In a special virtual panel on the last day of Berlin Porn Film Festival 2020, sex workers, artists and security experts discussed safety and solutions in a locked-down digital space.
How can we embrace the digital transition happening within sex work, educate each other and stay safe online, while fully embracing everything the cyber world has to offer?
For Brooke Jay – sensualist, creator of kink-positive digital community Haux Hive, personal comfort, data protection, and community spaces are key.
In the context of SESTA/FOSTA, when so many sex workers have lost their source of income and ability to screen clients, the rise of OnlyFans feels like a welcome shining light. As with any platform, however, safety is still a concern. With such an oversaturated platform and so many new sex creators, people may feel pressure to do things they’re not comfortable with. She emphasized the importance of protecting your data, knowing your worth, and being clear what you do and what you do not do.
“Fan submission is an entry fee, not admission to an all you can eat buffet… you really don’t have to do anything you’re not comfortable with…closed legs can and still do get paid,” she says.
She also praises the sex worker community–whose networks provide safety, knowledge, and camaraderie–which led to her to create The Haux Hive and the Digital Haux Underground as a safe space for sex workers, particularly BIPOC sex workers. She’s ecstatic to have a dedicated space, but realistic about the laws that might shut it down. She comments, “We should all be collecting emails and phone numbers.” It never hurts to be prepared.
For cyber security expert Alison Falk, lockdown has created more potential for cyber attacks via porn sites and malware – and a greater need for digital and sex education.
Before Covid, 1 in 5 workers watched porn on a work device, and porn-themed threats accounted for 25% of cyber attacks. Attackers use a variety of malware embedded into porn ads on major sites like PornHub and Xhamster to steal data to weaponize our collective shame around sexuality. Now though, due to people working from home, 240% more workers are going to porn sites on their work devices, and traffic to adult websites on these computers is up by 600%. Given these numbers, the potential for attacks is enormous.
We need to be able to talk about sex in a professional context – to encourage education and reduce stigma. Better understanding could help stop attacks, but also create better privacy laws that don’t conflate consensual sex work and sex trafficking and encourage people to pay for porn by educating them on the often-stolen nature of free porn. We could all do with better digital literacy and hygiene – and better education can get us there.
For Dey Phoenix, OnlyFans and Zoom provided a home for the stripping community.
Phoenix, a pole dancer, stripper and HIV advocate, now uses digital platforms to sell content, taking donations via Venmo, joining virtual strip clubs like Cyber Bunnies and Encore. While Zoom is relatively secure if you use passwords, OnlyFans became an avenue for strippers too, as a freer space for potential nudity and playing music without fear of copyright restrictions. For Dey, OnlyFans has become his own virtual strip club, a way to circumvent the censorship issues (e.g. shadowbanning) that come with platforms like Instagram, and allowing him to create content within his boundaries.
For Angelina Aleksandrovich, founder of cybersex exploration project Raspberry Dream Labs, the existing digital world too restrictive, so she’s taking matters into her own hands.
Pre Covid, Raspberry Dream Labs were actively pushing the frontiers of cyber and sex tech – hosting talks on themes like DIY sex tech and throwing innovative fetish nights incorporating sex robots and teledildonics. It therefore felt natural to transition these events into cyber space completely – creating talks in Altspace VR, launching their safe-space Unsensored VR Chats, and even building a sex-positive camp in the first virtual Burning Man.
However, as VR companies continually shut down events for violating ‘community guidelines’, RD Labs has decided to make its own sex-positive VR platform – Raspberry Dream Land – demonstrating how sex is always at the forefront of innovation.
In all of these examples, we can see that the solutions lie with ourselves – our communities and our networks.
It’s a new digital world, but it’s evolving all the time. Sex workers, artists and advocates are the innovators and creators that keep pushing the boundaries. Solutions have been found by lifting each other up and sharing resources, who knows what we’ll find in the future.