Pornhub hit the headlines again a couple of weeks ago, when they removed 10 million videos overnight. The main reason for this – protecting victims of child abuse, human trafficking and revenge porn. No one is going to argue with this. This content should never have been posted in the first place.
But it doesn’t mean that the 10 million videos contained this type of content. So, in Pornhub’s huge purge of unverified content, what else got removed?
In short, a lot of kinky vids. And that’s a problem.
Safe spaces under threat
Like it or not, the porn industry has helped to legitimise and publicise kink/BDSM simply by making it visible. Sites such as Pornhub, YouPorn, Xtube, RedTube etc provided online spaces where kinksters could realise that we weren’t weird, or wrong, or ‘the only one’. We could watch, comment and post our own vids. We could express ourselves. There are precious few places that allow us to do this. And if certain groups have their way, there will soon be fewer.
You’re being judged
Once again, I’m going to say that Pornhub had serious flaws. It didn’t police itself, it profited from people who were criminally abused and it needs to be held accountable/punished. But I don’t want it closed down. I want it fixed. However, there’s a vocal and well-funded campaign that wants to shut down Pornhub (and other Mindgeek sites) permanently, and you might be interested to know who’s behind it; who persuaded 2 million people to sign a petition to consign Pornhub to history.
To quote Vice:
“What people who sign the TraffickingHub petition might not understand is that the campaign, while focused on Pornhub, comes from the world of anti sex trafficking activism—and specifically, from a large Christian organization, Exodus Cry, which opposes decriminalizing or legalizing sex work and wants to abolish porn altogether.
Religiously affiliated anti-trafficking organizations aren’t just Bible thumpers. The legislation they’ve advocated for has done tangible harm to sex workers, on top of upholding stigmas against sex work as work, painting everyone in the sex trade as victims in need of saving from their circumstances.”
Exodus Cry also has a history of bigotry and homophobia. If you’re trans, pan, bi, gay, queer or female, they want to hush you up. Similarly, if you’re a sub, sissy, Dom or FemDom, top or bottom, or any non-vanilla type, they’re keen for you to disappear. And this is where kink silencing comes in. ‘Trafficking’ was the trojan horse that also served to wipe out a tonne of kink content. And don’t think these haters will stop at Pornhub. They’ll come after any space where there is sex work and porn (and therefore kink). Exodus Cry is a US-based organisation, but the fallout from their attack on Pornhub is being felt far and wide.
Hurts so bad
In the days around the big deletion, I spotted a number of ProDommes on Twitter saying that their BDSM content was being rejected by Pornhub, even though it/they were verified. What sort of content? Consensual pain play such as trampling and ballbusting.
This is surprising as Pornhub loves brutality:
And when you click through, it’s women being sexually brutalised in every imaginable way. So…why is Pornhub rejecting ProDommes’ BDSM content? The D/s dynamic? The fact it’s men getting beaten? Because it’s a woman doing the beating? Whatever the reason, it looks like double standards. And the message it sends is that pain play isn’t acceptable. And if you’re into this practice, giving or receiving, you’re not fit to be seen.
Silenced by religion or by legal doubts?
Part of the Exodus Cry rhetoric states (from Vice):
‘that it uses funding to change laws that will “end the sex industry,” and “works with governments and legislators… to implement legislation that creates criminal culpability”.’
In rejecting certain BDSM vids, perhaps Pornhub is trying to second guess what the religious pressure groups will object to next on biblical grounds? Or maybe, it’s less about pearl-clutching disgust and more about legalities around BDSM practises?
To cite a recent legal article:
“BDSM ‘remains a frequently marginalized and misunderstood practice’ today, and is ‘besieged’ by ‘condemnation by various commentators from the moralist to the medic’. Criminal prohibitions on BDSM activities remain firmly in place.” “Consensual BDSM activities continue to be criminalised where they involve the infliction of even minor injuries on participants.” (Source 4)
If the law takes this view of BDSM, you can see why content platforms might now think these types of videos are too risky. And if a platform the size of Pornhub is shying away from certain kinks, others will do the same.
Instagram – kinkphobia in full effect
We all know Facebook is a disgraced organisation that has violated users’ consent more than once. (See source 8.) Thanks to FB’s ownership of Instagram, kink is most definitely being silenced under the pretext of ‘Adult sexual solicitation’ and ‘Nudity or sexual activity’. No doubt it’s IG’s porn-hunting algorithm (AI) that’s ‘flagging’ my content, but this is what I’m up against.
This is the picture I posted.
This is the warning I received from IG.
Just yesterday (1/1/21), I posted this pic – which I censored myself to make it non-explicit – and it was removed for the same reason.
So, I covered up most of the image and tried again.
And they censored it again!
But at the same time, Instagram allows this content. And there’s loads of it.
The main difference – the ‘allowed’ content is classic wank fodder for hetero dudebros. And the censored content? Kink-positive, sex-positive content aimed at detailing different gender expression and sexuality. What is this if it’s not kink silencing?
(And yes, algorithms and AI can be biased because the people who create them programme in their own inherent biases.)
