Last year, a few erotica and sexuality writers were kicked off of Medium’s payment processor, Stripe. They weren’t violating Medium’s TOS, but with close inspection, it turned out they were violating Stripe’s, which has a clause that prohibits written pornography.
“Well, duh,” you might be thinking. “If you violate the TOS, you get what you deserve.”
The problem is that there is no definition. The term is subjective. If you don’t know how the term is defined, then there’s no way of knowing whether you’re violating the TOS.
When this happened, I spoke with a few other writers. Many of us wondered if we’d be next as we tried to figure out how to remain compliant with the TOS.
What qualified as written pornography? Was it kink? Language? Was it the length of sexual description? Depth of character development? Was it simply the idea of writing something that might turn someone else on?
What about essays? Essays can’t be pornography, right?
I switched to essays.
It’s Not Just Stripe
Amazon has its own vague, punitive logic. There is The Great Algorithm—an angry, temperamental god that determines how visible your book will be—and then there is the Mysterious Review Process, which determines whether your book will be flagged, dungeoned, or banned. Every time you update a file, even if it’s just to fix a typo, the book goes through the review process, which can trigger a ban with no warning.
Amazon bans are absolute. There is virtually no recourse. Your account is locked, your earnings are withheld, and you are blocked from using the customer service contact forms. Once an account is banned, that author or publisher can never open an account with Amazon again. This is debilitating for anyone in the publishing industry.
For a while, it was clear what sort of content triggered a ban. It was extremely transgressive kink. But lately that hasn’t been the case.
Shortly after the Stripe bans last year, Amazon banned a slew of romance writers. An independent publisher specializing in romance was also banned.
After a massive outcry on social media, that publisher was able to get their account restored, but the individual writers weren’t so lucky. I watched this happen as I’d watched it happen to so many others in the past. And like so many times before, nobody understood why or how it happened. Was it their writing? The subject matter? The kink? Was it something else entirely? Did Amazon experience a glitch?
Because that’s another thing. Sometimes Amazon screws up.
But we pay the price.
Pressure from the Religious Right
In addition to the god-like power maintained by publishing platforms and payment processors, we’ve seen an expansion of power from the religious right.
There was a multi-pronged attack on the adult industry last year. Evangelical groups applied enough pressure to compel OnlyFans to shut down adult content. The company eventually reversed its position, though for how long, nobody knows.
Shortly after that kerfuffle, Mastercard imposed new policy restrictions that directly impact the ability of sex workers to make a living. And this year, Congress re-introduced the EARN IT Act, a bill that pretends to combat child exploitation but in fact does the opposite while increasing government surveillance and restricting free speech. This bill is backed by evangelical groups like Exodus Cry and if it passes, we could see a major crackdown on sexual expression.
When sex work is under political attack, sexual expression is usually next.
What Happens When We Ban Erotic Content
Because of this—all of this—I had a hard time writing erotica last year.
Every time I sat down to write, I questioned whether it was smart to keep writing about sex knowing I could get de-platformed or de-monetized the moment the winds shift. My options were to write about sex and potentially lose my ability to publish entirely or write about literally anything else.
I chose the latter.
This decision was uncomfortable for me because I believe in eroticism. Sexual expression has always felt like my home. And I believe it’s important.
On social media, you can discuss sexual trauma all day but if you talk about sexual pleasure, you get shadow-banned for pornography.
You can display images of violence but a partially undressed body will get you flagged and filtered.
If you shame a kink, you will get engagement. If you celebrate it, you will get flagged.
The RWA defines erotic romance as a genre that tracks the development of a relationship through sexual interaction. Amazon uses content screening to filter erotic romance into the heavily restricted erotica category. Erotic romance is forever at risk of triggering a ban.
Collectively, these acts of restriction winnow down the representation of sex to diminish pleasure, arousal, and desire while rewarding trauma, violence, and stigmatization.
I hate that, and about a month ago, I asked myself what it would take to make me comfortable enough to write erotic fiction again.
The answer: (1) redundancy and (2) my own platform.
Doing It Like It’s 2012
Sometime between 2010 and 2015, everything went mobile. Attention shifted from websites to apps as tech companies developed finely calibrated environments that could grip their audience’s attention and hold it, ensuring they would never leave. And creators became dependent on those platforms, reduced to generating eyeball fodder for the attention economy.
Now erotica can only exist for as long as private companies choose to let it exist.
So I’ve decided to dust off my website and turn it into a home, like the old days.
I’m using Patreon because it claims to support sexual expression as long as it’s appropriately labeled—for now, at least. This allows me to both host and paywall my work, so if I’m de-platformed, I won’t lose everything I have. At least not until this country goes full Republic of Gilead.
I’m also trying out audio. I enjoy audio myself and thought other people might like it too.
I’m also gradually going through and editing my older stories and in some cases deepening the sexual experience. I’ll be organizing them into little anthologies in case you prefer book form.
And I’ll keep working on new stuff.
You can join Patreon here.
If you have a Medium membership, you can still read my stories there for as long as Medium will have me. Audio, however, will be Patreon-only.