The platformization of gender and sexual identities: an algorithmic analysis of Pornhub

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Online pornography, like other forms of cultural production, is increasingly subject to processes of platformization. While research has focused on the diffusion of online pornography and its broader implications, less attention has been paid to the algorithmic infrastructures through which platforms distribute and manage pornographic content, and how this might reiterate socially embedded views and perspectives. To fill this gap, we consider how Pornhub, currently the leading porn platform, establishes the gender identity of its users, and how this affects the structure of the platform and the distribution and recommendation of content within it. We collected data for 1600 variations of Pornhub’s homepages, as well as data for 25,000 videos suggested to 10 accounts with differing self-declared gender identities. Through these data and an analysis of the sign- up procedure, we underline how Pornhub segments, distributes, and manages content based on the profiling of its users, increasingly following the logics of the platformization of content. Findings point to how Pornhub’s algorithmic suggestions and the structure of the platform concur to reiterate a heteronormative perspective on sexual desire, sexuality, and gender identities.

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