TikTok is currently the most popular social media app in the world, and as of last December overtook Google as the most visited website. It’s famous for short, engaging content spanning between 5 seconds and 3 minutes, and according to studies done by HootSuite, the app gains approximately 8 new users per second.
To those who aren’t familiar with this platform, the app is likely associated with young people creating dance trends to go with popular music, or for its hyper-specific algorithm that seems to figure out a person’s interests in just a few minutes. However, a different type of content has been frequently popping up on the For You Pages of many users…TikTok nudes.
A lot of this seems to have begun during the pandemic, with people stuck at home with no option but to find new ways to keep themselves entertained. Perhaps it was almost predestined, lock struggling people inside and weird things were inevitable. The TikTok Community Guidelines directly state, “We strive to create a platform that feels welcoming and safe. We do not allow nudity, pornography, or sexually explicit content on our platform. We also prohibit content depicting or supporting non-consensual sexual acts, the sharing of non-consensual intimate imagery, and adult sexual solicitation.” Added on to these guidelines are multiple sections detailing how the app will not tolerate the sexual exploitation of adults or minors, and in general any nude or sexual content produced by or including minors. Despite this, the app hosts a plethora of content with explicit content from adults AND minors — scantily clad creators, naked for the purpose of being naked, POV TikTok sex, and generally sexual TikToks.
These acts aren’t innocent. Vice has already reported on groups of predators that are using the app to search for nude photos of young boys and girls. This is a problem that TikTok has been attempting to crack down on, but their filters seem to be missing the actual problem content and end up targeting and punishing completely innocent creators. There have been cases of women breastfeeding their child on-camera (with no signs of nudity), being taken down for nudity, to absolutely absurd cases such as a video of a Sims 4 character eating a grilled cheese being taken down – for “nudity!” These channels are shadowbanned, and on occasion completely taken down, while the real perpetrators slip through the cracks. Interestingly enough, I myself have reported sexual content on the app and have seen the report come back to me with “no violation of guidelines found.” It’s obvious that most reports are handled through automation, but if TikTok is actually to address the problem, they either need to have actual people sifting through reports, or upgrade censors to better seek out those who are revealing themselves on-camera. It’s as simple as saying “secs” or “seggs” instead of sex in order to remain unnoticed. Many users also avoid censors by including the phrase “fake body” in videos where they themselves wear revealing clothing or include pictures/videos with inappropriate content. Clearly, this system isn’t working.
I’d like to clarify that this article isn’t written with the express purpose to say that the human body should always be seen as a sexual object. In fact that’s exactly the case that creators such as the breastfeeding mothers who have been banned are trying to make. What does need to be brought into question is why so many young adults in particular are making explicit sexual TikToks. What is to be gained? Looking back at early 2021 to find some insight on this phenomenon, I found that Wired wrote an article on how TikTok “accidentally conquered the porn industry.” In this piece, author Daisy Schofield goes on to explain how TikTok has become an integral marketing tool for many sex workers who use trends on the app to advertise their content on pornographic platforms and grow their audiences. The problem here is that many minors on the app had seen this content and begun to jump on, sparking debates from concerned adults that they are indeed not sexualizing themselves by posting videos in lingerie, bikinis, or other revealing garments. The situation is becoming increasingly tricky and complex for users on the app to navigate, and each time TikTok cracks down on these creators, plenty of innocent channels are caught in the crossfire (as exemplified above.)
In general, I’m very pro-empowerment when it comes to choosing to be sexually explicit or generally sexual as long as you are of age, and as long as you actually want it. There’s a lot of shaming centered around adults, particularly young women, “showing off” their bodies when in reality they’re just wearing what they want. There shouldn’t be shame in showing off your body anyways, and we shouldn’t oversexualize bodies in the first place. But that’s an entirely different conversation to be had of its own.
The problem I find with a lot of sentiment in the sexual liberation movements of the modern age is that there is still this air around shaming those that feel more comfortable not revealing what they’ve got, this necessity to treat people who aren’t as comfortable with sex as prudes. When this is the case, it becomes less about liberation and more so predatory coercion disguised as progressiveness. In fact I hear quite often about content on TikTok where creators will glorify sex without properly educating about safe practices. Oftentimes the targets of these videos will be girls who will soon be turning 18, who can “make tons of money” by selling themselves online. No matter how you slice it, there is no ethicality in encouraging minors to become sex workers before they’ve even had time to mature as adults. It’s disgusting, and it’s incredibly prevalent on and off the app.
Even ignoring this, I just believe that TikTok is necessarily not the platform for sexual liberation or indulgence of erotic content. Sex workers and the sexually liberated do deserve a platform where they can be free to express themselves and create a living, but I really don’t think its responsible or safe to use TikTok as that avenue. Around 25% of the users are aged between 10-19, a vast majority of this group being minors that will not gain anything from being exposed to this explicitly sexual content, accidentally or not. I shouldn’t be able to go open the video section for popular hashtags such as the Adult Swim trend and see porn – because kids are too.
Of course, the app is always changing, and new trends are introduced to audiences every day. Perhaps TikTok sex and sexual TikToks in general will be accurately filtered out – sooner rather than later. I’m not an algorithm expert, so I can’t predict what we’ll see next. I just hope that more awareness can be spread to younger users about the darker sides of the app, and I hope that the adult creators will choose to be more conscious of their possible audience moving forward.