giving end.
    Reality: “I was screwed in the ass” is an euphemism for a humiliating reprimand, but few people have ever experienced this, even though they have used the phrase a million times. The idea of anal sex is constantly in the air, its emotional consequences are there (humiliation and pleasure from humiliating someone), but there’s no actual sex happening, right?
    So, Curiosity kicks in: Is the real act really enjoyable for the giving party???
    That’s the question that secretly torments heterosexual men NOT interested in the gay way of doing things. They just want to know, and with their wives being “saved” by doctors, what are they to do? yes, at least see it for themselves, and build a large enough sample to draw a conclusion. 😉

  5. George wins Dumbass of the Day Award, I guess.

    Look, George, this thing was in the news before Nat wrote about it. And even if it wasn’t, why the hell is it a problem for a journalist to look at Pornhub? Why is it wrong for a woman to look at Pornhub? Why do you have your panties in a twist?

    Anyway, this analysis seems pretty spot-on and interesting to me. Russians have baggage around the issue, that much seems obvious. But I liked how the essay was different from the usual “EVIL RUSSIA” stuff. Nuanced, which is what I’ve come to be used to on Nat’s blog.

  6. Natalia, is it true that you went to school with Max Fisher and the two of you dated? please tell me that it’s true, cause I will have a major journo-gasm.

    Also -This is probably the only blog on the internet that can make a historic case for why Russians are interested in anal porn online. I love it.

  7. I am with George. Really disappointing to see a young woman – and a young mother from what I understand – write about this filth in a way that assumes there is something normal and natural about watching porn, in any country!

    Natalia, although you lived in North Carolina, you clearly failed to internalize the values of your neighbors.

    The wrapper may be American, but you’re a Russian through and through. Beautiful, cynical, opportunist, lacking in a moral rudder and not particularly desirious of acquiring one, that I’m sure. If you had any sense of decency, you would be condemning porn

  8. “Natalia, although you lived in North Carolina, you clearly failed to internalize the values of your neighbors.”

    Shoot first and ask questions later.

    “If you had any sense of decency, you would be condemning porn.”

    Set your watches, kids. It rarely takes long for someone affecting such decency to be found pursuing rather darker sexual desires than those sated by pornography in the bushes of your local park. Repression of sexuality renders it malignant.

  9. “Natalia, although you lived in North Carolina, you clearly failed to internalize the values of your neighbors.”

    Clearly from this statement and the rest of the post, being an expat makes you “[…] cynical, opportunist, lacking in a moral rudder and not particularly desirious of acquiring one, that I’m sure.” Who knew?

    What I believe posters like George and Radagast have failed to take into account is this is a very well-written piece of journalism that dives deeper into what the news, either subjectively or objectively, had already began reporting on. It’s not an open invitation to attack the writer’s moral fiber.

    To tackle such a widely taboo subject matter through the lens of cultural and political context in a way that is accessible is no easy feat, and I applaud your efforts, Nat.

    Well done.

  10. @ George Maines and Radagast

    This is just to second the above commenter’s point that Natalia’s post is indeed a very well-written piece of journalism. George and Radagast, you should note that Natalia neither condemns nor endorses what she presents as a fact of Russian social life. She’s simply explaining it to a Western audience.

    Also, Radagast, whether or not porn is “normal and natural,” porn has a long, long, long history in social life, going all the way back to prehistoric times. It’s conjectured that some of the cave art discovered in Spain and France might have served as pornographic entertainment for the artists who created it. The ancient Greeks and Romans had their own pornography which they both condemned and consumed. Even ancient Christian writers could use quasi-pornographic imagery to make a point about salvation (especially Latin writers).

    So porn is not going to go away, if even some people find it disturbing. Natalia is simply explaining Russian porn to Westerners.

  11. It would have been nice to have some feminist analysis for this issue, as opposed to a tonn of sick apologism for Russians who like to see women degraded and tortured online.

