It’s a damned scary time to be a sex worker in the Western world.
I feel like I should explain this statement, because “sex work” IS NOT limited to what everyone thinks it is.
The currently accepted definition, and I’m sure some people are going to take exception or offense to either being left out or lumped in with this, runs as follows.
Performs sex acts for pay (duh)
Depicts personal nudity or sex acts for pay
Engages in professional (no intimate touching) BDSM services for pay, including artisan and craft services
Educates others in safer sexual practices and enjoyment of same for pay
We COULD take this further and include ancillary staff or people who work in or provide sex-forward, sex-positive spaces in general, but those waters can get very murky, very fast.
For example, most attorneys probably wouldn’t appreciate being categorized as sex workers. Even if their biggest clients are porn sites and their entire practice is built on keeping those sites operational and compliant with the ever-changing legal and regulatory landscape, there’s a good chance they would find this objectionable. Most erotic romance writers I know would probably be at best lukewarm about being included in that definition, and at worst deeply offended. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
So, as a basic bright-line definition, I feel like the one I gave above is good enough to be getting on with. The problem is, that definition makes no distinction between the porn actor, the archetypical street-walking hooker, the sex educator, the private club owner-operator or the person who builds floggers and paddles. In this respect, it’s way too broad and yet much too narrow. But, until someone else cares to advance another, more inclusive and exact definition, let’s go with it.
If you want to skip to the review, scroll down to the next big red banner.
I feel many readers might find the added context this next bit provides illuminating, but if you want to gloss over it, it’s up to you. Just don’t be surprised if you have to scroll back up to catch some of the references I make.
Sex work is literally older than the human species. There are documented cases of penguins exchanging sex for rocks with which to build nests, macaques exchanging sex for grooming and so on. In ancient societies, such as Mesopotamia, Sumeria, Greece and Rome, prostitutes appear to have fallen into three categories: common street walkers, brothel workers and sacred prostitutes, who plied their trade out of the temples dedicated to the deities of sexual love and desire.
In modern times, we have developed a very schizophrenic relationship between sex and religion. The peculiar mix of Puritanism, Calvinism and secularism has created an uneasy alliance by which sex is used to sell everything from catfish to cars, while at the same being decried as demeaning, degrading and “dirty.” (My personal opinion is, if your sex ISN’T dirty, you’re probably doing it wrong!) And of course, the “For God’s sake, think of the children!” crowd are quick to censor anything which might give anyone a twitch in the tingly bits, as today’s headline about Walmart banning Cosmopolitan magazine shows. (For my part, I think this was the right thing done for all the wrong reasons. I may discuss my own issues *ahem* with Cosmo at a later date.)
This, in turn, leads to a snowball effect of at best pointless and at worst devastating laws by uninformed politicians which cast the very people they purport to protect in the roles of both victim and villain. The Nordic Model, which criminalizes buying sex but not selling it, has been shown to sharply increase violence against sex workers.
Here in the United States, SESTA/FOSTA, acts which claim to prevent sex trafficking and protect victims of same, instead silence sex workers’ voices. These laws draw no distinction between activities undertaken by consenting adult humans of lawful age and soundness of mind and unlawful actions undertaken against vulnerable persons by force, coercion or threats of violence. Even worse, they have taken aim at the Internet and neutrality, chipping away just a little bit more at the principles of freedom of speech and freedom of self-determination by threatening to punish websites who even give the APPEARANCE of facilitating sex work.
- Craigslist has shuttered its Personals section, citing concerns over being prosecuted for the actions of third parties, which is a key provision of SESTA/FOSTA;
- Twitter and Facebook have stepped up their efforts to bar adult content from being viewed or even discussed onsite, both through visible efforts and so-called “shadowbanning,” where content is suppressed to the point of invisibility;
- Reddit has done away with many sex-oriented subsectors, some of which promoted sex work while others were open, frank discussion spaces about bad actors and bad clients within the sex work space;
- And I’m sure others will emerge, at a rapidly increasing pace, as SESTA/FOSTA gets closer to the Oval Office.
This is the cultural milieu which gave rise to SWitter in the first place.
I had not heard of SWitter until this morning, but when I saw the hashtag for it starting to trend, it piqued my curiosity, so I went and checked it out.
Here’s what SWitter’s “About” section has to say, in part:
“In light of the FOSTA/SESTA bill and the recent shadow-banning of our accounts, we’ve decided to take social into our own hands.
“This is an open and free community and your space to advertise, release new shoots, announce tour dates and whatever else you’d like to do! It’s in your hands. It works similar to previous social networks but it’s censorship free!”
