What Tumblr's New Guidelines On Adult Content Means For Porn & Marginalized Communities

Ashley Batz/Bustle

In early December, the micro-blogging platform Tumblr announced that it will not allow adult content as of December 17. The massive change came after child pornography was reported on the app, leading to it being banned in the App Store in November. In an announcement, Tumblr confirmed this and says it was removed right away, adding "We have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to media featuring child sexual exploitation and abuse." But there are some reports that new guidelines were being planned even before that happened.

The platform — which has long been known as a safe space for erotic images and GIFs, particularly for queer and kinky people — made a move that is familiar to anyone who has paid attention to big tech company sex scandals. (Bustle reached out to Tumblr for comment, but did not receive an immediate response.)

The new adult content guidelines says that Tumblr will no longer allow “photos, videos, or GIFs that show real-life human genitals or female-presenting nipples, and any content — including photos, videos, GIFs and illustrations — that depicts sex acts.”

Tumblr is built on people interacting with, following, re-blogging, and appreciating each other. For artists, that community can be a way to build a following that leads to selling their work. For individuals, it can mean finding a community when you feel like you don’t fit so well into other communities. The move to get rid of adult content on Tumblr, then, could dismantle a bunch of communities of people who have non-normative sexual interests, including queer and kinky people.

As trans cosplayer and erotic artist Maya Fae tells Bustle, “Tumblr has always had a great independent art scene and lets you host such a wide variety of multimedia content (NSFW or otherwise) with ease. It made building a following and connecting with people super intuitive and was just a really cosy place to be. I discovered some of my favorite artists and personalities through the platform, which made it worth sticking around even when things took a turn.”

In a recent blog post Tumblr acknowledged its role within marginalized communities, saying:

"Tumblr will always be a place to explore your identity. Tumblr has always been home to marginalized communities and always will be. We fully recognize Tumblr’s special obligation to these communities and are committed to ensuring that our new policy on adult content does not silence the vital conversations that take place here every day. LGBTQ+ conversations, exploration of sexuality and gender, efforts to document the lives and challenges of those in the sex worker industry, and posts with pictures, videos, and GIFs of gender-confirmation surgery are all examples of content that is not only permitted on Tumblr but actively encouraged."

But Fae, like many other Tumblr NSFW content creators, is finding new homes for her work. “I’ll likely migrate my old content over to Twitter and Patreon in the months to come,” Fae says. “It's a pain, but the content is easily salvageable. It’s the people that it connected me with that aren't so replaceable.”

There may be sites other than Twitter and Patreon for adult content creators popping up in response to the new Tumblr policies. Fast Company reports that one Tumblr user has registered the domain name TumblrX and is working on producing a Tumblr lookalike that allows pornography.

Lux Alptraum, author of Faking It: The Lies Women Tell About Sex — And The Truths They Reveal, doesn’t think that a site solely focused on porn that uses Tumblr’s format will be successful.

“The reason why something like Tumblr works is because it’s not solely a site for porn,” Alptraum tells Bustle. “There’s a huge, huge, huge difference between going to a mainstream site that displays porn and going to a porn site. And that’s because of stigma.”

Alptraum points out that people who might not have been comfortable going to a dedicated porn site used Tumblr as a way to access porn without really feeling like they were accessing porn. Additionally, the trend is toward adult content being kicked off of all the mainstream sites, something Alptraum doesn’t see reversing.

“All of these sites are run by major corporations now,” Alptraum says. “And major corporations don’t want to deal with the hassle of adult content. I am not confident that we’ll see a new Tumblr unless we see a dramatic shift in the amount of power that corporations have over how we use the internet.”

But while many are decrying the loss of Tumblr porn, others feel the Tumblr porn community wasn’t all sexy female gaze-focused porn GIFs and cartoon erotica. In addition to the reports of child pornography, the site has also reportedly been host to pornographic images that were shared without the subjects’ consent, commonly called “revenge porn.” In 2017, one women even sued the platform over a video of her having sex with her boyfriend when she was 17 was published on the site without her consent.

Alptraum also points out that much of the content people were posting on Tumblr was being reposted without creators' permission. “I think the proliferation of free porn — and all sorts of free imagery, frankly, but especially porn — and the ease with which one can copy stuff on the internet encouraged this notion that ‘curation’ — by which people mean finding stuff — was in itself a talent on par with, if not more important than, creation,” Alptraum says.

Creating porn isn’t cheap and creating queer-centric porn can be even more expensive, as the market isn’t as big as it is for mainstream porn. Alptraum says that while she understands the “delight” of a “buffet-style” porn experience that allows viewers to sample a range of filmmakers and performers, “it’s theft, fundamentally. It was building a community on theft and it was detaching porn from the people who created it.”

Additionally, Alptraum says that some porn performers choose to do porn based on where it will be hosted and who will be directing it.

“When it’s torn from that context, it’s kind of non-consensual,” Alptraum says. “And someone categorizes it on Tumblr like ‘hairy butch bitches’ and that’s not how I identify? That can be really f*cked up.”

For people who are looking for new sources of female-gaze centric and queer porn, Alptraum repeats the mantra of ethical porn producers and consumers everywhere: Pay for your porn. If you want to consume porn ethically and you want that type of porn to continue to exist, you have to be willing to pay for it.

“People act like Tumblr invented women-friendly porn and I think that’s really offensive and f*cked up,” Alptraum says.

There are paid porn sites that existed before Tumblr and will continue to exist after porn is removed from the platform on December 17. For that “buffet-style” of porn that doesn’t restrict access to one style or filmmaker, Alptraum recommends Pinklabel.tv, which is run by the same folks who run Crashpad Series and features a variety of queer, independent, and feminist filmmakers. She also recommends sssh.com for people who are looking for community with their female-centric porn.

Tumblr was without a doubt a place for many communities to come together and express their sexuality without judgement — but it wasn't safe for everyone. Hopefully, this will encourage more people to source their porn more ethically.