    The lie that any woman out there actually enjoys the very painful and degrading process of having a man fuck her in the ass has made the porn industry billions.

    And Natalia is supporting it. “Good job” Natalia!

  12. Andrew W. Challand, sure, whatever. I think most posters here are in agreement that people want what is taboo. That doesn’t make their desires “right.” Natalia, a champion of women’s rights in the past, has consistently failed to defend women in her latest posts. By acting as though the Russian obsession with anal is “normal” or in any way defensible, she participates in oppression of women.

  13. Is that you, Gail Dines….errrrr, I mean, Beth Ranch??

    First off, Pornhub isn’t the end-all and be-all of all porn, since they make most of their money stealing content off of performers. I take their stats with several grains of salt.

    Next….so sorry, Beth, but consensual anal is as normal as the sun rising in the East, in any country. There is not a damn thing “oppressive” about it…it wasn’t oppressive when gay men engaged in it, and it isn’t oppressive when done in “pegging”, either. (Just Google.)

    Actually, the only “oppressive” thing happening is you attempting to smear Natalia for not marching in your perfect radfem goosestep. That is far more degrading than consensual butt secks ever will be.

  14. Being on a proxy means that comments on this thing take a long time to load. Now I wish they never loaded.

    Jesus, some of you people are fucked up.

    This is a piece that tries to provide cultural context for a statistic. It’s not endorsing porn. Even if it was endorsing porn, so fucking what? You’re not pouncing on the author for her ethical beliefs, incidentally. You’re pouncing on the author because she’s a girl who writes analytical and level-headed posts about porn, thereby messing with the idiotic virgin/whore dichotomy you lot have implanted in your barely functional brains. She couldn’t possibly be a serious author if she tackles pornography, right? Let’s bring her down a notch, right?

    “Radagast,” you sound like you need to get laid. Beth Ranch too.

    And “Radagast,” pick a different nickname. The fact that you’re associating yourself with a cool book fucking sticks in my craw.

  15. I suppose it is to be expected that a post dealing with anal sex and Russia would cause both the radfems and the hypocons to protest. One forgets how many strange, kooky groups there are in American society, and how viscerally opposed they are to anything they happen not to like.

    To the hypocons: sex happens. In all kinds of ways. Get used to it. You may have already heard the sentence: ‘everything goes between consenting adults’. If you think about it, it’s not such a radical concept. In itself, it is philosophically very similar to ‘all men are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights’, or ‘no taxation without representation’: all of them support people’s rights to lead their lives the way they see fit. I suppose this is what hypocons fear the most: the idea that people will really, REALLY lead their lives the way they see fit. For same reason, making sure that others are not being hurt (the ‘consenting adults’ part) is just not enough: one has to lead one’s life according to other people’s ideas, rather than to one’s own. I find it funny that it is often the people who stauchily advocate their right to do certain things that others dislike (e.g., to carry weapons) that also seem hellbent on denying others the right to lead their lives the way they see fit.

    Nobody ever said humans are consistent, or logical. Nooo… we are ’emotional beings’. To hell with logics and with right and wrong: we just want to pontificate and judge others. Sometimes I think this kind of attitude is a much, much worse threat to democracy and the rule of law than anything Putin or other autocrats could ever do. It’s not for nothing that Putin is styling himself as the protector of conservative values…

    To the radfems: you so beautifully illustrate the idea that anything, even what is right, can be exaggerated out of proportion with reality and made into a parody of itself. (Who was it who said that history repeats itself as a farce? Feminism, like all movements attempting social change, obliges.) To believe that consent, nay enthusiastic support is not enough, in fact that it isn’t even relevant; that sex (like good manners) has to follow certain accepted perceptions of power differentials and not others, is to deny the very reason why we like sex in the first place. Think about this: what exactly do people like in sex? And why is it that sex tends to vary in theme and topic, and even to include ‘taboo elements’ that are per se not connected to sex itself (BDSM to the rescue)? Why does this happen with sex, but not, say, with sports or other similar activities? (Or does it ? 🙂