Turning a blind eye to the real problem spaces
I’m not the only person experiencing kink silencing. Countless kink-positive people are getting hushed up too. And not just on Instagram. Facebook has passed judgement on non-vanilla relationships. It reportedly refused to allow queer-, kink- and poly-friendly dating app #open to post ads, according to Business Insider.
First it objected to the phrase “sex-positive,” then said the app does not “reflect the global audience on our platform,” in part because it promotes hook-ups and group relationships. (Source 9.) But it happily takes money from Tinder and OKCupid who advertise on FB. So, while FB don’t have space for queer, poly or kinky relationships. It does have space for something no one wants.
Facebook has a huge child porn issue. In 2019, Facebook said it removed 11.6 million pieces of content related to child nudity and child sexual exploitation in just three months. Over the past three years, it reported 84 million instances2. Where’s the campaign to shut down Facebook?
By comparison, Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), which identifies and removes child sexual abuse imagery online, said it found 118 cases of child abuse on Pornhub from 2017-2019 but that this number was low and Pornhub quickly removed this content. (Source 5).
How the mighty have tumbld
The great Tumblr purge of 2018 marked a turning point as FOSTA/SESTA came into force in the US. ‘Adult content’ was removed from the site, and a previously safe space for kinksters vanished. Again, it was done under the remit of fighting online sex trafficking, but the effect was the same. Kink is being pushed off mainstream sites and this marginalises the BDSM community and kinky individuals. Even FetLife has had to remove certain groups and content to remain on the right side of regulations. On top of this, the US is currently facing the spectre of SISEA – Stop Internet Sexual Exploitation Act. The headline writers declare that this legislation could ‘be the end of internet porn.’ (Source 10)
England fought for kinky porn and won
Britain has had its own battle against censorship in recent years. In 2014, laws were altered to ban pornography created in the UK from showing certain sex acts, sparking accusations of censorship particularly targeting female pleasure. The laws also failed to distinguish between consensual and non-consensual acts, particularly when force or humiliation were involved. Obscenity lawyer, Myles Jackman, campaigned tirelessly against these laws for years and finally succeeded in getting them overturned in 2019.
This resulted in previously banned pornography being made legal in England again. This included:
- Female ejaculation
As a kinky person, this ruling makes me feel a little more secure that we won’t be entirely silenced as a community in the UK. But the fate of porn and kink are linked, and this is eloquently summed up by Mr Jackman.
When the ban was brought in, Mr Jackman said: “Pornography is the canary in the coalmine of free speech: it is the first freedom to die. If this assault on liberty is allowed to go unchallenged, other freedoms will fall as a consequence.”
One of those freedoms is BDSM/kink. As long as the war on porn and sex work goes on, kink is under threat.
For everything else (except porn), there’s Mastercard… and Visa
Mastercard and Visa swiftly dropped Pornhub on 10 December 2020 – following investigations into unlawful content on the site. Understandable. They don’t want their brands tarnished by association. But this also means that your favourite kinky content producer on Pornhub is being punished, despite not having uploaded any illegal content. They can’t take payment via these companies anymore, threatening their livelihood. And you can’t buy kinky porn with a payment method you trust to protect your data and identity. But this isn’t the first time payment companies have objected to kink.
To quote Vice again:
“Payment processors have been censoring sex workers for years, by banning adult platforms from hosting certain types of porn, such as blood play, urine, and sleeping—or by closing individual bank accounts altogether.”
So, once again, kink wasn’t the target, but it has definitely suffered collateral damage.
Keeping our voice and our visibility
I’m not claiming that there’s a direct, organised attack on kinky people, and that’s the point. We’re being silenced by a clusterfuck of different things. We’re caught in the crossfire between rabid religious groups, governments, payment providers and the porn industry. We’re being silenced by Facebook’s double standards, by FetLife’s need to abide by regulations, by the war against sex workers, the war against porn, by the power of financial giants, and by paternalistic and moralistic views at a societal level.
How do we push back against so many forces to maintain our kink visibility? I don’t know. But I’m going to keep fighting Instagram to maintain my presence there. I’ve paid for lifetime membership of FetLife as this is a platform we can’t afford to lose. I also support other kinky sites. And there are payment providers who are kink-friendly, eg www.paysafecard.com.
In short, I’m going to continue to fight for my rights to consume and create consensual kinky adult content and call ‘bullshit’ on kink silencing wherever I find it. I hope you join me and do the same.
If you’ve experienced kink silencing or have thoughts about any of this, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.
Acknowledgements: Thank you to sissy leela who willingly provided legal guidance regarding the content of this article.
Links that cover the wider aspects of this article
1 Pornhub’s content purge
2 The effect of Visa and Mastercard dropping Pornhub
3 More on Pornhub and payment providers https://www.vice.com/en/article/7k94be/mastercard-will-stop-processing-payments-to-pornhub
4 A very interesting legal piece on BDSM: A Fine Line Between Pleasure and Pain: Would Decriminalising BDSM Permit Nonconsensual Abuse?
5 Stat on Pornhub
6 The UK porn ban being overturned
7 Facebook banning kinky/poly dating app https://www.insidehook.com/daily_brief/internet/facebook-banned-ads-from-queer-and-poly-dating-app-open
8 Facebook scandals
9 Facebook saying ‘no’ to #open dating app