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Pornhub’s $25,000 Scholarship Will Let You Go Balls Deep Into Higher Education

Adult entertainment companies have a long history of trying—and failing—to be accepted as philanthropic organizations.

From now until the end of October Pornhub will be accepting applications for their first-ever $25,000 Pornhub Cares college scholarship . It's easy to assume (as many media outlets have in tongue-in-cheek coverage ) that this is just a content-generating gimmick, but looking over the requirements it's clear that Pornhub has taken great pains to make its new program as PG and sincere as possible, claiming it's a way to help registered college students with creativity and charisma achieve their dreams of making others happy—in any way.

There've been a few piddling adult industry scholarships in recent years, like the now-shuttered escort service Rentboy.com's $1,500 award for male sex workers' education, #Cash4Class, launched last month. But Pornhub's offering appears to be the first major, general-interest, and explicitly non-sexual program from an adult entertainment company. It's a big, weird philanthropic bid—and perhaps the sign of a new direction for Pornhub.

The Pornhub Cares Scholarship (which, it should be noted, just barely covers the minimum cost of one year at a cheaper American state school) is just the first project of the site's new Pornhub Cares venture, an umbrella for all the company's ostensibly many future charitable ventures. The portal and press release for Pornhub Cares give almost no information on how extensive this new endeavor will be, or what it will do in the future. The broadness of the scholarship's criteria (promoting happiness) is no real guide as to the site's philanthropic trajectory either.

It's not unheard of for makers and shakers in the adult industry, a $100 billion chunk of the annual global economy, to get involved in regular charitable ventures. Over the last 15 years, the media's had a recurrent but minor love affair with Phil Harvey , the dual president of profitable sexy toy and porno vendor Adam & Eve and DKT International, a family planning and HIV/AIDS awareness NGO with operations in over a dozen countries. Harvey is known for donating up to a quarter of the revenues from his multi-million dollar adult empire into DKT's coffers, funding their good deeds around the globe. And there are many more like him in the adult industry, like Michael King, a.k.a. Mike Wondercub , who set up the new high-class webcam site Benevidz with charity built into its business plan: 10 to 20 percent of performers' pooled tips are funneled to a different cooperating organization of their choice every month.

Yet despite this history of do goodery within the adult industry, Americans have a habit of pearl-clutching when it comes to charitable endeavors involving organizations that traffic in boobs and peens.

In 2010 , when activist sex worker Maggie Mayhem tried to raise funds for relief after the Haitian earthquake, PayPal shut down her account. In 2014 , when the webcam performer Eden Alexander tried to solicit aid to deal with unexpected medical bills, in a campaign unrelated to and with no mention of her career, WePay shut it down, saying it violated a site ban on fundraising associated with pornographic content. That same year the mainstream male porn performer James Deen's offer to donate 50 percent of the revenues from his site to breast cancer charities was rejected by a number of groups, forcing him to seek out minor organizations. This year, the new adult site Hump the Bundle has managed to find a few partners for its philanthropic ventures, but has been rejected as a donor by numerous large organizations.

Pornhub is no stranger to this dynamic. Although Pornhub Cares is meant to be their flagship philanthropic venture, they've been doing charity since 2012, when they sent the starlet Bree Olson to New York with the "Boob Bus" to teach people about home breast exams, then launched their "Save the Boobs" campaign offering one cent to breast cancer research per 30 videos viewed in their "big-tit" and "small-tit" categories in October. There were 74,146,928 views, for a total of $24,715, although Pornhub decided to more than triple their offer to $75,000 . But when they publicly offered those funds to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation, they were viciously rejected (by an organization that has no problem taking money from fracking companies ). Their campaign was then ridiculed in niche outlets for, in its porny puns and allusions, objectifying and trivializing the women it was trying to help. The scandalous nature of pornography in modern society is apparently just too toxic for an NGO, a supposedly morally pristine entity, to be associated with.

Back in 2012, Pornhub was forced to give its funds to three smaller organizations—and to keep them anonymous . Then, when it got back into charity after one year's absence, offering to plant one tree per 100 videos watched in its "big dick" category, the company kept a tight lid on who their partner organization was. Because that's the name of the game: If you're in the porn business, your money is seen, in the non-profit world, as tainted, alienating, and dangerous. It must be hushed.

