What do sex workers need to know about the new internet sex bill?
A new internet sex bill, meant to protect sex workers and children from exploitation, could actually have the exact opposite effect, sex educators tell us.
The bill, or senators who passed it, failed to listen to the one resource readily available to them: sex educators. And thus, may have put even more people at risk.
“To prevent the uploading of pornographic images to online platforms without the consent of the individuals in the images,” the first line of the SISEA, or Stop Internet Sexual Exploitation Act, reads.
The SISEA internet sex bill
SISEA (Stop Internet Sexual Exploitation Act) was introduced by senators Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in December 2020. The bill was introduced in the wake of PornHub deleting more than six million unverified videos off of its website.
In a press statement, Sasse specifically mentions the porn giant.
“For years, Pornhub and its parent company Mindgeek monetized rape, abuse, and child exploitation. Our bill is aimed squarely at the monsters who profit from rape.”Ben Sasse (R-Neb.)
The bill also includes far-reaching verification measurements. Users will need to provide identification before uploading content. And every person in a video will also need to provide identification and a signed consent form.
Instead of fighting sexual exploitation and helping trafficking victims, critics say the bill endangers the very people it’s meaning to protect. Furthermore, it is likely to negatively impact sex workers online.
According to some, the bill’s focus on “age of consent” (which is 16 in some states) will further promote the distribution of child pornography.
Sex educators give us the rundown on sex work in 2021
Kulture Hub reached out to content creators and sex educators to chat about this bill and the intersection of sex work and social media.
Emerson Karsh, a sex educator with a focus on kink, has seen the positive impact social media has had on the perception of sex work.
“Social media has allowed sex work to become more accessible and visible,” she said.
“Sex work is not the Pretty Woman narrative of people on the corner of the streets anymore, but they are now our neighbors, people from high school, college roommates, Instagram influencers, and even celebrities.”
The influence of sex workers on sex education
In her work, Karsh is also continuously aware of sex workers’ influence.
“Things like continuous vaginal health, the importance of STI testing, communication before sex, boundary setting, and other tips and tricks like how to properly use a flogger would not be around if it was not for sex workers,” she explains.
Brightly colored infographics on these very topics fill her Instagram.
“Sex education would not be where it is today without sex workers. Sex workers have been the backbone of what sex education is today,” Karsh said.
“More than likely, educators would not have half the knowledge they have today without the work of sex workers.”Emerson Karsh
Karsh is highly aware of the continuous online censorship of sex workers and educators.
“If your conversation around IG’s censorship isn’t centering or even including s/x [sic] workers, then you need to take a step back and recognize how much this field was built off the backs of s/x workers and do everything you can to push against the censorship and help the s3x workers that are being affected the most,” she wrote in a recent Instagram post addressed to “sexuality professionals.”
The world needs to listen to sex workers and educators
Pamela Blonde, a Scottish Femdom/Fetish content creator, said social media has given her a way to promote her work and also connect with other adult content creators. She is, however, also critical of social media policies regarding sex workers.
“Stop kicking us off for no reason. Stop allowing male photographers to post full nudes that we ourselves are not allowed to post,” Blonde wrote in an email.
“I don’t think social media companies want to protect sex workers and educators on their platforms. They want us off.”Pamela Blonde
Blonde said social media has been instrumental in learning about the sex worker industry. During her year and a half in it, the internet has been her main tool in understanding.
“ALL sex workers that are online are sex educators in their own way, we all share our experiences, we all teach each other and our clients/buyers more,” she said.
“The amount I’ve learned from simply following other sex workers on Twitter/Instagram is insane.”Pamela Blonde
How censorship laws are affecting online sex workers
Blonde has also already seen how the internet censorship laws are influencing content and creators.
“I’ve noticed that the people that are kicked off the most, and that get their content deleted the most, are the people that are full-service sex workers that speak about the laws regarding sex work and the stigma regarding sex work.”Pamela Blonde
Now, SISEA’s verification measurements are likely to shrink this vital learning space. In light of the child pornography and sexual exploitation content hosted on and profited from by PornHub, the bill’s focus on verification and identification seems like a welcome improvement.
However, internet sex bills lke SESTA, FOSTA, and SISEA might do more harm than good. The SISEA’s proposed database is all or nothing; you either agree for all NSFW material to be online or none. This means that adult entertainers then have practically no say in what content of theirs is being distributed.
Sex workers must not be the victims of bills meant to stop sexual exploitation
“The database doesn’t account for the fact that many sex workers and non-sex workers alike want *nonconsensual* material of themselves pulled,” Ana Valens, a trans/sex columnist for Daily Dot, wrote in a Twitter thread on the bill.
“The database creates a binary. Either you’re a victim or you’re a sex worker. You never get to be both.”Ana Valens
Karsh also sees how SESTA and FOSTA will likely censor consensual sex work.
“SESTA and FOSTA are essentially laws to curb online sex trafficking but they have allowed the censorship of consensual sex work on many platforms,” she said.
“It is essentially easier for the algorithm and platform to delete any mention of sex work in case it involves sex trafficking than figuring out how to delete one and keep the other.”Ana Valens
Ultimately, the flaws of these internet sex bills arise because no one from the industry was ever consulted. It failed to invite those it tries to regulate into the conversation.
Instead of sweeping and restrictive verification measurements, the internet would benefit more from a collaboration between government and sex workers.
Blonde summarizes it in one question: “Why shouldn’t sex workers be given a platform to speak about what is happening to them?”