Why Do We Censor Online Adult Content?

Posted by Anna Bergeron on

Sex seems to be particularly disturbing to the current administration as it is on a crusade to purge the cyberspace from any erotic content. Are we a step away from a new Prohibition? And is it sex or money that our officials are really after?

Section 230: Freedom of Speech Online

The biggest defender of free speech on the internet is Section 230. It may seem like a paradox, but in reality, it helps keep the online platforms democratic and competitive. This particular section is a part of the Communication Decency Act and states that platforms cannot be held accountable for what the users say or post online.

In other words, if a person posts something criminal or inappropriate, they are the ones responsible. Of course, once a platform notices illegal or offensive content, it should remove or report it.

Many claim that Section 230 protects the Big Tech Companies by excusing them from liability. Unfortunately, the truth is much more complicated than that.

Tampering with the Section would be beneficial only to the technological giants that have their paw on every corner of the internet already. To explain it more thoroughly, let’s just imagine the quantity of data a platform would have to check for inappropriate content. It would be an insane amount.

Which companies would have the resources to do this? Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon, maybe a couple of others, and that’s it.

Most smaller enterprises would go bust under such a burden. The risk of liability would be too big. Also, they would not be able to support the demand for verifying all the content that their users post. Either way, the expenses would quickly put them out of business.

The big players need not fear the change of Section 230. But everybody else fighting in this unfair game are panicking with a reason. The only way to maintain the competition is to protect online freedom of speech.

Social Media Censorship

In its early heydays, the internet was a place of freedom the likes of which we hadn’t seen before. It was exciting, versatile, and most importantly free of charge. However, a lot has changed since the ’90s. More and more, the world wide web begins to feel like a confined space where gigantic corporations rule.

Most of us believed that the new era of democracy was rising. Voices of various groups that were pushed aside and silenced in the past got a platform to express their opinions and interact with like-minded people. The anonymity gave courage to those who were hiding out of guilt, shame, or fear.

Was that scary for the ones in power? Was it too radical and forward-thinking? Apparently yes because the attempts to censor the content and put it under control are constant. And have been for quite some time.

It appears that social media leads the way in censoring sexual content. Though they are keen on using words like freedom of expression, the reality is much bleeker. Nudity, sexual slang, and any other sexually suggestive materials are forbidden. They go as far as censoring art. So, seeing Michelangelo’s David is suddenly harmful?

Of course, the likes of Facebook or Instagram hide behind the idea that such material may be offensive to some viewers. Well, what happened to warnings or asking for consent? Since we can’t get a straight answer to these questions, we must assume that we are dealing with a classic case of censorship.

There’s no doubt that certain materials have to be banned from any media platform. But proclaiming sex to be insulting in the 21st century is just ridiculous. We are not talking about snuff videos here. Selling sex toys, promoting erotic art, or openly discussing specific issues regarding gender cannot be considered violent.

The ones that suffer are always minorities or marginalized groups. When users are asked to provide their real names on Facebook, they are not being protected. How is asking a transgender person to give their full name in any way safe for them? Or how can we request someone who sells sex toys to reveal their identity? We don’t know where they live, what’s their day job, etc.

We must call things by their real names, and in this case, they are censorship and discrimination. If this trend continues, the LGBTQ community and the small online businesses are going to suffer. Unfortunately, they are the ones in a tight spot already.

The online giants will reap the benefits of blatant censorship. Those who tried to establish genuine online communities to support one another will lose their voice. Make no mistake, the only motivation behind banning specific online content is money. And it’s coming from the corporations that have much more than they can ever need.

Censorship in Advertising

Some call it a sex-tech revolution, as we are witnessing an increasing number of devices being promoted and sold across various platforms. If we put it in a broader social context, it helps demystify many topics and brings to light problems of minority groups.

Sex toys are not just about pleasure. They are an important part of a wider narrative. By advertising sex toys, we talk about sexuality, we break taboos, and we reach a new level of freedom. People that were hiding in the shadows, too afraid to come out, can see that they are not alone. And that they don’t have to feel guilty and ashamed.

The growing market for sex products means that we are becoming more brave and open about our desires. Therefore, we are happier, more expressive, and, most importantly, less depressed. It looks like there is a direct link between sexual repression and suicidal tendencies. Hence the alarming rate of suicidal teens.

We need to form supportive communities that are not discriminatory and exclusive. By advertising sex toys, we consequently open a discussion, getting the chance to promote safer and healthier practices. Moreover, by democratizing the ad space, we show that sex is an inherent and vital part of our identity.

