According to a recent xHamster trend report, interest in kinky porn in the U.S. is lessening – at least in terms of how often we're searching for it online.

Given the cultural shaming that's happened around porn this past year, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised. Pornography has always been a touchy topic in our society. Even as we move toward a state of more open-mindedness, the subject still comes under fire.

Even so, the statistics are kind of surprising. After all, people like what they like, right? Why would they switch to something more vanilla when what they really get off on is something much different? What exactly is going on here? We reached out to some experts to get their thoughts.

Politics and Porn

Carol Queen, Ph.D. and Good Vibrations staff sexologist, thinks the discourse about porn in the sociopolitical world affects people’s viewing habits to some degree. It may also affect the way they feel about accessing porn. In other words, many people carry internalized shame or fear that others will discover their taste in sexy material. “This is one reason the way we talk and write, not to mention legislate, about porn matters – because it can affect the sexual self-image of real people,” she says.

Legislatures across the country have declared porn a public health crisis, while religious and conservative groups hotly oppose the consumption of porn (although research has shown this attitude isn’t always mirrored in their, ahem, private lives).

“Pornography is not a public health crisis,” says Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics. “Alcoholism is. Drug abuse is. Sex addiction is. Polluted water is. Air pollution is. Pornography is an outlet for people to understand how to use their bodies for pleasure and how to bring pleasure to their partners in more exciting or interesting ways.”

A Back-to-Basics Mindset

When it comes to porn, maybe we’re simply in a back-to-basics mindset at the moment. Interest in subjects like BDSM, anal sex and other previously taboo topics spiked before our recent administration. You know, before the U.S. president promised to crack down on pornography if elected (but reportedly paid $130,000 to silence adult film actress Stormy Daniels from disclosing sexual relations) right before the 2016 election.

Porn Fills a Gap for Many People

Keep in mind that porn viewers search for topics that turn them on, as well as information on subjects they’re curious about.

Courtney Watson, a licensed marriage and family therapist, thinks part of porn’s purpose is to allow access to sexual spaces that people can't experience in real life. “Someone might not know how to access granny sex in person (whether to watch it or engage in it), so porn fills that gap,” she says.

Plus, sex education in the United States is mediocre at best, so porn has become the primary source of information for too many. Queen wonders if “basic” porn is spiking because people are using it to try to learn more about sex.

“In conservative times, sex education gets worse,” she notes. Not to mention, a lot of porn (but not all*) portrays gender inequality, unrealistic expectations, and verbal and physical hostility. And that’s the short list of its shortcomings. It’s like learning to drive by watching a chase scene from "The Fast and the Furious." “We know porn is often turned to to pick up the slack," says Queen. "Whether it should be used this way or not."

We've Improved Our Talks about Consent and Assault

On a more positive note, 2017 was also the year in which we engaged in an amazing national conversation around consent and assault.

“This is a tremendous positive for us culturally, but without proper context or education, issues like kink, sex work, and BDSM have been often framed as anti-consent,” says Mike Stabile, a spokesperson for xHamster. “In times of great anxiety around sex, we tend to revert to more vanilla depictions of sex.”

Backe is in a similar camp, thinking the shift toward less kinky porn is probably because people are more interested in seeing how "normal" sex can be done better or how it’s done properly. “It might come as a surprise to many porn fans that not everyone is into hardcore or extreme stuff, but the truth is that most aren’t,” he says. “Generally, I think most people look to pornography as a more detailed 'how-to guide' when it comes to sex.”

The Newest Porn Viewers Are More Conservative

The upsurge of customers who are new to porn, and who may come from more conservative backgrounds, doesn’t mean that porn itself is getting less kinky or milder. “It means that this type of consumer may differ pretty substantially in what they want to watch compared to old-school porn fans and fiends,” says Queen. “We might see the newer customers move into more hard-core or kinky or diverse fare as time goes on - or not.”

Interest In Bondage Has Increased, Though

Monk, the founder of TwistedMonk.com, shares a different experience. “Interest in rope bondage, especially by first-time users, is the backbone of our company and sales have been at double-digit growth for the past several years,” he says. “Last year, we saw a temporary dip in sales numbers when the health care debate was on the front page, but those quickly rebounded.”

Monk’s armchair quarterback observation would be that as more elements of BDSM play filter into mainstream porn, folks are seeking out porn that better reflects what they actually like in bed. Think: Sex served up with a BDSM side dish or another sexual act they enjoy – not clips that feature BDSM as the main focus, as portrayed in your typical BDSM porn.

BDSM Interest Doubled Internationally

While the U.S. may be seeking out less kinky porn, xHamster saw interest in BDSM nearly double worldwide. “That's partly because the specific political anxieties in the U.S. are not universal, and partly because we're seeing tens of millions of people come online for the first time, defying porn bans or other previous restrictions in much greater numbers in different regions of the world, like South Korea and Indonesia,” says Stabile. “Those people are more likely to be curious, and an in an explorative phase. Some of them will likely find things that resonate, but others may just be trying to experiment or learn about their sexuality.”

Watson thinks the 150-million-copy book trilogy "Fifty Shades of Grey" may have something to do with mainstream society becoming more accepting of alternative sexual practices. "There is greater access to kink and the kink community," she says. "People have more knowledge about what it entails and how to participate or replicate it in their homes. With more access, there might be less of a need for porn filling the void.” She may be onto something.

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*A few of my favorite producers of ethical porn include Erika Lust (check out XConfessions), Bree Mills, Lucie Blush and Joanna Angel. Another fave resource is TrenchcoatX, Stoya and Kayden Kross’s site dedicated to curated smut. I also adore CrashPadSeries.com for queer porn. To learn more, check out The Ethical Porn Partnership.