Chilling Effect: Youtube Bans Erika Lust’s SFW Erotic Film

Two days ago The Independent featured a story headlined The Porn Director Who Bypassed Youtube’s Censors. It was about Erika Lust’s short film Do You Find My Feet Suckable? which she’d edited into a super-tame version and uploaded to her Youtube account. That article, and several other items including The Mirror’s Porn Comes To Youtube As Feminist Director Unveils Feminist Porn That’s Safe For Work unsurprisingly brought Youtube’s attention to the film and it was subsequently removed, deemed to have violated the terms of service.

Naturally Erika has responded with an open letter and protest video.

When it comes to this YouTube ban, there’s nothing else to say other than: it summarizes all of society’s laziness in debating sexual education, or trying to implement initiatives that are real and effective when it comes to eradicating violence and negative sexual behavior. In a world where Best Ass Girls, Naked Shows and Cameras Inside Vaginas run free with millions of views, I think that smart and intelligent films with erotic content should be encouraged rather than banned. From all the ways YouTube might want to save the world, misplacing sexist and hypocritical censorship or an “educational” tag, are clearly the less effective ones.

Dazed has reported on the banning and The Independent say they’ve asked Youtube for comment. I suspect they’re not going to get a crumb from Youtube.

The mainstream media articles suggested that this is the first time a porn director has put anything sexy on Youtube but it’s not the case. As Erika mentions further down in her post, lots of us have been tiptoeing around the various censorship rules of Youtube, Vimeo and every other social media site on the internet for years. It’s always a challenge, trying to find ways to get our content in front of eyeballs without tripping the nebulous “community guidelines” which are always impossibly vague, always at the mercy of nameless decision-makers who are often impossible to contact or argue with.


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I’ve been here before:
July 2011: I’ve been censored by Youtube
June 2013: What happened when I asked Vimeo to define “pornography”
February 2014: Am Terminated from Youtube? (spoiler, yes they totally nuked my account)
May 2014: What happened when I asked Vimeo to define “sexual stimulation”

In all of those cases, I had been doing my best to upload videos that dealt with sex but that didn’t show anything explicit. In 2011 Youtube blocked my film That’s What I Like, despite the fact it only showed kissing and bare shoulders, no nudity. In 2014 my account was terminated after 2 strikes (you’re supposed to get 3) without appeal due to a censored humour video I’d made called The Male Gaze In Porn (With Commentary By Doge).I tried to get the account back but eventually gave up. I’ve since made a new one and only dared to put interviews, documentaries and fully-clothed bonus scenes on it. I mainly use Vimeo to put up short trailers and docos but I stepped back my paid account and stopped using it as much after the May 2014 incident.

It’s probably fair to say that, after a year-long PR blitz in the mainstream media, Erika Lust is now the best-known female/feminist pornographer in the world. She has successfully stepped over that “respectability” line that the rest of us are forced to stand behind, with her films being shown at the Raindance festival in the UK and her TED talk gaining over a million views. A lot of the media articles about her make an effort to emphasize the artistic direction of the films and tend to build a narrative around the old “erotica versus porn” idea, where Lust Films are on a fairly firm high moral ground. So when a mainstream media outlet trumpets loudly that Erika had put sexy SFW film onto Youtube, there was part of me that wondered if she could actually cross that rubicon and get away with it. Because if she could, that would (maybe) pave the way for the rest of us.

Yet it’s not surprising that Youtube refused to join in with this experiment. They’re not about to take a headline like “porn director bypasses Youtube censors” lying down. Youtube and Google have long been extremely intolerant of sexual material and they can’t allow this example to create a crack in their “defences”. Corporate masters must be obeyed. The adult industry has long been the victim of financial discrimination thanks to Mastercard and Visa and Google simply follows their lead.

So it doesn’t matter how tame you make your video or even if you label it “mature content”. If you say it’s porn, or if you are trying to overtly sexually stimulate the viewer, or even if you are seeking to promote your adult films via interviews and non-sexual content, you face censorship or deletion. This is increasingly what “no pornography or sexually explicit content” really means.

It’s all about maintaining the wall between “porn” and “mainstream content”, about keeping porn in its place, despite the fact that you can never really define “pornography” and if you try, you fall down a rabbit hole of deciding that some things are “obscene” and others aren’t. Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is to simply post this Youtube video called “It’s Not Porn, It’s HBO” and then to call attention to all the Game of Thrones Nudity videos currently live at Youtube.

It doesn’t matter how many film festivals Erika Lust’s films have screened at, or how many mainstream media articles have discussed her work, or how famous she is, Youtube still wants to put Erika in her place. It’s “only porn”, after all.

The other issue at play here is the problem of calling attention to yourself (or, to put it another way, Head, Parapet, Pornocalypse). Erika made the mistake of bringing attention to her video via the media. The reason those other explicit videos like “Best Ass Girl” are still there is that, despite over 1 million views, nobody has reported them yet and nobody who works at Youtube has noticed it. I would expect, after Erika’s post and Daze’s article, that those videos may be nuked very soon.

This is the same kind of haphazard censorship system in play at Facebook, where it only takes one complaint for a bare breast image to be removed by the impoverished, conservative, itinerant gatekeepers in the Philippines (but rampant sexist and racist groups are deemed to be perfectly acceptable somehow – a whole other post). The only reason I got realnamed is because some asshole was upset that I called out their content theft and retaliated by making a complaint.

And while Erika says she has an agreement with Vimeo and that they’re much more tolerant, the same inconsistency and unpredictability exists there and I know plenty of other erotic filmmakers who’ve had their accounts summarily removed.

All of this results in a chilling effect on erotic speech. Random bannings and removals lead to timidity in terms of what erotic filmmakers can post. Erika’s censorship is another red flag planted in the ground, warning us that places like Youtube aren’t welcoming to people who are trying to be sex positive, now matter how desperately SFW we make things. Sexist hip hop videos are fine, but anything dealing with sex in an artistic or intellectual or arousing way is off limits.

I’ve said this before: I do understand that we don’t HAVE to use sites like Youtube and Vimeo. They are a commercial service and they get to set their own rules. We can simply choose not to use them. The problem here is that all the common spaces of the internet have been occupied by commercial entities. Like shopping malls taking over from street shopping, all the people are now gathering on privately-controlled ground. And that ground is increasingly prudish and keen to censor any speech related to sex and sexuality. That is a social problem worth discussing.

This latest anti-sex example has me wondering why it is that Vimeo and Youtube have bothered with age restrictions within their system at all. If they are willing to acknowledge that some videos aren’t appropriate for children, great. But why can’t they acknowledge that that category will include videos that deal with sex and pornography? Honestly, I’m totally on board with tagging mature content, it is the best and only way that the internet can be made “safe” for kids. So I do wish these video sites would embrace the concept properly. Though I suspect our old friends Visa and Mastercard are the ones getting in the way of that, again.

If nothing else, this will further discourage me from using my Youtube account. It’s pretty neglected as it is, partly because I’m wary of spending time uploading tame stuff only for it to be possibly nuked in the future. Certainly I won’t dare to upload my own SFW promo film for Since You Asked So Nicely. Like Erika’s foot film, it has a lot of sexual tension, buildup and character development. The sexy bits are relayed as a fantasy and they’re very tame, though I will admit, not quite as tame as Erika’s film – it’s got a hint of BDSM, pegging and an orgasmic face, but no nudity. I did edit this for Vimeo specifically, where all of my films have been automatically marked “Mature” by some administrator, whether I like it or not.

Hopefully, now that I’ve drawn attention to it, Vimeo won’t delete it. If they do, my point is made, once again.