Growing up in a small, conservative pocket of Pittsburgh, Mandy Seiner saw how women's sexuality -- especially queer women's sexuality -- would be ignored or considered all-out shameful. As she began exploring her sexuality throughout high school, she turned to Tumblr.
"Tumblr was my entry point into the queer community," Seiner, now 22, says. "Prior to that, I had only ever seen queer intimacy in movies or in other random explicit content I found online, which was highly catered to the male gaze -- a lot of phallic-centric threesomes and unrealistic scenes. Tumblr made me realize that queer intimacy could be soft, non-performative and diverse."
But for Seiner and other young women who have used Tumblr to learn about themselves and others, that's coming to an end.
Tumblr announced Monday that it will remove all "adult content" from the site on December 17. In this case, "adult content" means photos, videos, or GIFs that show real-life human genitals or female-presenting nipples (we could not roll our eyes harder), and any content -- including photos, videos, GIFs and illustrations -- that depicts sex acts. But that's precisely the content that draws many women to Tumblr. "It's just such a hub of so many different kinds of art and expression that it was the perfect place for me to safely explore [my sexuality]," says 27-year-old Samantha.
Generally, Tumblr allows users to create blogs, share content they like (typically images or text posts), and build communities around subjects that matter most to them -- from fandoms to health and fitness to sexual preferences. The ease at which users can anonymously collect, curate, and experience the things that turn them on has led Tumblr to become a safe place for queer women to explore their sexuality, often for the very first time. Searching tags like "softcore" or "fingering" would yield pages of porn GIFs, sensual black and white images, videos, erotic fiction, fanart, and more. And while there's plenty of porn on the internet, the adult content on Tumblr was often sensual and intimate, focused more on desire -- a radical shift from what's typically available on explicit porn sites like PornHub. Though made-for-women porn sites exist and are growing in number, many are membership-based or have inhibiting pay walls. Tumblr quickly became the place where women could easily explore what turns them on and discover sexual content that didn't feel alienating or degrading.
"Tumblr introduced me to female erotic film directors like Erika Lust, whose productions focus on the pleasure of the parties involved onscreen, not the unnamed viewer," says Mandy. "That was monumental for me as a young woman who thought, consciously or not, that all sexual acts were something to be done to you rather than for you."
When 20-year-old Jamie from Ontario began questioning her sexuality a couple years ago, she turned to Tumblr because it was anonymous and allowed her to follow NSFW content by women for women, which helped her understand and validate her bisexuality.
"Without the experience I had on Tumblr, I wouldn't have been able to learn so much about how I was feeling and eventually come out to my friends and family," she says. "I wouldn't have been looking up LGBTQ content on Instagram and Twitter for fear of outing myself or being outed."
Communities built around sexuality and desire have flourished on Tumblr, especially for young queer women looking for content tailored to them, which can be a true struggle to find. These blogs can also serve as a resource for anyone looking to learn more about their own sexual or gender identity.
That's why Kdin Jenzen, a 30-year-old transwoman from Austin, Texas, started her own Tumblr blog. She uses it to connect with likeminded people, answer questions, and help other trans and LGBTQ+ folks discover and express themselves. She now has more than 20,000 followers.
"On Tumblr, I was accepted, listened to, and free to enjoy regular and adult content both created by and for the LGBTQIA+ community," she says.
But the question on Kdin's mind is: where will Tumblr draw the line for what's considered "adult content"? The platform has already started shutting down accounts and purging material, and Kdin worries what will happen next to the communities that found a home there.
"With this mass ban on pornography, Tumblr is indirectly targeting the LGBTQIA+ community and removing posts and blogs directed at helping others. Being sexual is natural, and having a safe place to discuss and show this off was a huge part of what Tumblr was for so many people," Kdin says.
"I'll probably be encouraging my followers to abandon the platform and follow me to Twitter and Instagram instead," she adds.
An analysis from 2013 found that 11.4 percent of Tumblr's blogs were "adult content," and that has likely risen since then. It's uncertain what will happen to the platform after this ban, as well as what will happen to the sexuality-based communities that formed and thrived there. What is clear is that queer women desire a space to experience realistic sexual content created for them. They found that on Tumblr, and with this ban, we're about to lose more than just some smutty GIFs.