    I don’t want to become theoretical (even though it is a fascinating topic), but I wonder if radfems ever wonder about the fact that their insistence on sex themes that are not ‘degrading’ or ‘oppressive’ (ex tempore: anything can be degrating, depending on context; a kiss can be degrading…) rather than on (informed) consent is in itself a form of oppression. It may be true that sexual choices tell a ‘story’ of ‘social values’, but what they do with that story is far from obvious and cannot be reduced to whatever short-sighted interpretation this or that analist favors. There’s always something someone considers ‘inherently disgusting’ or ‘inherently degrading’: anal sex, facials, pegging, BDSM, femdom, snowballing, pulling a train, pornography, golden showers, orgies, sex work, cuckolding, ménage à trois, sex toys,… Some (exaggerating from the other side) are dismayed even by abstinence or asexuality. Why do people consider the idea that the main operational concept here is ‘consent’ — the basis, the essence of respect for the individual! — to be so radical? Why must the script be so thoroughly judged? Don’t people realize that by judging the script rather than the level of consent, one is actually judging people — deciding that some people, because of their preference, are ‘less than others’? And that this act is in itself the birth of all prejudice, of all oppression?

    Hypocons and radfems: two groups who have more in common than others may think. Both of them believe that people should not be allowed to do what they want, even if what they want is not harmful to anyone and all those involved agree with it. The former, because ‘god/morality doesn’t allow it’, the latter because ‘it reflects social prejudice and degradation’. Since the latter also talk about ‘moral degradation’, is it a surprise that they end up aligning together, with similar concepts and ideas, with only slight variations on who exactly determines the evil of some practice (god to the hypocons, ‘social order’ to the radfems)? Is it so surprising that MacKinnon sided with the evangelicals on pornography?

    And all that, despite of the fact that the main point of Natalia’s post was NOT about sex. (Did anyone also notice that?…), but about how sexual metaphors work in Russia.


  16. It’s sad/amusing to see Natalia’s male fans stand up for her. Kind of proves a working theory of mine, which has to do with her abandonment of feminist issues to focus on being “one of the guys.” Well, it seems to be working! I guess it pays to be a conventionally attractive woman writing about porn for a salivating male audience.

    Still sad that it comes at the expense of real values. The old Natalia, who I used to admire, wouldn’t go down this road. Enjoy the adulation, Natalia. So sorry for your betrayal.

  17. Female fan of Nat’s writing telling you to fuck off, Beth Ranch.

    (Man, I also have to use a proxy and I notice the same thing. Comments load slowly. And when they do load you kinda wish they never loaded at all.)

  18. “And all that, despite of the fact that the main point of Natalia’s post was NOT about sex. (Did anyone also notice that?…), but about how sexual metaphors work in Russia.”


    Let’s face it, half of the people here saw the title of this post and skipped off to vent their impotent rage in the comments section while bypassing the content entirely. Which is a shame, because it was interesting fucking content.

    Beth Ranch – jealous much? You’ll notice how she barely posts pictures of herself on this blog. Most of the people commenting here probably have only a vague idea of what she looks like at best, i.e. they like her for her talent. Sorry to disappoint, Beth.

  19. @ Beth Ranch

    “… it pays to be a conventionally attractive woman writing about porn for a salivating male audience.”

    This goes over the top. You hurl ad hom attacks against both Natalia and her “male fans” in the same sentence. One more time: Natalia was not ‘defending’ anything. To explain something is not necessarily to defend it. And that’s all she’s doing — she’s just explaining Russian life to Westerners. And don’t assume that “male fans” find her post interesting because Natalia is conventionally attractive. You yourself admit that Natalia is a competent writer. The fact is that Natalia’s post is interesting and well written even for readers who aren’t particularly interested in porn or Russian viewing habits.

