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Facebook really, really doesn’t want (you) to talk about sex

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Facebook has quietly updated its terms on adult content, taking an even more restrictive stance than ever before.

In a piece published in 2016, we asked why Facebook’s 2 billion users aren’t allowed to choose what to read for themselves, after we tried to pay to promote an article exploring the legality of sextech in India. Yes, it was talking about adult issues, but it certainly was not explicit.

Why would Facebook want to restrict adult content in the first place? Well, like other websites that are paid for by ads, allowing adult content could lead to advertisers turning away from the platform (as business wouldn’t necessarily want their adverts placed alongside it), and would dent its carefully-crafted, but not exactly accurate (at least in data usage terms), family-friendly image. 

The extended content policy – updated officially on October 15, 2018, but with changes taking effect from now – bans “sexual slang,” hints of “sexual roles, positions or fetish scenarios,” and “erotic art when mentioned with a sex act”.  

With billions of users, Facebook has a tricky task in moderating content posted (in more than one hundred languages) every day. This issue of dealing with content moderation has allowed fake news to be shared millions of times, influencing world politics, and has put the company directly under fire for not removing videos of things, including terrorist propaganda, quickly enough. 

But even more than that, Facebook has constantly expressed the difficulty of policing such content. But restricting adult language as a way to moderate NSFW content? That seems to be a similar way of thinking as blaming all violence on video games. For Facebook, a blanket ban on adult content is easier than coming up with a more nuanced way of handling posts that may deter advertisers.

The updated community standards aim to “draw the line” regarding content that encourages or coordinates sexual encounters between adults.

As one Twitter user puts it, the sexual solicitation update means writing DTF? on Facebook will no longer be allowed – even between totally consenting adults – as it falls under the ban on  “vague suggestive statements” to do with sex.

Here’s the update of banned content in full:

Content that engages in implicit sexual solicitation, which can be identified by offering or asking to engage in a sexual act and/or acts identified by other suggestive elements such as any of the following:
– Vague suggestive statements, such as “looking for a good time tonight”
Sexualised slang
– Using sexual hints such as mentioning sexual roles, sex positions, fetish scenarios, sexual preference/sexual partner preference, state of arousal, act of sexual intercourse or activity (sexual penetration or self-pleasuring), commonly sexualised areas of the body such as the breasts, groin or buttocks, state of hygiene of genitalia or buttocks


Content (hand-drawn, digital or real-world art) that may depict explicit sexual activity or suggestively posed person(s). Content that offers or asks for other adult activities such as:

– Commercial pornography
– Partners who share fetish or sexual interests
– Sexually explicit language that adds details and goes beyond mere naming or mentioning of:

A state of sexual arousal (wetness or erection)
An act of sexual intercourse (sexual penetration, self-pleasuring or exercising fetish scenarios)

Facebook’s new community standards, updated October 2018

It’s worth adding that Facebook-owned Instagram is also a space that relies on ad revenue and is equally prudish when it comes to adult content.

This week, Woman of Sex Tech founder Bryony Cole tweeted that her Instagram page had been taken down again, prompting a discussion on the need for an online space that promotes and encourages freedom of expression regarding adult content online. 

With NSFW content on Tumblr good as gone, Instagram shutting down sex-positive pages and Facebook tightening its stance even further, will prudish attitudes of what are essentially marketing platforms for many tech firms hinder the development of sextech in 2019? Let’s hope not. 

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