You are here
Home > Blogs > Tumblr Is Betraying The Sex Workers And NSFW Artists Who Relied On The Platform

Tumblr Is Betraying The Sex Workers And NSFW Artists Who Relied On The Platform

Peachyandplussized was upset.

She had just gotten off a tearful, 45-minute call with her partner, and she was still trying to process the news about Tumblr’s impending ban on all adult content when I got in touch with her. Peachyandplussized had poured so much of herself into her Tumblr. She was thinking now about how long it had taken her, an online sex worker, to build a fanbase on that platform, to make a name for herself.

“I’ve put almost three years into that blog. I’ve put so much money and time and effort,” she told me. “I’ve had to deal with so many people harassing me and threatening me. People putting me through the wringer just because of the content I wanted to make … and people treated me like I was less than a human — for years.”  

She talked about the days when she was sick yet still got out of bed and shot videos, took hundreds of photos and purchased props to make her living. Then she let out a frustrated sigh before telling me that now a huge chunk of her income may be gone.

“Now it feels like all of my hard work and the strain it’s put on my mental health was just for nothing,” she added.

On Dec. 17, when the ban goes into effect, any photos, videos or GIFs that display human genitals or “female-presenting nipples” along with any content depicting sex acts will be prohibited. Any nudity related to art, political speech or “health-related situations,” as well as written erotica, will be exempt from the ban. The new policy comes two weeks after the Tumblr app’s removal from Apple’s App Store after “child sexual abuse material” was found on the site. Tumblr says it immediately removed the content. (Tumblr and HuffPost are both owned by Oath Inc.)

Several NSFW artists and sex workers who spoke with HuffPost believe Tumblr has been quietly tightening the limitations on explicit content over the past year — including shadow-banning adult content with no option to turn off safe-search. (When reached for comment, Tumblr pointed HuffPost to CEO Jeff D’Onofrio’s blog, the Support page and a help page.)

Now the bloggers fear that the new round of policies — as well as flaws in the site’s automatic flagging feature — will result in their losing their incomes as well as the communities they’ve built. (Due to the sensitive nature of the subject, HuffPost is keeping the bloggers anonymous or referring to them by their Tumblr blog names.)

Since its inception, Tumblr distinguished itself from its major competitors by categorizing adult content with “sensitive” or “explicit” filters instead of banning it completely. This allowed sex workers, artists, photographers and curators of “not safe for work” content to build followings and generate income. The platform’s rigorous and broadly adopted use of tags allowed users to curate their experiences, more easily search for content they desired and mute things in which they had no interest. Users could also warn one another of movie and TV spoilers, provide trigger warnings, “signal boost” posts about missing persons or include longer reaction tags expressing their personal reactions to a post.

Tumblr gave people an ideal set of tools for finding and maintaining communities. It was a place where users could curate their interests and find others who enjoyed the same things. It didn’t matter if the size of the community was less than 100 people or over 100,000. My original Tumblr blog ran for eight years, and I never cracked 1,000 followers. But the community I had made me feel seen and valued as a “weird” black kid who didn’t quite know how her eclectic tastes — and affinity for smoking a little too much weed her sophomore year in college — intersected with her love of that ratchet hood shit.  

The NSFW blogs, in particular, have been instrumental in changing the toxic conversations that often surround human identity and sexuality. A number of currently mainstream pushes for inclusivity arose from the communities of Tumblr — such as the use of gender-inclusive pronouns — where nonconforming content creators have been standing proudly in their identity for years. For many, it was the last real inclusive place.

“I’m not going to claim that it’s all safe and healthy on the porn side of Tumblr, but it’s important to recognize how much good can be done when you give femmes/people with vaginas and queer people a platform to teach about and learn about their sexual experiences,” said one blogger who asked to remain anonymous.

Tumblr was also one of the last places online sex workers could run their businesses safely while creating communities that allow workers to bond over shared experiences, pass along resources and other important information. Since the passing of FOSTA/SESTA — an anti-trafficking bill that closed several online sex-work forums — the online communities that welcome sex workers have dwindled. This is why, despite her frustration, peachyandplussized, who goes by GoddessPeach3 on Twitter, isn’t surprised at the ban.

“Every time sex workers are being attacked, and killed and banned, their profits being taken — no one seems to care,” she said. “And now I’m over here panicking because that was a good 85 percent of my profit that’s now gone because they felt like taking it away.

“It doesn’t feel like sex workers are ever going to win.”

Tumblr user queermarquis, another online sex worker who has been using the site for a few months, explained that he grew up in an area with not a lot of queer people. So the fall of Tumblr, for him, is like losing an entire community and “the few people you could really relate to and the people who could see you as who you are.”

Now these folks will be dispersed across the internet and may not be able to reach as many people who need to hear what they have to say, people who need to see art that truthfully represents them. Jjackdaw, an NSFW artist who makes a living using Tumblr, fears the new rules are only going to limit an already small pool of resources for LGBTQ+ people, people of color and anyone else seeking alternative NSFW experiences and information.

“NSFW stuff is really taken for granted but as a gay trans-man, being able to find NSFW art, writing and porn of people like me — that wasn’t fetishizing and gross — was a huge deal,” he said. “It made me and a lot of other people feel just a bit better about themselves.”  

He added: “It’s a lot more than a bunch of creepy old men whackin it to cartoon horses. I’ve seen some of my favorite art and read fan works better than any book I’ve ever picked up on NSFW blogs. I found confidence in my body and sexuality that before I thought was wrong. Yes there will always be bad eggs, but they are few and far between.”

 The anonymous user agreed. “This is definitely going to affect women and marginalized people the most. Rules are always enforced more for people who aren’t cishet white men, and we’ve seen this on Twitter — and even on Tumblr — where racism and sexism is punished less or not at all while women, queer people, people of color are consistently and constantly problematized and punished for speaking up at all,” she said. “The new rules are just another barrier put up that makes it harder for already-marginalized and underrepresented groups to create and access sexual content that is safe, inclusive, and satisfying to them.”

Tumblr, in the name of protecting vulnerable kids, will dismantle a corner of the internet that has long provided a home to other categories of vulnerable people. Thriving NSFW fandoms, artists, photographers and others will lose one of the only places they had to be free. It’s a shame that the next generation of Tumblr users will never know that we once had access to an online platform filled with all types of bodies doing whatever the fuck they wanted to do with those bodies, on their own terms.

Leave a Reply

Top