    A writer shouldn’t have to pass a political litmus test to avoid ad hominem attacks.

  20. It’s funny how essentialism runs rampant in precisely the brand of feminism that claims to fight against it, isn’t it? “Natalia’s male readers…” If someone were to bring up the old stereotype that feminists are all ugly women who need to get laid, I’m sure Mrs Rasch would protest. But since she is the one doing the stereotyping, then it is all right.

    Consent: the radical idea that people should be allowed to decide by themselves — without a stamped form from either radfems or hypocons — what it is that they want to do, with whom, and how often.

    What a dangerous idea!… So anti-feminist! So anti-West! So anti-Russia (to go back to what should have been the topic of the discussion…) Vade retro, satana!…

  21. Why is everyone praising the brilliant “analysis.” Author herself disavows everything she wrote by admitting she worked “backwards” (right, what a brilliant joke) and no real studies done on the subject.

    Also, why the hell would you quote Mark Galeotti in an essay about porn. He’s a serious scholar and you’re some Ukrainian lowlife, from what I’ve been able to figure out. HIS WORK HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH PORN.

  22. Two things:

    Beth, I have been writing about the sex industry/porn for years. I don’t know where the hell you got the impression that I used to condemn it, even as I did always talk about its darker aspects (including, of course, the issue of sex trafficking, writing about which pretty much launched my career). Perhaps you are confusing me with some other Natalia Antonova who guest-blogged for Feministe.


  23. For the alien above: why don’t you ask Mark Galeotti himself what he thinks? Surely he doesn’t need you to defend him? 🙂

    And you’re one of the many who seem to miss the point; namely, the main topic of the post is not porn. Porn is the prism to get at something else. I know school isn’t what it used to be (especially in the US but also elsewhere), but surely you know how to find the main topic of a text, don’t you? I don’t want to despair so deeply…

    Final judgment: many people just like to write bad comments. And I don’t mean ‘angry’: I mean ‘downright bad’, as in ‘you’ve completely missed the point’. So be it!…

  24. “Natalia, although you lived in North Carolina, you clearly failed to internalize the values of your neighbors.”

    Lucky fucking break for her!

  25. From this essay and others I got that Antonova is clever and morbid like a Russian, sensual like a Ukrainian, and willing to bust her ass like an American.

    No wonder everyone’s pissed off at her. Nobody gets to own her.

  26. Rebuttal @ Beth Ranch

    It’s sad/amusing to see Natalia’s male fans stand up for her. Kind of proves a working theory of mine, which has to do with her abandonment of feminist issues to focus on being “one of the guys.” Well, it seems to be working! I guess it pays to be a conventionally attractive woman writing about porn for a salivating male audience.

    Actually, Beth, it’s more hilarious than sad to read how you assume that Natalia’s “male fans” only defend her because she doesn’t go off the deep cliff over butt sex and porn, and not because she’s one hell of a blogger and writer. But then again, not all of us are so obsessed with anal…errrrr, pearl clutching over penises, now are we??

    Still sad that it comes at the expense of real values. The old Natalia, who I used to admire, wouldn’t go down this road. Enjoy the adulation, Natalia. So sorry for your betrayal.

    Funny, but I remember a time when “the old Natalia” would team up with former sex workers like Renegade Evolution to oppose the idiocy of radfems even back then. So, when did the “betrayal” happen, already??

  27. Just because Mark Galeotti is a serious scholar doesn’t mean he can’t also be an expert in porn. Just sayin’.

  28. Who the FUCK is Natalia Antonova? Russian? Ukrainian? American? Ukrainian-American? Russian-American? I don’t get it, it’s confusing as shit, son. I don’t know if I should be yelling at this chick for being a steely-eyed vodka-drinking land usurper or like a middle-class white American feminist type..

    (OK I’ll stop asking if there is another sex essay)

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