Sexual Media Production / Distribution in Digital Spaces

Digital spaces are rife with sexually explicit media, including but not limited to text, audio, images, and videos. These digital spaces are often dominated by male subscribers, and thus take on, at the best, a gendered ambience, or at the worst, completely misogynist/sexist environments. In this post, I want to examine how these digital spaces serve as platforms for the perpetuation of the commodification of female bodies, sexist performances, and the violation of privacy and consent.

The popular social networking and news website Reddit offers several entertaining, empowering, and informing forums (labeled subreddits) created by users worldwide, but it also hosts waves of degrading and normative avenues that actively churn up misogynist content. One only needs to skim and click through the exhaustive list of not safe for work (NSFW) subreddits to find evidences of sexism, objectification of women, and degradation and humiliation of individuals. As a response to Amy Adele Hasinoff’s article “Sexting as media production: Rethinking social media and sexuality”, I want to focus on subreddits that present sexual content produced by women. In these subreddits (e.g. gonewild, petitegonewild, gonewildplus WARNING: NSFW) women post sexual images of themselves to be rated and commented on by an (predominantly male) audience. While some may argue that these performances are ways in which the author is reclaiming their body and sexuality, I argue that they continue to play into the commodification of women and their usefulness only as sex objects. Hasinoff discusses in her article the potential benefits of adolescent girls producing and sharing sexual self representations to social networking sites (e.g. a more thorough examination of their sexuality, a community supportive of their image, etc.) but I argue that those subreddits may not be the best outlets or communities to yield those positive effects.

Additionally, it’s interesting to consider the posts that contextualize themselves as “through the urging/support/compliments of my significant other” (examples WARNING: NSFW) in how they complicate the nature of power and authorship, as well as sexuality and consent. In these instances, the partner plays a role in not only “empowering” the poster, but also giving context to the post itself and its perception by the audience.

Furthermore, it’s also worth noting that there’s a large portion of the NSFW subreddits dedicated to curating sexual content produced by “amateurs” as well as professionals/models. In these forums, it’s important to highlight instances of privacy/consent violations as well as sexual abuse. For example, while contributors to the various gonewild subreddits implicitly give consent to the distribution of their content (known as cross posting or “x-posting”), a large number of images in those forums are posted either maliciously or the images were acquired illegally (e.g. through leaks or hacking). A recent incident of illegally acquired images involved the leaked private images of various celebrities: despite the celebrities and their representatives’ attempts to remove the images from the internet, they continue to circulate and embed themselves into internet history. This also puts into question the privacy of celebrities and their rights to their content as an individual in the spotlight.

Another case involved leaked snapchat images in which a host of images (sexually explicit or otherwise) were released by hackers. These image dumps were mined for sexually explicit content and curated and distributed throughout various forums, violating the privacy of those individuals. This situation is important too because it combines the “selfie” phenomenon with (presumed consensual) sexual media production. In “The Young-Girl and the Selfie”, Sarah Gram argues that “The selfie, in the end is about the gendered labour of young girls under capitalism… Teenage girls are Young-Girls, are spectacles, are narcissists, are consumers because those are the very criterion which must be met to be a young woman and also a part of society.” While these assertions about the selfie are in the context of popular social media outlets (e.g. instagram and facebook), the techniques of the selfie are not absent from sexual representations of the self; these self representations, like mainstream selfies, are “clearly the product of work, both on the body and on the representation of the body.” In that regard, I argue that women’s sexual snaps (by virtue of the app’s photographing mechanism) enforce similar tactics, ultimately resulting in further ingraining the commodification of the female body, of their bodies, even if the receiver was a significant other.

I do concede that there can be positive benefits in the consensual exchange of sexual media, wether that be in the form of snapchat, sexting, social networking sites, and other digital spaces. However, I want to highlight the importance of critically analyzing the intentions and consequences of performing in those platforms.