TREND: TikTok's turn towards sexual conservatism.
TikTokers are warning women against the dangers of OnlyFans, sugaring, and prostitution. They're also growing increasingly skeptical of liberal feminism.
Despite the platform’s attempts at censorship, there remains a lot of educational content on how to enter the sex industry on TikTok.
From @candiserianna, who teaches newcomers how to sugar intelligently, to @strippayoga and @paitriaontiktok who have built personal brands around stripping, to the countless young women who have chronicled their journeys on OnlyFans and the financial independence that it’s brought them. But for every TikTok that instructs new OnlyFans creators (referral link included in bio) or offers helpful hints to baby strippers, there are at least two more videos that warn against not only the dangers of sex work, but specifically the dangers of how it’s portrayed on the platform.
In defense of sex workers on TikTok, while there is no shortage of aspirational (and truthfully, probably misleading) content, there is also plenty of content that is simply women just talking about their experiences. At the end of the day, sex workers should have the right to talk about their lives, both the good and the bad.
This said, it’s hard for me to understate just how pervasive what I’ll call a “sex positive critical” attitude is on TikTok.
This isn’t just a generalized anti-porn or anti-sex work sentiment, although that’s certainly visible. But emergent trends all over the app collide and paint a bigger picture of a push towards sexual conservatism: 33-year-olds meme-ing about the stark realization they’ll never have children, women crying in their cars about being treated like objects, declarations of feeling exploited by our hypersexual culture.
There are also more positive (that is, not as heartbreaking) trends, like the popularity of young married couples and young mothers. To be clear, this is not me saying that these are good or bad, only that they’re trends, and a guess what the trends might mean.
I’ve long argued that TikTok is the “canary in the coal mine” for a cultural backlash to the expression of sex positivity that was promoted on Tumblr and websites like Jezebel and Vice Media in the 2010s. That assertion has been met with an appropriate amount of skepticism. How could I possibly know? And it’s true, I am speculating here, but I stand on firmer ground than just a hunch.
The first reason I’m confident that TikTok is a good gauge for cultural trends is because it has measurable influence. It has impacted the way we listen to music, what products we use, what food we eat, and even what we believe.
Unfortunately, at this point in time, it’s impossible for me, personally, to run analytics and provide hard numbers on how many videos express skepticism or criticism of sex positivity, sex work, or just seem sexually conservative in general. In the mean time, I’ve been doing the best I can to collect clues.
Not only are there myriad standalone TikToks from accounts whose primary video subject is not sexual mores (sex work, the impacts of liberal feminism, et al.), but there are dozens of popular personalities whose personas do revolve around sex work myth-busting.
@ProfitFromTrauma, who has 24.4k followers and is also a popular YouTuber, talks about how sugaring led her to brothel work which ultimately left her with irreversible physical and psychological damage. There’s also @racheloberlin, who has 71.8k followers and talks about how acting in pornography radically changed her life, and not for the better.
Ashley Clark Huffman, whose username is @trashley_anonymous, makes videos almost exclusively critical of prostitution and the flippant attitude young people have about platforms like OnlyFans. She has 1.3 million followers, and her videos have become iconic, spawning her own meme format. (I reached out to her for comment, and no luck yet, but hopefully we’ll hear from her on Default Wisdom sometime soon.)
Then there’s @glamdemon2004, who has 411.7k followers, and was recently interviewed by The New York Times’ Taylor Lorenz. While she’s not as expressly critical as Huffman, her videos are certainly skeptical. To quote her, “I realize the thing I hate about social media, lip gloss, girls-support-girls, we’re all baddies type of feminism is that it centers men’s opinions so aggressively … Men criticize women for being promiscuous, and then all of a sudden, it’s no critical thoughts, just sex positivity.”
There are countless smaller accounts, and smaller trends, too. Young women creating videos that are equal parts commiseration and mocking of the “femcel” (female involuntarily celibate) movement are becoming increasingly common, where they talk about feeling left behind by a hypersexual feminism that centers the young woman as sexual object. I’ve been told that this is just Zoomer humor, but it’s not clear that all of these videos are jokes.
There’s @slutty_tradwife, who has only 1,624 followers, but makes videos on topics like the limits of #MeToo and the failures of liberal feminism. And then there’s my personal favorite, @hystericfantasy, who appears to be a parody of what the hipster of the aughts evolved into: a Red Scare-loving, Christopher Lasch-reading, liberal feminism-critical “art ho” who thinks we should outlaw divorce and restore the sanctity of marriage.
It’s pure camp, but it wouldn’t be so funny if there wasn’t any source material to draw from. That is to say, she’s a theatrical version of a real kind of person that’s walking around.
Much has been written about how TikTok silences sex workers, or, conversely, how it’s created new avenues for educational content for would-be sex workers, but not much attention has been written about the reaction to that sentiment.
My sense is that this isn’t a blip on the radar, it’s a growing trend that’s poised to snowball.
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