Sex News By Rebecca Jennings 103 Views

This week in TikTok: The problem with the “Cancel Porn” movement

A couple of months ago, I kept seeing the same burnt-orange avatar popping up on my TikTok feed, overlaid with black text that was almost too tiny to read. But if you squinted, you could see what it said: “Cancel P*rn.”

Based on its hashtag, the Cancel Porn brigade seems to be made up of the same TikTokers I normally see on my For You page — teenagers mostly, diverse in race, gender, and aesthetic (some were girls with the dramatic winged liner of alt-TikTok, others looked like frat boys). But their message is the same: Porn is inherently evil; it normalizes rape, incest, pedophilia, and misogyny; and it profits off of sex trafficking. Boys share stories of how their middle school porn addictions ruined their lives. Girls spread awareness of teens whose rapes were filmed and uploaded online. Christians discuss how to overcome the sin of lust. Two girls even threw a “porn funeral” party, which sounds like it’s a joke but appears to be genuine? Comments on Cancel Porn videos are mostly from fellow believers, folks who write that they’re “three months clean” and that “more people should be talking about this.”

It’s just one facet of a conservatism, for lack of a better term, that’s proliferating on TikTok from rather unlikely sources: young, presumably progressive women (for the most part) who seem to believe that “choice feminism,” or the idea that every choice a woman makes is inherently feminist because a woman made it, is propagating patriarchy and the male gaze. You can see elements of it all over the place: on videos where women talk about how all sex work is coercion because it involves the transfer of money, or on videos about how the industry isn’t as glamorous as TikTok makes it out to be.

Anti-pornography beliefs have been part of countless movements of the past, most notably in 1970s feminist discourses, but the current iteration spreading on TikTok seems to be a direct response to, well, other things happening on TikTok. Escorts, sugar babies, cam girls, strippers, OnlyFans creators, and folks who sell feet pics or panties online have used the platform to show both the highs and lows of their jobs; consider the “I’m an accountant” meme that spread last year, in which sex workers showed their impressive earnings against an audio that sings, “Nobody asks questions when you say you’re an accountant.” Some critics might consider some of these videos to be glamorizing or romanticizing potentially dangerous professions. In the comment sections, creators answer questions and offer advice to followers hoping to get into the industry.

Yet even more than those videos, I’m seeing the backlash to them: “Liberal feminism telling young girls that hookup culture is liberating, conditioning them to think that if you dont have extreme kinks at a young age then they’re boring and vanilla, and encouraging them to get into sex work the minute they turn 18,” reads the caption on one video by a TikToker whose bio says she’s 16.

It’s why articles lamenting the supposed puritanism or performative wokeness among young people nowadays feel a bit misleading. This is all familiar territory: Millennials too were chided as puritanical a few years back, used as a foil for boomers’ imagined youths full of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. Yet as Alex Nichols wrote in the Outline, there were plenty of young squares back then (more than half of 18- to 30-year-olds in 1972 voted for Nixon). This kind of positioning is, in a paradoxical way, its own kind of moral panic — questioning What It Says About Society if millennials are causing a “sex recession” or if Gen Z is doing fewer drugs than their forebears (consider this 2018 Daily Mail article in which the writer compares the stereotype of the politically correct 20-something to the Taliban), as if all cultural and behavioral change is inherently suspect.

But mostly, this framing is misleading because, like pretty much any generalization of what goes on on a platform or in a subculture or within a generation, it completely erases the nuanced beliefs that actual individuals have. On TikTok, where only a certain kind of video will always rise to the top — typically one that’s either exceptionally funny, cringey, inspirational, shocking, beautiful, or controversial — those generalizations have a way of amplifying the most extreme views. It begins to seem like there are only two teams: the left-wing feminists who seek liberation through beauty and sex work and the SWERFs who lean so far into what they believe is left-wing feminism that it becomes conservative (horseshoe theory, etc., etc.).

Anyway, the whole “Cancel Porn” thing just seems like another symptom of competing extremes. Porn, like most things, isn’t inherently good or bad, and I’m not sure that the threat of a kid developing a porn addiction is more harmful than the same kid being told that their burgeoning sexual curiosity is something to be denied or ashamed of (they already get plenty of that!).

I briefly spoke to Barb Brents, an academic who’s studied the sex work industry for decades, about the Cancel Porn movement, and she too saw it as a target of misdirected anxieties. “It’s almost like the recognition that staring at a screen all the time is causing you problems, but if you can label those problems as, ‘Oh, it’s porn,’ then you can other it and still be able to look at the screen.”

A final thought: We should all be a little better about letting young people figure their shit out. It already sucks enough for them that they have to do their learning in public — which is how we get things like the misguided idea that it is problematic for straight people to watch gay porn. Imagine getting clowned on by a bunch of college-educated adults when you’re just trying to learn how to be an ethical person! I feel so bad for the tiny puritans. Bless them.

TikTok in the news

  • TikTok has agreed to pay a $92 million data privacy settlement after a class action lawsuit alleging that it tracked and sold illegal data to advertisers (mostly data belonging to minors).
  • Facebook is releasing a new app called Bars that lets you rap over pre-recorded beats (it, of course, looks kinda like TikTok).
  • TikTok deleted an account it believed to belong to a 14-year-old girl in Pennsylvania who was arrested on charges of stabbing and murdering her older sister. The account, which had about 32,000 followers, had previously shown videos of her family.
  • Nothing in this article actually supports its bizarre but hilarious headline, which is “What’s the price of fame? All the TikTok careers going down the toilet.”
  • Terrible news: The feta pasta recipe is messing up the cheese supply chain!
  • … But apparently the next big TikTok dish is seitan.
  • As if you needed any more excuse to buy things, BuzzFeed has a list of 25 TikTok-viral products.