By Patrick McAuliffe
Pornography is pervasive in our world, both that which is free and that which one pays to consume. As access to porn has increased, so too has the tolerance and acceptance of sex work. Whether you believe it is morally good or bad depends on your intuitions and education. Those that support sex work champion its benefits, such as a steady income for the sex worker (usually women), the destigmatizing of nudity and sexuality, and the provision of pleasure that porn consumers seek. Those against sex work and pornography usually come from some sort of religious background, claiming it causes harm through the cheapening of intimacy, a tolerance for sexuality usually reserved for a monogamous relationship, and the negative consequences it can cause in current and future relationships. The decision about the morality of sex work lies with you, the potential consumer or producer of pornography, but is it possible that one can morally oppose sex work, yet acknowledge the rights of consumers to engage in its market? How does being in a monogamous relationship morally factor into a sex worker’s life? Popular YouTuber iDubbbzTV, or Ian Carter, found himself having to confront this second question recently, and, suffice it to say, he defended himself poorly in the court of public opinion.
On March 9th, iDubbbz’s girlfriend, cosplayer and fellow YouTuber Anisa Jomha, announced on Twitter that she would be starting an OnlyFans account. OnlyFans is a website for users to upload and sell access to amateur pornography, or as Ian puts it in his March 28th video on the topic, “anything from double penetration to lewd cosplay, and everything in between.” Many fans of iDubbbz were outraged at his seeming passivity over this announcement, branding him with the new Internet term for a subservient man hoping for a crumb of coochie (“simp”) with impunity. Ian played along with the outrage for a while, even uploading a sarcastically angry picture of himself to Twitter with the same caption as this article’s title, but on March 28th, he uploaded “sex workers – iDubbbz complains [sic]” as his response to his fans and to set the record straight on his opinion of Anisa’s choices. He is definitive with the statement: “I think all of it is cool.”
Much of the backlash from his fans comes from Ian’s perceived denouncement of sex work in the past and, in apparent hypocrisy, his tolerance of his own girlfriend’s current participation in it. In his response video, Ian shows several clips of himself from past videos saying “skank” and “slut” but ends the montage with a clip from his very early YouTube days acknowledging the market for sex work and not necessarily condemning or sanctioning it. Dismissing the derogatory language as “flavor” for his videos and claiming that he’ll “probably say skank and slut again.” Ian plays a dangerous game by including the short clips of “skank” and “slut;” the context for each instance is lost in favor of preemptively showing the supposed hypocrisy his critics would bring up against him.
Ian then shows some clips of Atozy, another YouTuber, drawing up a pros and cons list of becoming an OnlyFans creator. Many of his criticisms are older arguments related to impulsively posting pornography on the Internet – it’s a “forever archive,” images can’t be deleted easily, etc. The criticism that is most worth our attention, however, is “everyone can see what he sees for a few $ [sic].” Ian doesn’t believe this to be an argument of any importance, claiming that “it’s just a pussy” and that if nudity cheapens a body, then his would be worthless. This is accompanied by a series of shirtless pictures of himself from years past.
This statement is most worth dissection because it gets at the heart of many people’s opposition to sex work, especially sex work done by a romantic partner. To start, Ian makes a false comparison between shirtless men and female sexual organs. Each type of nudity carries different social taboos and stigmas. Even shirtless women do not have the same social expectations as shirtless men; many social media sites remove photos with women’s nipples in them, but do not do the same for shirtless men (how an algorithm can determine the difference in a gender’s nipple is a question for another time). In advertising, shirtless, muscular men are used constantly to sell products appealing to masculinity. Shirtless women have their place in advertising as well, but their audience is given a vastly different ideal. From fragrances to lingerie, advertisers usually only whip out a shirtless woman to give almost a sense of beautiful exclusivity; their product will make you the object of men’s desire, but you are a queen that must be pursued and won over. It’s a strange twist on the conservative expectation of a woman’s purity until marriage, but both social taboos on shirtless women would not agree with a woman’s shirtless pictures being as widespread on the Internet as a man’s. In more crass and colloquial language, many people would call that woman a “skank” and “slut”, but with more meaning than flavor. To spread intimate photos widely when such intimacy is reserved for one’s partner is a thought that does not sit well with many people’s intuitions on sexuality.
In this vein of thought, I’ve seen many threads from Facebook to Reddit where defenders of iDubbbz’s choice argue that seeing someone’s nudes does not make them their boyfriend or girlfriend. They are correct when saying this, but it points to another issue to wrestle with, as well as a response to Ian’s claim that “it’s just a pussy.” If a man and woman (or two men or women) are in a monogamous, romantic relationship, it is, by definition, to the exclusion of all others. Romantic partners are more intimate with each other than their friends, both physically and emotionally. They have chosen to be together and to give up their lives as free individuals to share their life with another person. This doesn’t just happen at marriage; dating relationships are the test run to see if a life with that other person is something that one would enjoy. Choice is the key here: being with one’s romantic partner is more preferable to one than being alone or jumping from person to person, filling voids of sadness with one-night stands and the warped satisfaction of flitting in and out of someone’s life like a ghost. Seeing someone’s nudes may not make them the viewer’s romantic partner, but disseminating them, whether for free or a fee, is a violation of the exclusivity that one chose when one entered a monogamous relationship. That pussy that’s “just a pussy” matters a lot more to one’s partner than to someone looking for a quick thrill.
This does not get the viewer of pornography off the hook, however. They have pledged themselves to their partner as well, and to seek intimacy normally found in a relationship from pictures, videos, or literature is also a violation of the promise that they made to their partner. From time to time, monogamous partners will agree amongst themselves to allow their partner to consume pornography, and this is on a case-by-case basis. Even when the partners have no problem with it, permission still needs to be granted implicitly, because most people have the intuition that their partner is devoted to them to the exclusion of all others. Despite the permission, a relationship does not follow its essential nature if it is not to the exclusion of all others. From Catholicism (where pornography consumption or production is a sin), I would compare this situation to mortal and venial sins, or grave and less serious breaks in one’s relationship with God. The mortal sin of a monogamous relationship would be cheating of any kind – sleeping around, emotional intimacy with another person, etc. The venial sin would be consuming or producing pornography – while the break in trust is never fully completed, since your window to sexual or romantic intimacy stops at the screen, it is still a break in the promise of excluding all others from sharing in the intimacy that one’s partner enjoys with them.By these criteria, is iDubbbz a simp? Does he “allow” Anisa to open an OnlyFans in the hopes of winning her favor? Not quite, although he is not acting in a way that will optimize their relationship. Ian may be permitting her to share her intimacy with her subscribers, so that “everyone sees what he sees for a few $,” but the fact that permission was required for this violation of exclusionary intimacy is what has riled up his fans so fervently. PewDiePie notes in his March 29th video of “Pew News” on the topic that many people who enjoy iDubbbz’s type of humor are more right-wing. To see someone so anti-PC and edgy seemingly “stoop” to this decision didn’t sit right with many iDubbbz fans. I hope that, by dissecting what has happened with such an icon of the YouTube community, people will think twice about the future of sex work and pornography consumption. It may be permitted, sure. There are tangible benefits to it and the choice is made freely. But is it moral, especially when already in a romantic relationship that excludes all others?