Despite never being involved in an adult productions herself, Aria Nathaniel — better known as Pornhub Aria — is arguably one of the most visible players in the porn industry.

The online face of Pornhub, she's been the brand's social media manager for several years, and in that time, has cultivated an irreverent, wickedly funny online presence that's inspired a league of copycat accounts, all while blowing other brands' engagement numbers out of the water (look no further than the brand's 1.69 million Twitter and 8.1 million Instagram followers). More impressively though, Aria also manages to do this in the midst of an uphill battle against everyone from trolls to creeps to big tech censorship — all with a smile and, sometimes, a meme.

Aria's story really begins more than five years ago. Recruited by a former Pornhub employee she knew beforehand, Aria was initially apprehensive about taking on the role — mostly because she had no idea what exactly a job at Pornhub would entail. For all of her initial hesitation though, the job has since transformed her, whether we're talking about all the marketing and business experience she's gained or one of the many once-in-a-lifetime opportunities she's had — including the time Kanye West physically stitched a dress to her body at the 2018 Pornhub Awards.

Today, Pornhub has real cultural currency, but if you had told anyone a few years ago that a porn streaming platform would have an influential online presence, art shows exhibiting Bunny Yeager and Tracey Emin, Yeezy collaborations, and an awards ceremony with production value rivaling the VMAs, there's a slim chance anyone would actually take you seriously. In a world where sex, sexuality, and, to some extent, porn are slowly becoming a bigger presence in mainstream pop culture, the emergence of Pornhub as a source of legitimate online commentary makes sense.

"When I first started out here five-and-a-half years ago, things were very different for us as a brand and in society in general," she says, pointing toward the world's general trend toward "becoming slightly more unhinged in all respects" as a likely reason why Pornhub's social media presence has gone from a deep-internet cult fave to a verifiable pop cultural phenomenon.

"The wider acceptance of sex has had a wonderful impact on our industry. I think we've made very big progress in the sex work realm, and there's still a lot more to do."

"The wider acceptance of sex has had a wonderful impact on our industry," Aria says. "I think we've made very big progress in the sex work realm, and there's still a lot more to do, but I'm really grateful that it's becoming more and more accepted and less like it's a vice. Everyone watches porn, everyone gets horny. It's important we celebrate that."

But Pornhub's cultural cache wasn't something that came easy. As Aria contends, it also took a lot of behind-the-scenes work on the company's part to even reach this point. For example, in order to make the brand "more mainstream," Aria says the company has involved itself in various collaborations with like-minded brands such as the Museum of Sex and Richardson, all while continuing to advocate for sexual health and education. Through the Pornhub Sexual Wellness Center, helmed by Sex Therapist Dr. Laurie Betito, Pornhub aims to destigmatize sex-related discussions and fund sexual wellness research.

But another big component that plays into Pornhub's mainstream relevancy is the way they make a point of staying on top of pop cultural trends — and that's where Aria comes in. In an online world where every brand on Twitter tries to stay relevant by reposting a stale meme or attempting to "shade" celebrities or competitors, it's admittedly difficult for a social media manager to ensure they don't teeter too far into cornball territory. That said, Aria is an arguable master of the artform, though she admits that Pornhub's wide target audience (i.e. everyone because, again, who doesn't watch porn?) means that it is "a bit easier to please people."

"Truly, I think anyone, anywhere, no matter what walk of life they are from, can be cringeworthy," she says. "I think it's my job to ensure I don't make people cringe regularly. Maybe because I'm so sensitive to how bad other social media can be, it's made me hyper aware and in tune with what I deem quality."

Aria also fancies herself a "huge comedy buff" — something she loves incorporating into her Twitter presence, especially if it's "comedy you wouldn't necessarily expect from the Pornhub account." Citing her love of Larry David's brand of self-deprecating, anxiety-ridden comedy, Aria says she enjoys taking the dry humor approach for "mostly everything I touch." Keeping the jokes less sexual on Twitter also has the added benefit of "allowing for more people to follow, because it feels less 'taboo.'"

That said, it's not all memes and riffing on the latest viral trend, especially when it comes to Instagram and its infamously stringent algorithm. Given Pornhub's product, a cursory scroll through the Pornhub account will reveal a relatively chaste assortment of Pornhub merch pushes, funny (and fully-clothed) screenshots from the site, and reposts from talent. Yet, despite making a significant effort to follow all of the guidelines and always be SFW, "I get shadowbanned very, very easily" — an occurrence Aria laments "makes it difficult to grow and conquer."

Unfortunately though, the limitations of big tech aren't the only issue she faces on a daily basis. In addition to fielding the type of negativity that inherently comes with being a front-facing person working on the internet, Aria has also personally been subjected to a significant amount of sexual harassment in the form of gross messages and unsolicited pictures that she says, "I never in my life wanted to see."

While she takes it in stride — specifically making a point to not pay attention to the trolls and icky messages — it is, undoubtedly, disturbing. As Aria points out, she and fellow female social media managers, including Red Tube's Emma and YouPorn's Katie, are all too often "put in a box where everyone assumes it's ok to be vulgar or sexually open with us."

"Everyone watches porn, everyone gets horny. It's important we celebrate that."

And though constantly experiencing this type of depersonalized fetishization can be extremely off-putting and demoralizing, Aria continues to carry on — working to further the understanding that there is a "human side to working in the sex industry."

"For every shitty person trying to take you down, there's about three who are super supportive and wonderful," she says. "It's a give and take like anything else."

With all of this in mind, she's still incredibly committed to her work, the mission of destigmatizing sex and the adult industry, as well as continuing to facilitate conversations surrounding sexual health and wellness education.

"I can't really see myself doing anything else to be quite honest," she says. "Pornhub has given me an outlet to be an elevated version of myself with a great platform to do it on. I've already been here five years, what's another 20?"

Welcome to "Sex with Sandra," a column by Sandra Song about the ever-changing face of sexuality. Whether it be spotlight features on sex work activists, deep dives into hyper-niche fetishes, or overviews on current legislation and policy, "Sex with Sandra" is dedicated to examining some of the biggest sex-related discussions happening on the Internet right now.

Photo courtesy of Pornhub Aria

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