Given this history, it feels logical that the Pornhub Cares scholarship makes absolutely no mention of sex or sexuality. In its self-description on the scholarship page , Pornhub paints itself in neutered hues: "We work hard to make millions of people feel very happy every single day. In turn, we would like to help support the recipient of the first annual Pornhub Cares Scholarship to realize their goal of doing the same." It then asks for a 1,000- to 1,500-word essay on how people strive to make others happy, a two-to-five-minute video elaborating on that (which Pornhub execs say they expect to be entirely SFW ), proof of enrollment at a full-time, accredited post-secondary institution (including those pursuing undergraduate, masters, or doctoral programs), proof that a recipient is 18 or older, a resume, and a school transcript showing a 3.2 or higher grade point average. It's an utterly broad and unsexy set of criteria—one that will prove less problematic than past cheeky and explicitly pornographic campaigns.

Pornhub Vice President Corey Price admits that his team was taken aback by their 2012 experience, but denies that the scholarship, either as a program or in its language, is in any way a reaction to their past experiences.

"Our site is most visited by viewers in the 18 to 25 age demographic, which is about the same age as those attending colleges and graduate schools," Price wrote in an e-mail to VICE. "With this initiative, we are trying make [sic] a difference in the life of someone in this cohort."

Price thinks this program will succeed despite its very public porn association not because of its scholarship-specific subtlety, but because people are getting used to porn's public face.

"The adult entertainment industry has undertaken a significant evolution from its days as a 'seedy underworld,'" he writes. "There will be those who maintain that viewpoint, and that's perfectly acceptable. But the visibility the industry has been given, through some of our initiatives and other adult entertainment related stories, has provided the world an inside look at porn and the reception has been overwhelming. People are receptive to what we do nowadays as porn and sex positive are is [sic] penetrating the mainstream and garnering more interest than ever before."

Yet for all Price's faith in acceptance, there's a fair amount of clever strategy involved in starting the company's new Pornhub Cares venture with a wide, neutral scholarship.

If a college were to kick a student out for taking their funding, it would create a PR disaster for the university. Meanwhile Pornhub will only receive willing applicants, avoiding a Komen-style rejection or Arbor Day-style anonymity. They may think that they can slide into mainstream consciousness with this inoffensive and theoretically unassailable move, then work their way toward a public presence that will help bring them into the light of PR respectability alongside other major corporations.

Price's comments seem to prove the reality of at least part of this potential undergirding strategy:

"We are providing the scholarship directly to the student so as to avoid any rejection and/or conflict with charities," he writes. "The winner of our scholarship will be a future innovator and leader. For a college to shy away from him or her would be a travesty."

And Price's faith in the acceptance of porn seems a little overly optimistic, given just how hard even the mercenary commercial sector has bucked whenever Pornhub has tried to peek out into the wider world with utterly harmless projects. In 2013, CBS refused to air their SFW, innocuous 20-second commercial spot on Superbowl Sunday. In October 2014, the company tried to put up its first major billboard, a crowdsourced public-ready design of a hand heart reading " All You Need Is Hand," in Times Square, only to see it taken down within 48 hours when the hotel building it was (legally) put up on complained. Just last month, a distinctly mundane ad for their new premium service, comparing its quality to that of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, actually precipitated legal action by the Italian governmental agency regulating said dairy product. They claimed that the mere association of Pornhub with their farmers' product was not only obscene, but defaming and destructive to their brand to an extent that required recompense for damages.

Add to this the fact that porn stars have been known to have their bank accounts shut down for no apparent reason, and you can see how just dealing in money from Pornhub could be problematic for students and collegiate institutions, no matter the branding of the campaign.

"We understand some people may shy away from applying due to our affiliation with explicit material," concedes Price.

Even if the scholarship succeeds, it seems unlikely that this level of public stigma will fade quickly enough for the wider Pornhub Cares umbrella to become a large-scale corporate force for good. And industry stigma aside, there are a ton of other reasons for charitable organizations, students, and schools to want keep a distance from Pornhub, like their association with (mildly fair if legally unactionable) rampant copyright infringement allegations and malware-laden ads and links.

All cautions aside, given the desperation of students these days, people are going to apply for this program. And given the time and expense they're apparently sinking into it, Pornhub will move forward with their philanthropic wing. All that remains is for observers to wait and see if it does manage to erode stigmas about adult industry giving, or if they somehow manage to cock it up.

Follow Mark Hay on Twitter.