The End Of The Era Of Open Online Sexual Expression

A phone box littered with adverts women used to sell sex before the internet, and still today.

By Carly Bell

Sexual expression has come under fire this week following steps taken by social networking websites to crack down on explicit content.

Last week blogging website Tumblr announced that it would be cracking down on sexual content by banning the posting of pornographic images and sexually suggestive photographs on it’s site.

Facebook followed suit a short number of days later by quietly updating it’s community standards to include a number of issues it brackets under “sexual solicitation”.

There have been criticisms made that Facebook is now looking to ban the mentioning of your individual sexual orientation, sparking online outcry from LGBTQ advocates, accusing Facebook of being “anti-LGBT”.

But this isn’t the first time sexual expression on the internet has come under fire, and it likely won’t be the last time we see discussion about this specific issue.

The cause of this fast turn away from open sexual expression online can be traced back to the implementation of two laws brought in in the United States of America, so called FOSTA & SESTA.

FOSTA & SESTA (Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, and Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act) are two acts brought into US law in April of this year aiming to curb Sex Workers using the internet to advertise their services.

The pieces of legislation were fast acting with Backpage – a website commonly used for selling sex – the first to go, with the website replaced with a large FBI notice, and Craigslist personals the second to disappear almost overnight.

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The FBI/Law Enforcement notice which sits where backpage once existed.

Sex Workers have outspokenly criticised the legislation since its acceptance into US law, stating it will make their work less safe.

Harley, a 23 year old sex worker from SWARM (Sex Worker Advocacy And Resistance Movement) who had used Backpage to advertise said about FOSTA/SESTA: “The internet allows a degree of safety to Sex Workers, advertising online is safer than working on the streets and gives you a sense of independence over your own work. FOSTA/SESTA directly targets workers, and the loss of backpage and craigslist hits the most vulnerable Sex Workers hardest.”


When asked about the latest updates of sex-censorship on social media Harley said: “this is just another step towards what Sex Workers warned would happen back when FOSTA and SESTA became law and now workers who use Tumblr to sell their content have lost an income stream. I am most scared about what this means for our communities communication, it seems unlikely that sex worker support spaces on Facebook and Twitter will be allowed to exist under these new guidelines and rules.”

Vex Ashely, an independent porn performer, wrote a eulogy to Tumblr’s porn content that painted a stark picture of what was being taken away:

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Excerpt from Vex Ashely’s post on Medium regarding tumblr’s decision to ban pornography:

Whether we are on the brink of an end to open discussion about sex and sexuality, alongside the stripping back of safety measures and spaces for Sex Workers remains to be seen, but what is certain is that these laws are seeking to punish those who sell sex for having the temerity to do so in a public forum.