Three years ago when I was a freshman in college, it was difficult to fish for common ground to strike up a conversation with people, especially because of my inability to make small talk. Tumblr saved me, legitimately. I found myself a group of people who had the same shy response as me when someone asked about their social media handles – “I do have a blog on Tumblr but I don’t really add people I know on it”. We knew to share our blog names meant that we were ready to be vulnerable, it was an unspoken truth. We built solidarity in stolen glances across rooms while reblogging each others’ posts.
The underground community of Tumblr enthusiasts came to limelight recently when a ban on the adult content on the platform was announced. On the 17th of December 2018, Tumblr’s community guidelines were altered and it was stated that they wish to “change their relationship” with adult content posted on the website. It has been speculated that the decision was taken after Apple removed the Tumblr app from its App Store. How did this website which was made for like-minded people to connect and share content through multiple media types find itself in the middle of such a scandalous controversy? What exactly is all this fuss about?
Tumblr relates to a niche audience who are usually young and engaging. Unlike other websites which focus more on consumption, quick messaging and scrolling, Tumblr pushes its users to actively participate in growing the website. They have to create and curate content which requires relatively more time commitment than other platforms.
Tumblr quickly became the most female and non-binary friendly, body-positive as well as sex-positive social media platform.
Consequently, content consumption also demands an equal amount of engagement. This led to increased solidarity amongst its users, while only a few deemed capable of this multimedium mode of self-expression. Tumblr quickly became the most female and non-binary friendly, body-positive as well as sex-positive social media platform. 72% of its users are women and a quarter of them are there just for the consumption of adult content. This obviously indicates that a growing number of women found Tumblr more accessible and welcoming.
Elle Chase, a certified sexual educator, ran a very famous adult blog on Tumblr called Lady Cheeky. After hearing about the ban, she voiced her opinion on ABC News Nightline. For her, Tumblr was a safe space for all to maintain their own “curated specialized vision of [their] own sexuality”. Unlike regular porn, Tumblr gave the agency to the blogger of what they want to post, create, curate and consume. In doing so, they, in turn, become agents of their own sexuality when they engage with adult content.
For her, mainstream porn shows us what “we should find sexy”, whereas Tumblr was different. Having regular adult content on Tumblr along with all your other interests, say vintage art, on the website, normalises and integrates an acceptance of sexual expression and comfort with nudity in their lifestyle.
Moreover, it became an avenue for porn models and stars to work on their own terms. Vex Ashley wrote an article about her transformation from an alt porn model to the creator of an independent porn project, Four Chamber, through Tumblr and it’s empowering influence in her life.
She reminisces, “Finding DIY porn communities on Tumblr showed me that you didn’t have to be the cookie-cutter image of A Porn Star I had in my head”, it allowed you to express yourself in ways you find conducive to your sexual preferences. It was a celebration of sexual autonomy and owning your body without shame and guilt.
While regular porn websites largely produced to entertain a male-oriented audience, Tumblr’s users found a haven for “bodies that are often censored, ignored or fetishized”. Not only was it comforting for those who felt marginalised but it succeeded in broadening the horizons of what was considered as normal sexual desires. No kinks were shamed and every body was accepted.
After the banning of adult content on Tumblr, the independent and accessible sex work like Ashley’s got ostracised and reduced to finding other avenues where gender non-conforming populace is continuously dismissed.
Their statement portrays that the representation of the woman body is acceptable only when they are seen as modes of reproduction and objects of recreation.
Tumblr became a threat in 2018. From being a repository of multiple mediums of expression for your sexual self especially for marginalised communities who are widely discredited and unrecognised, it was portrayed as a negative influence. Without explicitly commenting on why they chose to ban adult content, the Tumblr staff robbed a huge community of a space that they had considered their family.
Vex Ashley’s comment on the ban reiterates itself in Tumblr’s statement on which adult content is now permitted on the website. She explains, “[when] we push our depictions of sexuality into the shadows, we allow them to continue [to] be defined and co-opted by the status quo”. That is, by shaming the expression of sexuality on various mediums, we reinstate the patriarchal ideology of demoting feminine and non-conforming bodies for the convenience of men.
When Tumblr staff states that the only adult content acceptable enough to be allowed on their platform is when “exposed female-presenting nipples [are] in connection with breastfeeding, birth or after-birth moments, and health-related situations, such as post-mastectomy or gender confirmation surgery”, they take a thousand steps back. That is to say, this statement portrays that the representation of the woman body is acceptable only when they are seen as modes of reproduction and objects of recreation.
“Banning adult content won’t help”, Logan Levkoff, a relationship expert, states, “What helps is having honest conversations about how we consume pornography in healthy ways”. Let us pledge to make 2019 a promising year for healthy discourses on sex and pornography.
Featured Image Source: Salon