Article Thumbnail

Siri Dahl and the Tenuous Tolerance of Sex Workers on Twitch

Twitch’s rules around sex work and nudity are vague, confusing and often contradictory, leaving many sex workers wondering if they have a place on the platform

In June, sex worker Siri Dahl slipped into a gold, pink and orange striped bathing suit and live-streamed a SFW cooking show for her dedicated Twitch fans. She’d already streamed a few times on the platform, but this was her first time doing a bikini cooking show. “I assumed it was fine, because I see other streamers in bikinis on Twitch all the time,” she tells me. 

Wrong she was. Even though they were covered up, the mere sight of her bikini-clad jugs was enough to earn her a 24-hour suspension. “That’s how I found out bikinis are only allowed on Twitch if they’re ‘environmentally appropriate’ — so in pools and hot tubs,” Dahl explains. “Clearly, kitchens don’t count!” 

This vague, bizarre rule has seen plenty of streamers targeted with bans and suspensions. After banning the term “hot tub streamers” in chat rooms earlier this year, Twitch finally addressed the controversy in a blog post, writing, “Being found to be sexy by others is not against our rules, and Twitch will not take enforcement action against women or anyone on our service for their perceived attractiveness.” It also introduced a brand-new streaming category: “Pools, Hot Tubs and Beaches.”

But despite promising not to be “overly punitive” about swimwear and skin, there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary. Just a few weeks ago, hot-tub streamer Amouranth was banned for the fifth time, for reasons unknown to her. Then, FaZe Clan streamer Kalei was given a temporary ban for apparently showing off her collarbone tattoo, a move that violated Twitch’s rules around “sexually suggestive content.” Long-time hot-tub streamer IndieFoxx also announced she was banned permanently after being flagged for explicit content six times. 

Rules like these have left plenty confused about the limits on Twitch, the Amazon-owned streaming platform made especially for hardcore gamers. Porn is filled with horny gamer girls — a la Belle Delphine, who made global headlines when she sold her bath water at $30 a bottle — and plenty of video-game characters come with enormous jugs and barely-there costumes. Despite these facts, Twitch is pretty buttoned-up — and as a result, sex workers like Dahl have long been wondering whether or not they have a place on the platform, even when they’re doing nothing more than gaming, cooking or hanging out.

When I reached out to Twitch for clarification, the answers were still pretty vague. The first fact is that online creators seemingly can link through to their sexy subscription site profiles, so the mere fact that they’re sex workers doesn’t disqualify them from using Twitch. “We do not restrict all links to OnlyFans pages, since the site is not exclusively used for sexually explicit content,” a spokesperson explains. “However, if a streamer includes a link to their OnlyFans page which promotes content that violates our Nudity and Attire policy, we will take enforcement action when reported.” 

In other words, if a sex worker does sex work nude — or even while scantily clad — and then advertises their profile, that’s seemingly a no-go for Twitch, despite doing it on other platforms. 

And while nudity on Twitch can be “pre-approved” in “limited educational and artistic contexts,” there’s also the risk of sex workers being demonetized, as advertisers can “target or avoid specific categories of content and flag channels that don’t meet their standards.” Twitch doesn’t allow this if brands “use protected characteristics as a filter” — so they can’t straight-up refuse to advertise with queer creators, for example — but sex work isn’t a protected characteristic, meaning sex workers could theoretically be singled out for demonetization.

This is significant, especially in the midst of a pandemic, when plenty of sex workers started to use Twitch as an extra source of income. During the summer of 2020, porn performer Casey Kisses — the star of a recently-released, semi-autobiographical feature film — started streaming her game-plays, and found that Twitch helped her get over her on-camera nerves. “I’m totally comfortable masturbating for thousands of fans, but when I’m not naked, I get super nervous,” she says. As of now, her channel only gets about 20 to 30 regular viewers, but that’s been enough to earn her Affiliate status, which allows monetization through revenue. Next, she hopes to progress to Partner, a seal of verification approval that unlocks more creator tools. 

Dahl was recently named a partner, too, and when I tell Kisses this, her eyes light up. “That makes me feel great, because I’ve been really worried about becoming a Twitch Partner as an adult performer,” she tells me. 

In addition to Dahl, a handful of other sex workers have been given Twitch’s official stamp of approval. “Twitch has given the status to several other adult stars over the years, such as Mia Malkova, Adriana Chechik and Sasha Grey,” explains Dahl. “Twitch knows that adult performers have sizable, dedicated fan bases who overlap significantly with the gaming community, so it’s in their interest to be welcoming to us.” 

Dahl, who has more than 200,000 followers on Twitter yet doesn’t have the elusive blue-check verification, sees her newly-anointed Partner status as “a sign of recognition and respect for my contributions to the community on Twitch.” In her eyes, it’s “important validation, especially given the generally hostile environment toward adult content creators on pretty much every social media platform.” She doesn’t, though, necessarily view it as acceptance. “It’s a reaction to our political reality, which is definitely anti-sex work,” she explains. “The site might not totally ‘accept’ sex workers, but they’ve definitely realized they can capitalize on our presence.”

Despite their skepticism, both Kisses and Dahl plan to keep streaming and building their audiences outside of porn. That said, building a new audience under Twitch’s rules isn’t exactly easy. “At this point, I’ve spent more money on Twitch than I’ve netted on the platform, but I knew it would be like that when I got started,” Dahl concludes. “It just takes more time to build a following when I can’t rely on showing my butt to the camera.”