The relationship between TikTok and strippers that use the platform as a means of livelihood is a fragile one, with trends relating to sex work only amplifying the distrust at play.
“They add warnings on the bottom of my videos that say things like, ‘the action in this video could result in serious injury,'” Sky Hopscotch, @skyhopscotch on TikTok, writes about the platform in an email to Kulture Hub.
“It hurts us. It damages our online presence and foot traffic to our other socials, and veils the natural reality of sex work,” she adds.@skyhopscotch
The fragile relationship between TikTok and strippers who use the platform, explained
Hopscotch is an exotic dancer based in Iowa. She uses TikTok to talk about her experience as a stripper.
With almost 80k followers, her videos about “strip club etiquette,” “pole dancing 101,” and “how to make money at the club” work to highlight that very reality of sex work she believes the app tries to erase.
Hopscotch is one of many sex workers on the platform using the hashtag “striptok” to connect to fellow exotic dancers and sex workers. Similarly, she is also one of many experiencing TikTok’s restrictive new community guidelines.
In mid-December 2020, TikTok released its updated terms of service. One of the updates directly aimed at sex workers on the app. The rule prohibits “content that depicts, promotes, or glorifies sexual solicitation.”
It is telling of TikTok’s view on sex work that this rule is sectioned under “sexual exploitation.”
In a time when more sex workers are turning to the world wide web for income and community, social media platforms are narrowing rules and regulations. This makes it near impossible for sex workers to have an online presence and reach their audience.
This stripper has found solace in TikTok, especially during the pandemic
Hopscotch has been in the strip club industry for over seven years as an independent contractor. Iowa did not close down its clubs, she said.
However, Hopscotch hasn’t been dancing since the pandemic, because a person with high COVID risk is living with her.
“The dancers aren’t required to wear masks, and they don’t. Neither do the customers,” Hopscotch explained.
“Our clubs here are touch-friendly. So it’s already a very intimate, up-close, and personal job.”@skyhopscotch
It’s not all a trend: Hopscotch makes sure to explain to young women the realities of stripping and sex work
While Hopscotch, self-proclaimed “stripper fairy godmother,” hasn’t tried online sex work, the internet has provided her with a sense of community.
Her videos, which regularly trend and reach more than 15k views on TikTok, focus on the reality of clubs and provide useful tips for those starting out.
“I try to educate young women who are going into the strip club industry,” Hopscotch said.
“We talk about the cons of stripping, tips, how to get started in the industry, what they should know before going in, and what a typical night entails. TikTok creators glamorize the strip club industry by flashing wads of cash in their videos, but what they’re not sharing, is the hardships that are associated with dancing.”@skyhopscotch
The comment sections on her videos are almost like online forums.
Questions about stripping flood in like “how do you spin on a pole?” “can you wear whatever you want?” and even “can you explain taxes?”
TikTok makes it difficult to maneuver the platform and find sustainable income
Kennedy Spaulding, @soswagkenny on TikTok, worked in clubs as an exotic dancer before the pandemic hit. She then turned to online sex work in 2020.
“I tried to continue dancing, but the market was oversaturated as a lot of individuals were left jobless and sought out sex work as a lucrative alternative. OnlyFans was booming and I will say, the rewards were plenty,” she wrote.
While Spaulding doesn’t exclusively post about sex work, she has still noticed TikTok’s restrictions and trends towards censorship. “TikTok’s new policy has somewhat effected [sic] my online presence in the sense that I wasn’t able to promote sex work,” Spaulding said about the new rules.
“Still, I posted all my unfiltered content that I normally would, and it resulted in being shadowbanned.”
Does TikTok need to change its trends and ways? Strippers weigh in
Spaulding has since moved away from online sex work to pursue a career in art, which she said she is most passionate about. In her Etsy store “Playswithknifes” she sells resin accessories.
The glittery rolling trays, ashtrays, and recently added “love” paddles are filled with glitter and a y2k sensibility. She uses her TikTok to show new additions to the Etsy store.
To promote the store, which TikTok’s trends and new rules currently also limit, the platform will need to change.
“I believe TikTok and other platforms could improve for sex workers by being more inclusive of advertising,” Spaulding said.
“They could do so by not censoring links or deleting videos that promote the industry.” She adds: “as long as the actual content itself is censored, or shown to the right audience, I see no reason we sex workers shouldn’t be able to promote our content!”@soswagkenny
The stigma around sex work and stripping on TikTok must be combatted
Hopscotch also has ideas on how to improve the online experience for sex workers.
“Rather than banning creators for sex work, what TikTok could be doing is implementing creator options to their platform that allows us to restrict our TikTok audience by age.”@skyhopscotch
She’s also adamant about non-glamorizing sex work. “I cannot fathom the younger generation idealizing the sex industry,” Hopscotch wrote.
“TikTok would be very wise to implement age restriction software, to limit children from seeing what us sex workers are posting.”@skyhopscotch
She knows that the sex industry isn’t going anywhere. “But there is absolutely no reason that children should be looking up to the lifestyle. Many of us do this because we HAVE to do this job, because of systematic inequality,” she said.
Right now, it looks like online platforms are only shrinking the spaces available to sex workers.
With not only TikTok but also Instagram restricting the content of adult entertainers and the introduction of more internet censorship laws such as SISEA, the internet is seemingly becoming less and less sex-positive.
Luckily, there are movements working against this censorship. With sex work discourse flourishing on Twitter, and petitions against further regulations being signed by the thousands, we might get back onto the free informational highway the internet was intended to be.