Turning From Tumblr: Where is sex positivity on the internet going?
There are so many places to get porn. The online space is awash with naked bodies, a good majority of them on there consensually and a small but disturbing proportion not. The watching of naked bodies is big business with one porn based hub stating that in 2018 alone 111 years (or 1 million hours) were uploaded onto their platform
This would mean that even if you dedicated your entire life to watching everything that was put on last year alone the grim reaper would still get you before you could get through half of it. Despite all this the ability to find, and access, porn that does not want to make you wash your eyes (and soul) out with chicken soup is surprisingly difficult to find. Much of the material that dominates the online space is problematic at best and downright scary at worst with depictions of women/queer/femme/brown etc. bodies depicted in degrading ways. The argument is that the majority of porn is created for men and they are the ones who are they are the primary consumers.
This, however, is a very stunted view of who is on the other side of the screen when it comes to consuming erotic material online. According to Dr Laurie Betito, a sex therapist and director of the Pornhub Sexual Wellness Centre, “2017 seems to have been the year where women have come forward to express their desires more openly.” These statistics continued into 2018
There is thus a need for a varied digital representation of naked bodies writhing in pleasure as the market is much more than your average heterosexual man, wanting to get off on a Thursday even for approximately 1.3 minutes (on average). There is also the fact that that trans appeared in the top five searches on PornHub in 2018.
The most searched term in 2018 was ‘lesbian’ and other frequently searched terms included ‘Ebony’ ‘Chinese’ and ‘Japanese’ showing an array of ‘tastes’ fed by depiction which could potentially get into murky waters. In a space where few bodies other than the cis-gender heterosexual white male body are treated with any modicum of respect one can only imagine what the depictions of this sexual engagement could be and how they can potentially feed into a culture of violence against a certain marginalized body.
With the data showing that it is not simply about “finding online sexy heterosexual porn”, there is a need for visual depictions of sex that are not only accurate but also not harmful and problematic. Thus, when spaces such as Tumblr, are shut down it brings into sharp focus the continued need for sex-positive spaces as they are few, far between and closing fast.
The closing of Tumblr: A Sex-Positive space
It needs to be noted that, despite the real reason many people went to Tumblr, mainly the sex-positive erotic material, Tumblr did not ‘close down’. What the site did was officially crack down on ‘explicit content’ after the Tumblr app was removed from the Apple iOs App Store. The app was removed due to concerns about child pornography after the ‘industry database failed to detect child sexual abuse material.’ The statement went on to say that ‘a “routine audit” discovered content that was absent from the database, allowing it to slip through the filter.’ This led Tumblr to institute new guidelines that sought to ‘change their relationship’ with adult content posted on their site.
Despite the issue of Tumblr’s industry database not being up to code in this respect, the site has been a safe haven for a great number of people who seek healthy and sex-positive sexually explicit content online. One of the crowning glories of Tumblr was its ability to provide sexually charged stuff to people who did not want to see bodies like their degraded or their fantasies played out in a way that did not centre them.
According to this Telegraph article, “Tumblr [was] an inherently female [and queer] friendly platform.” Although quite a lot of the material came in the form of short videos and gifs the content tended to be accompanied by thoughtful text ‘that was well written and genuinely sexy.’ The blog posts were realistic depictions of queer, femmes and women’s lives and managed to show a diversity of sexualities, sexual tastes and desires in a way that was representative and respectful. The unthreatening and engaging way that the platform displayed the porn meant that it came across as less threatening than in traditional adult sites. It was not only the ease of access that made Tumblr great but ‘the sheer breadth of content.’ And despite the rumour that women do not consume porn they were truly there for it. According to one study on porn consumption on social media, 72% of its users were women and a quarter of these women were there simply for the wet and wild stuff, namely the porn and other erotic material.
This mirrored the sentiments of one woman based in Haiti, whose kinkonym is Anyanwu Banda, spoke about her engagement with the Tumblr sexual space saying that it became her porn hub, even though she did not find a great deal of community in the space due to a ‘generational/platform gap’. For her, unlike other adult sites, Tumblr hosted ‘better content for queer black folks’. She did, however, lament that there were ways that Tumblr was ‘horrible’ for porn. The fact that only gifs or extremely short clips were shown often had people asking if they could access the whole scene, or the whole movie. Although the ban on adult content had affected her ability to access porn ‘she was not pressed’ and found that with a little work, she could possibly find other sources.
However, speaking to people within certain contexts there was a sense that, sex-positive and queer positive as it was, the accessibility of Tumblr did not manifest as much as it did in North American spaces. With the heavy data costs, the extensive presence of other platforms such as Facebook and cultural contextual differences coming into play, the permeance of Tumblr’s community-based morals and ideals was less than in other spaces.
Despite this Tumblr was still arguably the last safe haven for many and the presence of porn on Tumblr was, however, about a lot more about simply getting off. Sex positivity was a core part of it.
The underground community that comprised Tumblr managed to subvert a great deal of the dominant framework that the online and offline) sex game functions in. According to one article Tumblr fast became ‘the most female and non-binary friendly, body positive as well as sex-positive social media platform’. With spaces such as Facebook banning LGBTI pages, Instagram taking down anything even resembling a female nipple and Twitter filled to the brim with Nazis, Tumblr was the last space in which open and honest engagement on sensitive and often sidelined issues and identities could happen. Tumblr had the added element of not only providing a safe space for a visual and cognitive exploration of alternative sex and sexualities but also gave agency to the bloggers in terms of what they ‘want to post, create, curate and consume.’ According to a popular blogger and certified sexual educator, Elle Chase, this allowed them to ‘become agents of their own sexuality when they engage with adult content.’
There is a need for spaces that represent the array of bodies, sexual experiences and erotic tastes of the wide array of people who consume porn. It is no longer feasible to simply have dominant spaces producing dominant narratives through their lens, depicting certain bodies and experiences in problematic ways. The closing down of sex-positive spaces and the continued policing of sex online by Silicon Valley techie types is choking the life out of the sexual digital realm, leaving only the most decrepit entities to survive and thrive, whilst leaving those who seek to add a positive spin to sex out in the cold with nowhere to go. The internet can be a source of a girth of wisdom but also a great deal of misinformation, especially when it comes to sex. Thus, sex-positive spaces are key to drowning out the cacophony problematic that floods the online space.
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