Why porn is exploding in the Middle East
Data reveal six of the top eight porn-searching countries are Muslim states. It’s not as surprising as it sounds
The world is a big place, and cultural gaps are vast. But there are a few things that connect people across borders. Some people argue food is the best glue while others say it’s education. But there’s a new contestant: online porn.
Porn is being made and watched in the Middle East, and millions more are watching it around the planet. In fact, some of the world’s top porn consumers come out of the Middle East. According to data released by Google, six of the top eight porn-searching countries are Muslim states. Pakistan tops the list at number one, followed by Egypt at number two. Iran, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Turkey come in at numbers four, five, seven and eight, respectively. Pakistan leads the way in porn searches for animals like pigs, donkeys, dogs, cats and snakes.
According to research put out by PornMD, the terms “creamy squirt,” “blowjob” and even “Kendra Wilkinson” (Hugh Hefner’s former girlfriend) appear on the top 10 most-searched terms coming out of countries like Iraq, Syria and Iran. The word “Arab” is the number-one searched porn term in Egypt, Iran and Syria. Some get a little creepier. “Pain” lands at Iraq’s fourth most-searched term, while “father daughter” and “brother sister” come in at numbers four and five for Syria. Both the words “mother” and “mom” appear on Egypt’s top 10 list.
The specifics are representative of a broader change taking place in a society all but defined by extreme “moral” standards. The fact that porn trends within the region can even be tracked is impressive, given that the sale of erotic material is banned in nearly every Arab country except Lebanon and Turkey.
In 2009, Iraq’s government moved ahead with new censorship laws, prohibiting material deemed harmful to the public. Taher Naser al-Hmood, the country’s cultural minister, claimed, “Our Constitution respects freedom of thought and freedom of expression, but that should come with respect for society as a whole, and for moral behavior. It is not easy to balance security and democracy. It is like being a tightrope walker.”
Ahmed Mohammed Raouf, chief engineer for the State Company for Internet Services, told the New York Times, “I don’t want to stop a person from seeing a certain thing, but I also want to protect society.”
More recently, the Saudi Arabian government announced that it had hacked and disabled about 9,000 Twitter accounts associated with the publication of pornography and arrested many of the handles’ owners. The move was organized by the Commission for the Promotion and Prevention of Vice, also known as Haia, the Saudi religious police.
The good news for porn fans in the region is that a lot of these restrictions seem fairly easy to overcome. It’s not uncommon to find vendors lining the streets armed with pornographic videos. Nor is it rare to find young men hanging around popular shopping centers, selling cards to disable Internet blocks.
Meet the Stars
Mia Khalifa, a 21-year-old Muslim American born in Lebanon, has just been voted the “Number 1 Porn Star” on Pornhub, a free website that is the 73rd most popular site on the Internet, according to analytics company Alexa. Khalifa moved to the United States at the age of 10 with her family. Corey Price, vice president of PornHub, told Buzzfeed that the site has seen more than 750,000 searches for Khalifa since Saturday.
Khalifa plays up her Muslim heritage in her movies, sometimes wearing a hijab and sporting heavy eyeliner to emphasize her “exotic” look. The raw sexuality of Khalifa’s work literally strips away common western stereotypes of Muslim women. In his piece, “In Praise of Vulgarity” Charles Paul Freund argues, “Broad-based culture, popular and vulgar, is far from being a mere distraction or a source of self-absorption. As Islamists have learned, it can function as a bulwark against coercion. More than that, it can even be a means of democratic resort.”
But then there are those in the opposing court. NOW Lebanon’s Juliana Yazbeck wrote, “For someone who has struggled so much to assert their presence as a human being with a working, thinking brain, I cannot deny that I felt a pang of despair when Mia erupted across social media and entertainment news. It never even crossed my mind to think, ‘She doesn’t have the right.’ What did cross my mind was: Really? Of the very few Lebanese women who are making global headlines, it had to be a porn star?”
Yazbeck’s response was fairly mild compared to other more extreme protesters. Many conservative Muslims have targeted Khalifa via Twitter, writing things like, “@miakhalifa You do realize that you’ll be the first person in Hellfire right?” Another user posted a manipulated image of an Isis militant holding Khalifa’s decapitated head.
And she’s not alone. After Sila Sahin, a Turkish-German actress, posed nude for the German edition of Playboy, she received a slew of criticism. Threads on Islamic websites read, “She must pay” and “She needs to be careful.” One user wrote, “I would kill her. I really mean that. That doesn’t fit with my culture.”
Is this a sex problem? Or is it a porn problem? Or is it just another hiccup in the long, thorny path to gender equality? Women are given center-stage in a lot of pornography, after all. Maybe some in the Middle East aren’t interested in seeing that happen. Or maybe they feel that sex should be restricted to a more private and procreative space. Many Muslim states declare that cemented social morals should not be violated. The data out there, however, suggest their public may feel otherwise.