Tumblr: Sex and Censorship


Thursday Simpson


Tumblr announced that on December 17th that all content deemed pornography will be deleted. Bots will be evaluating whether or not content is pornographic. This ultimately stems from Apple removing Tumblr from their Appstore. As Rolling Stone reports, ultimately, a routine scan, “…uncovered content that was absent from a database of child sexual abuse material used to filter that type of explicit material from the site, allowing it to slip through the cracks.”

This is bad news for a lot of people.


Tumblr has long been a safe space for people to grow, explore their identities and affirm their dignity and personhood.


It feels good when people that you like and find attractive compliment your nudes. It feels good to compliment other people’s nudes.

Tumblr also plays a large role in people’s livelihood. Many people use Tumblr as a place to preview content for their private sites and studios. Lots of DIY pornographers meet new clients on Tumblr. Through these connections, people often sell custom photos and videos directly to their followers. Instead of working a bullshit retail job, one can masturbate on camera and make fifteen, twenty dollars an hour.



This continues a trend we’ve seen throughout the last year. After FOSTA and SESTA passed, Craigslist removed its casual encounters section. There were also rumors that Google started deleting sexually explicit content from users Google Drive accounts. There was also concern that the popular BDSM social networking site, Fetlife, might also shut down.


These concerns also combine with the repeal of Net Neutrality which went into effect in June 2018.


Since the repeal became a topic of debate, there has been concern and fear over the future of erotic expression and affirmation online. In short, it seems the United States government, in tandem with corporate America, wants to lock us in their red, white & blue chastity devices and hide the key in some old billionaire’s asshole.

Censorship is not a new concern. Neither is it new for the moral majority to rally against sexual expression. And let’s be real. Some things should be censored. Child pornography being a prime example. Revenge porn being another. But Tumblr banning pornographic content is a continuation of a very problematic trend.



FOSTA and SESTA are laws which claim to fight trafficking but seem more in practice to further criminalize consensual sex work. Craigslist Casual Encounters was one of the most widely used resources for finding a hookup. It’s possible that illegal human trafficking was conducted there. Just like occasionally illegal content like child pornography is uploaded to sites like Tumblr.

Again, banning child pornography is a good thing. But this is not what Tumblr is doing. They are taking another step in the same direction as many other sites across the Internet.


They equate consensually created pornography and general sexual content with problematic and criminal activity.


Again, censorship is not a new concern. One afternoon in 2016, I was hanging out at Prairie Lights in Iowa City. A longtime employee was telling me a story about a Kathy Acker reading held there in the early 1990’s. At that time, all of Prairie Lights readings were broadcast on Iowa Public Radio. And there was such concern about Kathy reading live, that a live censor was required to attend the reading so any profanity could be censored before it reached the airwaves.

The employee told me that Kathy didn’t swear or say anything graphic in her reading. But the next night, Mark Leyner was in Iowa City and did a reading. He performed a piece about his childhood friend, Rocco Trey, who informs the narrator he just entered the business of, “baking doughnuts.” As the narrator tries to figure out what the fuck Rocco Trey is talking about, he said words like, “fuck,” and, “shit,” and, “cock,” as if they were commas. And because Iowa Public Radio didn’t know who Mark Leyner was, they didn’t have a censor on site and the innocent ears of Iowans were subjected to the drama of Rocco Trey and his doughnuts.


Moving forward, I would like to see Pornhub and similar sites add more social networking functions.


Pornhub especially has a good public image after they campaigned in defense of Net Neutrality. They also have tremendous experience in dealing with the legalities of adult content.

The loss of Tumblr will be felt especially by LGBTQ+ persons. Because our society is problematic, we often turn to online communities for support and guidance and friendship. And there is no more affirming action, rooted in friendship, than showering your friends with heart emoticons after they upload a new video of them blowing their partner.

This is why I would love to see Pornhub step up and offer people a new place to build communities. Pornhub has the experience and expertise necessary to enforce a ban of genuinely problematic and illegal content. LGBTQ+ persons will especially be searching for new outlets to build communities. Just adding the option to start private groups to share content could make a huge difference. Private groups in a space like Pornhub could also help sex workers share tips, keep tabs on problematic persons and groups and maintain reviews of various platforms and offer each other new opportunities.



Ultimately, sites like Tumblr embracing unnecessary censorship requires the rest of us to develop new ways to organize and maintain communities, especially when it is reasonable to assume this trend will continue. And while this is frustrating and for many people terrifying, we owe it to each other to continue developing creative solutions to this fundamental and common problem.



Thursday Simpson is a multimedia artist and a co-founding editor at OUT/CAST, a journal for queer & Midwestern writers. Her first chapbook, Three Gothic Stories, is published with Moonchaps. She composes soundtracks for her writing and maintains a prog, analog synth based aesthetic. She believes in Feline Satan and garlic and onions. Ask her to do an impression of King Diamond or Kevin Steen and she will probably smile. Her Twitter is @JeanBava and her full publication history can be found at www.thursdaysimpson.com


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