When I was mainly writing erotica on Amazon during the great KDP shorts boom of 2014-2015 there was the ever present threat of Amazon coming through and cleaning house. There was money to be made writing some questionable material and where there’s money there will be people who are willing to make some of that money by filling a niche no matter how questionable.

It would seem that Amazon has mostly forgotten about policing their erotica section now that their changes to KDP have made erotica way less profitable and, therefore, way less likely to show up on top 100 charts where borderline erotica doesn’t belong, but that doesn’t mean the spirit of the crackdown isn’t alive and well out there on content platforms.

The big one right now? Patreon.

They announced changes to their content policy a few days back that are going to have a huge effect on adult content creators using the platform. They’d been vague, probably purposely so, about what was and wasn’t allowed on their platform and as a result there were a lot of people creating adult content who flocked to Patreon because it’s often difficult for adult content creators to monetize their works.

A lot of people are freaking out over what this means, so I figured I’d do a quick breakdown of their new guidelines to see if it’s really the end of the world as we know it for adult content creators:

We ask creators to flag themselves as Adult Content if they create any content that has mature themes such as sexuality or graphic violence. When you are flagged as Adult Content your page is removed from our search.

This is nothing new. Pages featuring adult content have always been removed from their search and hidden from the general public.

We also require that all public content on your page be appropriate for all audiences. Content with mature themes must be marked as a patron-only post.

Some people are misreading this passage. There are some places out there that are pointing out the perceived hypocrisy that they allow adult content but want pages to be “appropriate for all audiences.” These people are either deliberately ignoring the second sentence where NSFW content is allowed as long as it’s hidden to non-patrons or they need to work on their reading comprehension.

We have zero tolerance when it comes to the glorification of sexual violence which includes bestiality, rape, and child exploitation (i.e., sexualized depiction of minors). This is true for illustrated, animated, or any other type of content.

This is perfectly reasonable. Depictions of children, real or otherwise, are both morally reprehensible and illegal in the U.S. Bestiality is illegal in a lot of places. You could make a free speech argument for depictions of rape, but freedom of speech only compels the government to let you say what you want. I can see why Patreon would want to distance themselves from that stuff.

We understand that some topics on this list such as incest or rape are a little bit more complicated because these situations are, unfortunately, part of real life. As a result, when reviewing this type of content, the Trust and Safety team will take into consideration context

This also seems reasonable. I saw some erotica authors bemoaning that books like¬†Lolita¬†were available on Amazon for all to see while their 5000 word short story about mind controlling a roofied borderline underage cheerleader who was “18 years of age” according to the disclaimer at the front into having carnal relations with a group of creepy older men got thrown into Amazon’s adult dungeon. Because they’re totally the same thing, you see?

Yeah, I didn’t buy that argument then and I don’t buy that argument now. I’m reminded of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous quip “I know it when I see it.” regarding hardcore pornography.

Lastly, you cannot sell pornographic material or arrange sexual service(s) as a reward for your patrons. We define pornographic material as real people engaging in sexual acts such as masturbation or sexual intercourse on camera.

This last bit seems pretty clearly aimed at sex workers. Which sucks for them. We as a society are way to puritanical about that sort of thing, but it’s Patreon’s playground and they can decide who does and doesn’t get to play there.

Note that people writing erotica, people creating video games with erotic themes, and people creating erotic art aren’t explicitly included in any of those changes to their content guidelines. Unless those people are making their NSFW stuff public, of course, or their work contains some of the stuff that is forbidden under the new policy like children, rape, etc.

People have tried to frame this as a freedom of speech issue. It isn’t. Patreon is a company, not the U.S. government, and they can do what they please on their platform whether or not people agree with those decisions. People have tried to frame this as Patreon cracking down on fetish content. It’s not. There’s a wide world of fetish content that doesn’t involve rape, children, or sex workers that is still allowed on Patreon as long as it stays behind a paywall.

What this is? It’s a company providing a platform for people to create content, content creators pushing the boundaries, the company getting some flak for those boundaries being pushed, and a crackdown ensuing where they clarify their rules and clear out people who were pushing those boundaries.

This has all happened before, and it will all happen again. I’ve been through a couple of “smutpocalypses” over at Amazon and it’s always the same:

  1. A platform gains popularity among content creators and people start flocking to it.
  2. The platform has rules and guidelines about what content they allow, but people start pushing the boundaries.
  3. The platform either gets overwhelmed because of its sudden popularity and the influx of creators, or they deliberately turn a blind eye to some of the questionable content because it’s making money. You’d have to be in the board room to know which it is.
  4. The public gets wind that some questionable content is being hosted on the platform and the torches and pitchforks are passed around as all the usual media outlets and blogs sense blood in the water.
  5. A media feeding frenzy starts accompanied by the usual public outrage. The platform goes into damage control mode.
  6. A crackdown ensues. People who were pushing the boundaries, or outright stepping outside the boundaries, find themselves no longer welcome on the platform. Sometimes fortunes can be lost as the gravy train comes to a screeching halt.
  7. The creators being cracked down on make the usual arguments about the platform violating freedom of speech and giving into puritanical public sentiment.
  8. Things eventually settle down. The media moves on to the next story. The public finds some new cause celebre to be outraged about. Content creators go back to creating content because that’s what they do and chances are the money is still good.
  9. Slowly content creators creep in who decide to push at the new boundaries and see what they can get away with. Go back to number two.

I’m far from a puritanical person. I quit my day job on the back of writing some things that some would consider fetish erotica, and I still have one erotica pen name today that does decent business. I get that this stuff can be stressful, but at the end of the day if somebody is going to push the boundaries of what is allowed on the platform providing their income then they shouldn’t be surprised when the inevitable backlash comes along.

As far as I can tell this is the first time something like this has happened on Patreon so the wound is still fresh and surprising over there. It’s old hat for anyone who’s been creating sexy content on Amazon and the other ebook publishing platforms, though, and so I imagine this is going to end up playing out almost exactly to the script outlined above.

It’s not the end of the world. Content creators are going to continue creating content. People will continue making money off of NSFW content on Patreon. The people who were pushing at the guidelines are going to find themselves under the microscope with some cleaning up their act and others getting the boot. Things will settle down and life will go on with content creators who’ve lived through this always having it in the back of their mind.

This has all happened before, and it will all happen again.