However, the industry of sex toys is not immune to the growing trend of censorship that is beginning to dominate the internet and social media. There are reports that certain businesses struggle to sell or promote their products online.

Women and the LGBTQ community are the ones affected the most. It seems that online platforms are more accepting of sex aids that cater to the heterosexual male population. Some say that it is a common belief that man’s pleasure is necessary for procreation. Thus it is similar to family-planning. Apparently, women are not required to enjoy the intercourse. The queer community does not even have a say in this matter.

It is difficult to begin to list the things that are wrong in this point of view. Freedom of choice and expression must not be questioned in any shape or form. The inconsistency of regulation only leads to confusion and anger.

Some sex-tech businesses managed to work around these issues by promoting their products as wellness tools. Though it is a creative way to reach consumers, it points out a huge problem we seem to have with female sexuality. Most of them admit that it is getting increasingly problematic to run their companies.

Whether or not we are the end-users of sex toys is utterly irrelevant. What matters is the freedom of speech we fought for. And it seems that it is dissolving before our very eyes, at least on the internet.

The advertising rules have to apply equally to every industry. Furthermore, they have to apply to all businesses regardless of the gender of their owners, or the end-users they are targeting.


Most of our online freedom fell as a victim of the FOSTA/SESTA debacle. What started as a valid initiative to stop sex trafficking online, ended looking like a favor to the Big Tech companies. The promises of protecting the lives of sex workers failed miserably. The most apparent and appalling result is the actual increase in sex trafficking on the internet.

Though pushed by the current administration, both bills were eventually supported by the majority in Congress. It makes the matter even more concerning. Without consulting the sex workers, or any organization that works on helping them, FOSTA and SESTA were ill-conceived from the very beginning.

Holding the internet platforms responsible for potentially facilitating sex work endangered the lives of sex workers. With no efficient way to exchange information, they are much more exposed to criminal or violent conduct than before.

The secondary goal of the Acts, which was to limit the advertising of sex businesses, turned out to be far from successful too. The question is how sex toys or promoting consensual adult sex relate to trafficking children.

What’s more disturbing is the number of online traffickers that were arrested or prosecuted since the passing of FOSTA. The increase in arrests and convictions is too small to justify such a restricting bill. Moreover, with closing the websites, the police cannot set up stings online to investigate and detect potential traffickers.

The voices that predicted such outcomes were a minority. One of the senators voting against the bills was spot on about what would happen. However, the current administration is very reluctant to admit the mistake.

Our officials are keen to present FOSTA as an aid to fight sex trafficking, but the truth is that we fought it much before their bill. While using victims as an excuse they are insisting on the continuation of a very harmful law.

We did not need FOSTA or SESTA to focus on stopping sex trafficking. We could have done that without confining the platforms that allowed sex workers to have some kind of a community and a safe space. While making their profession even more perilous, the authorities managed to violate the freedom of speech along the way.

It seems that disguising censorship with good intentions is becoming our reality. We must stop allowing such dangerous and unnecessary experiments. Public debate is essential for understanding when and how our basic rights are being violated. Also, we must consider the opinions of experts and the affected groups when we are passing bills. In other words, the decision has to be mutual.

Punishing Online Businesses

This issue is affecting our society on so many levels. We will not be able to grasp the impact for a long time. However, we can feel the consequences even now.

What’s concerning is the fact that many businesses suffer due to censorship. If we cannot advertise or place products, we cannot sell. If we cannot sell, we lose the business. It’s very simple. Many adult online shops are experiencing difficulties, and many more will.

The sad part is that the whole industry is under attack. We are witnessing the closing of dating websites, only to hear that Facebook is about to launch their own dating app. Do different rules apply to big corporations? That would make the game unfair and illegal.

When Tumblr banned adult content due to the reports of child pornography, more than 10 million blogs closed. It wasn’t just about limiting the freedom of expression. They cut the channels of communication between users, and they stopped potential businesses from developing.

Will Tumblr survive is a big question. It is struggling to position itself with the huge change it made. However, if it goes bust, a lot of people will lose their jobs. The same goes for many other websites that simply cannot survive swimming in the shark tank. The economic effects may be much bigger than we can imagine.

In the end, why should we all end up working for internet giants? It is essential to keep the match fair for small entrepreneurs.


Fighting this battle is crucial because sex content is the first but will not the last victim of online censorship. It is fairly easy to ban adult material since a lot of people still have issues with sexuality. However, if we give in on this matter, the chances are that many more bans and restrictions are coming our way.

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