In January, Pornhub released its annual “Year in Review” report, which highlights the top porn trends of the previous year, as measured by what people searched for on the site. Frankly, there’s nothing more this sex scientist turned journalist looks forward than perusing such data, especially as an indicator of how our sexual proclivities are evolving (or not).

Surprisingly, the top trending search throughout 2017 was “Porn for Women,” followed by searches for Rick and Morty porn parodies—a testament to the show’s popularity—and fidget spinners, of all things.

Across the entire site, however, the top six search terms of 2017 included “step mom,” “step sister” and “mom,” speaking to the growing trend of incest pornography known as “fauxcest,” or fictionalized incest. Within the United States in particular, “step sister”- and “step mom”-themed pornography ranked highest.

Sexual interest in middle-aged people isn’t new. A paper published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior in 2016 explored the MILF phenomenon and how age preferences may be considered a sexual orientation. Not suprisingly, “MILF” also ranks high among Pornhub’s 2017 searches.

As queasy as the phrase incest porn might make us feel, depictions of these kinds of relationships are commonplace in pop culture. Consider multiple storylines on Game of Thrones, including the incestuous relationships between Daenerys Targaryen and her nephew, Jon Snow, and “twincest” between Queen Cersei and Jaime Lannister. Other notable instances include the marquee stepsibling duo of 1999’s Cruel Intentions, Marty McFly and his mother in 1985’s Back to the Future and twincest between Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia of the Star Wars franchise, launched in 1977.

The 2018 AVN Awards’ nominees reflects this trend, with the category of “Best Taboo Relations Movie” having been dominated by titles that sound innocent enough, like “Family Friendly,” “Fathers & Daughters” and “I Like My New Stepsister.” In an interview with the Daily Beast, Lady Fyre, an adult content producer whose studio ranks among the top 15 on the amateur porn and fetish site Clips4Sale, 35 percent of her videos consists of fauxcest. The most in-demand theme is that of mother/son, followed by stepmother/stepson.

“It’s not as important to me that they’re actually related It’s more about the fantasy and the transgression of boundaries.”

Fantasies revolving around incest also aren’t anything new; the “daddy-daughter” role-play is seemingly commonplace in the BDSM community. For men who are into fauxcest, it represents the final frontier in stigmatized sex, and it is this deviant aspect that turns viewers on.

Tom, a 23-year-old guy who works in construction, tells me his fauxcest preferences revolve around family member orgies, particularly those that include apparent brothers and sisters. “It’s not as important to me that they’re actually related,” he explains. “You have no way of knowing whether they are. It’s more about the fantasy and the transgression of boundaries.” Some producers will make a point of including a disclaimer at the start of the scene in which the actors explicitly talk about how they aren’t related to each other; others are ambiguous to further fuel the fantasy.

Another guy I spoke with, a 35-year-old retail worker named Mark, prefers amateur videos due to their organic feel and the fact that they look like they could have plausibly been homemade, with another family member behind the camera.

Therein lies the uncomfortable moral question: Can incest among adults be consensual? Even if we put aside the influence of family dynamics and take the chances of reproduction off the table by way of voluntary sterilization, the majority of us would argue it isn’t something that should ever become socially acceptable.

Disgust is a powerful emotion that serves an evolutionary purpose: to help us avoid things that may be harmful so that we will be able to successfully reproduce and pass on our genes. In the case of incest, it is biologically helpful for us to find the idea of having sex with a family member disgusting; this prevents us from making the mistake of reproducing with them, since inbreeding leads to genetic mutations and lower health and fertility in resulting offspring.

Furthermore, a 2008 study in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience found a unique pattern of brain activation that occurs when we imagine situations that involve moral wrongness, including acts of incest, offering evidence that we are biologically programmed to avoid these behaviors.

It’s difficult to know exactly how prevalent consensual intrafamilial sex is, but judging from one specific thread on Reddit it’s more than we probably imagine. Taken together with the above research findings, most people, such as Tom, are presumably enjoying the subversiveness this pornography genre without any real desire to have sex with their relatives. But for those who may feel an inclination to do so, previous research has shown how porn can help manage a person’s sexual urges, especially when they are harmful and illegal. (One of the best possible solutions, I believe, is animated forms of illegal acts.)

The genre itself understandably makes people uneasy because it appears to be one step away from endorsing the sexualization and abuse of children. It’s important to acknowledge, however, in the interest of public safety and preventing child abuse, such sexual offenses have more to do with factors like antisociality than solely exposure to pornography.

As has been the case with many trending kinks of years prior, interest in incest porn will likely ebb and flow, and I’m looking forward to seeing who and what will top Pornhub’s popularity rankings next year. Their annual results never fail to disappoint in revealing the fascinating and bluntly honest truth about the discrepancy between public presentation and what goes on in a person’s mind behind closed doors.


Debra W. Soh writes about the science and politics of sex and holds a PhD in sexual neuroscience from York University. Her writing has appeared in Harper’s, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Globe and Mail and many others. Follow her and her writing: @DrDebraSoh.