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There's a Problem With Tumblr GIF Porn That We Don't Talk About

There’s a Problem With Tumblr GIF Porn That We Don’t Talk About

We don’t typically think of porn as “female-friendly.” Yet female-friendly or feminist porn has become something of a buzzword of late, with websites curating lists like “The 14 Best Porn Sites for Women” and “The Best Places to Find Porn For Women Online.” These lists often emphasize various iterations of Tumblr porn, or erotic GIFs and images depicting “palpable desire, unbridled passion and body positive eroticism,” arty lighting and “no jackhammering.”

The type of porn on websites like Tumblr stands in marked contrast to the sex seen in mainstream porn, which has been critiqued for being “skeevy” and objectifying. And it’s hugely popular: one two-GIF post showing a beefy guy eating a tanlined brunette’s pussy currently has more than 25,000 notes (link NSFW).

But while Tumblr porn is often touted as an ethical alternative to mainstream hardcore porn, many of the performers and directors who created the content featured in these GIFs and clips feel otherwise.  

Adult director Jacky St. James, whose film The Sexual Liberation of Anna Lee is featured in a GIF story that garnered more than  35,000 notes, argues that the marketing and monetization of porn seen on Tumblr is nothing short of an ethical violation.

“It’s fantastic that there are countless people liking and reflagging this GIF to their sites,” St. James said. “Yet the owner of this site is making money off of a film I created, that my company produced, and isn’t doing anything in exchange — no link to an affiliate site, not even a name credit or recognition. There is no mention of the film’s title or actors.”

There's a Problem With Tumblr GIF Porn That We Don't Talk About

A GIF from a scene from “The Father Figure,” feat. performers Kasey Warner & Mark Wood.Source: Mic/KinkyMarie

To those who create Tumblr porn GIFs, they’re a form of artistic creative expression, a way to curate clips and images in a unique way that captures viewers’ imagination.

“In my opinion, Tumblr has created a unique form of pop art,” Elle Chase, the founder of feminist Tumblr porn favorite LadyCheeky (NSFW), s. “Tumblr is a place where anyone can string images together as it suits them to communicate what an idea is or what they’re feeling or what mood they are in simply by taking part in this social media platform. I find that really exciting.”

Yet the ripping, re-blogging and monetization of Tumblr porn is also a prime example of porn piracy, an issue affecting the industry in ways that are not immediately apparent to fans and viewers. Piracy is not limited to Tumblr: People regularly watch stolen pirated content on major tube sites every day, with popular websites like Pornhub and xHamster placing 65th and 90th in Alexa rankings, respectively. Yet some experts guess that the industry has lost billions of dollars as a result of people illegally posting porn videos, images and GIFs online.

Some producers and performers post Tumblr porn GIFs of their own accord as a form of self-promotion. But that backfires when these GIFs are illegally posted by other users.

Performer and producer Kelsey Obsession that when this happens, the performers and producers featured in the GIFs are losing out on thousands of dollars.

“Even if only 0.5% [of viewers] wanted to pay to watch the [full] scene, that represents over 1,200 customers,” Obsession said.

To be able to pay for full scenes, viewers have to be able to find them – and locating source material on Tumblr can be tricky. That’s especially true because linking out to your own website (where people might then opt to purchase a producer’s content) is not allowed under Tumblr’s community guidelines.

For instance, Obsession once received an email from Tumblr terminating one of her blogs on the grounds that it had been used “for spam or affiliate marketing.” She has since had four of her own blogs shut down by Tumblr, even though she claims she did not violate any of the website’s policies. She estimates that she lost dozens of hours of work and thousands of followers during this process.

There's a Problem With Tumblr GIF Porn That We Don't Talk About

A GIF from “Discovery Girls: Part One,” feat. Scarlet Red & Sierra Nevadah Source: Mic/KinkyMarie

The vast majority of Tumblr porn, however, does not come directly from a performer and/or producer like Obsession. According to Marie-Chantal, a.k.a. KinkyMarie, who is hired by porn producers to make exclusive GIFs, most GIF porn is actually pirated content.

Occasionally, someone like Marie-Chantal is employed by a porn producer to create legitimate GIFs, which basically serve as commercials for sex scenes. She leaves a company’s identifying watermark on any GIFs she creates.

But far more frequently, unsanctioned free agents create porn GIFs — like italiansd0itbetter, which has more than 347,000 followers — and remove producers’ identifying information from their end product. Some GIFers will then add their own watermark to a GIF, essentially rebranding work done by performers and producers as their own.

“What is particularly infuriating is to see a GIF watermarked with the Tumblr username of the person who created the GIF — NOT the company or person who created the content,” Obsession said.  

Often, these pirated GIFs are then featured on GIF porn curation sites, which attempt to monetize this process by selling their traffic and placing affiliate banners on sites with pirated GIFs. This arguably takes erotic GIFs from a form of creative play, a la erotic fan fiction, to a form of outright copyright infringement.  

There's a Problem With Tumblr GIF Porn That We Don't Talk About

A GIF from a scene from “Restraint,” featuring performers Sara Luvv & Xander CorvusSource: Mic/KinkyMarie

For the most part, however, people who run monetized Tumblr porn sites do not see their sites as a form of piracy. Chase sees her site as completely different from a piracy-based tube site. For one thing, she says, she doesn’t make nearly as much money.

“I am not posting 15-minute clips or whole movies like the tube sites do. In fact, if anything Tumblr sites are a great way to promote one’s erotic expression,” Chase said. Running her Tumblr, she says, is “my hobby, my philosophy and a way for me and others to connect with and express their unique sexual and sensual tastes.”

To a degree, Chase is correct: Collecting and curating porn GIFs can be a form of creative expression, not to mention hot as hell. But the process of passing around content that’s been curated and not attributed to the people who created it isn’t necessarily more “ethical” than that of, say, a mainstream tube site. 

Further, the whole phenomenon of “free” porn allows people to hide behind their own discomforts with commercial sex specifically, as well as sexualities in general.

“I think that free, in this context, is appealing because it means one can enjoy erotic content without feeling guilty about supporting the porn industry, which is potentially or actually gross in many people’s eyes,” Obsession explained.

One of the most frequently touted ways to support artists and workers in today’s world is by paying them. But while people seem to be OK with supporting mainstream artists by paying for streaming music services and concert tickets, they don’t typically grant porn the same respect — in large part because, culturally, we continue to have a problem with it.