Based out of Austria, where sex work is legal (hence the .at designation on the site), SWitter runs off the Mastodon hosting platform as a variant of Twitter at first glance. The site shows up natively in European English, which is perfectly fine if a little jarring for those of us who don’t typically deal with extraneous vowels such as appear in the word “behaviour.” That said, the site is perfectly understandable and apparently supports a wide range of Latinate, Germanic and Eastern language formats.
Note: I’m not going to include images of the mobile interface because frankly, it’s a pain in the ass and I don’t have the spoons to fuck with it. If you follow the instructions below, your first foray into getting started on SWitter should be relatively painless.
Setting up your account on SWitter is basically the same format as any other social media I’ve ever used: Choose your username, enter your email address, set your password and confirm it. SWitter sends an email with a confirmation link.
WARNING! When you click the confirmation link, remember to put in your email address, NOT your username! (I struggled with this one a bit.)
Access and Profile Setup
Setting up your profile isn’t the most intuitive process, especially on the mobile app. I had to hunt around a bit to figure this one out, but when the home screen comes up after login, this is the order of operations for mobile:
1. Select the three bars at the far right-hand side of the screen
2. Tap the gear icon labeled “Preferences”
3. The line marked “Preferences” on the next screen will be highlighted in blue. Directly above that is the line to “Edit Profile,” with a person icon to its left. Tap on that.
4. At first glance, nothing happens. You have to tap “Edit Profile” and then scroll down past the gray block with “Development” and “Logout” lines before you see the screen to edit your profile. Once you’ve set your username (30 characters max) and your bio (160 characters max), you can import your profile pic and wallpaper just like Twitter.
5. Scroll down to the blue box marked “Save Changes” and tap it.
Use of SWitter
Once you’re done with this, the page will reset to the top. Select “Back to Mastodon” at the bottom of the gray header. This will take you back to the Navigation page.
Here’s where things get weird: If you choose the Home icon on the left (looks like a house), you get your own Toots (SWitter’s answer to Tweets) at the top, followed by official SWitter communications.
The Notifications icon, a bell, shows you followers and so on, just like you’d expect on Twitter.
Next to that is an icon with three people. (Note: At first I thought it was one person flailing their arms like you’d see in a Peanuts cartoon. On closer review, this is not the case.) This takes you to the Local Timeline, which looks a lot more reminiscent of the “normal” Twitter feed, except in black. Unlike the Twitter feed, which requires you to refresh periodically to see new Tweets, the SWitter feed auto-populates with new Toots as they come in.
The globe icon shows you the “Federated” timeline, which seems to incorporate both the feeds from SWitter and other Mastodon-based sites. This is probably not ideal for most users, especially those promoting adult content, because there is still a chance of crossover to teen-friendly sections. However, by default, SWitter’s settings automatically suppress sensitive content. You can change this in the Preferences tab by clicking the appropriate boxes. (Mine is set to always mark content as sensitive because HELLLLOOOOO and to always show sensitive content, because boobs. #SorryNotSorry.)
Unlike the mobile UI, which shows everything in a single column, the desktop UI breaks into four pane. From left to right:
- “Getting Started” tab: Clicking this shows #9 in the fourth column
- Local Timeline
- Federated Timeline
- Toot Deck (note the 500-character limit)
- Your Home pane, which shows all YOUR activity and official SWitter communications
- Your Notifications pane. Hey, look, I can haz followerz! ^_^
- Expanded Getting Started pane
Clicking on “Local Timeline” brings up this pane:
Note that the Local Timeline pane is now populated with a feed, instead of controls.
So, here’s what I really like about SWitter:
- I like the higher degree of control over what I can see in my feed and that it auto-populates instead of having to refresh.
- I like having the option of playing in my own spaces or exploring.
- I LOVE the 500-character Toot limit, which is much less limiting (har har) than Twitter’s UI.
- The UI feels user-friendly and comfortable, with multiple panes which give me a superior feeling of control. (WHAT? You mean the Dominant is a control freak? Who would EVER have guessed???)
What I DON’T really like about SWitter:
- The UI could be a bit more intuitive.
- Failing that, they could really do with better guides for the mobile app, rather than leaving the user to figure it out on their own.
- The multiple panes might be difficult for some users who suffer from “information overload” to work with. (Yes, this part is a mixed blessing.
- Since it’s still in the early stages, there’s a dearth of sex educators in favor of other, more “active” sex workers. However, I feel confident this will change as word gets around.
Overall, I’d give it a solid 7/10, with my rating subject to revision based on future performance. So far, however, I don’t see a great deal to majorly hate about the platform, and honestly a lot to like. Check it out…what’s the worst that can happen?