The popular sexting platform SextPanther was temporarily booted off its texting service and then forced to stop using it altogether after the service provider told the company that sexual content is prohibited.
“Welp sextpanther is dead in the water,” one SextPanther model said. “They are switching to website only. No more SMS which was a huge client converter. The war on sex work continues.”
On Nov. 7, the unnamed service provider suspended SextPanther’s account without warning in response to a “sampling of messages that violated their terms of service and acceptable use policy,” said a company-wide email sent to SextPanther models and obtained by VICE News. (A SextPanther spokesperson said the company is unable to name the service provider “for a number of business and legal reasons.”)
The blackout resulted in a freeze on SMS text messaging, as well as video and phone calls.
SextPanther’s president and founder, Alex, whose last name is withheld for privacy reasons, told VICE News he doesn’t know how the hosting service obtained the “sampling of messages.” The spokesperson said in the email sent to the models that two days after the Nov. 7 outage, the provider reinstated SextPanther’s account but that messages can “no longer contain objectionable or prohibited content.”
This move takes away part of the flexibility that SextPanther offers models, and could cut sex workers off from some of their clients. The sexting crackdown also represents yet another attack on sex work writ large, sex workers say, and comes as social media companies, banks, and credit card companies have cracked down on the adult industry.
In an interview with VICE News, Pittsburg-based sex worker and writer Jessie Sage said that the texting service initially offered by SextPanther was convenient: it allowed sex workers to interact with clients—and get paid—without having to log onto the platform.
“I’m putting makeup on in the morning, but also making money because I’m chatting with someone,” Sage said. “Or I’m running errands and chatting with someone while I’m grocery shopping.”
The sexting service has since decided to move away from text messaging, urging its models to use its website or its app instead—both of which still function as before, Alex told VICE News.
“By removing our dependency on the telecommunications industry and their increasingly restrictive rules, we can refocus our attention on improving and enhancing web and app-based features,” said the first SextPanther spokesperson.
The SextPanther spokesperson added that while there was an interruption in service on Nov. 7 when the platform suffered the blackout, “we have seen no drop in overall site activity since that time.”
Still, sex workers may need to adapt their services on SextPanther amid the current changes. “I do think that will cut back on what people are doing and how fast they’re doing it because it changes it from something you can do all the time, when you’re out and about, which is how I would use the platform,” Sage said.
The SextPanther spokesperson confirmed that feedback from models has been mixed.
Phone sex and sexting, Sage said, tend to be the least stigmatized version of sex work by those who are actively cracking down on the adult industry. So, this crackdown by an SMS platform “is pretty significant,” Sage said.
“I don’t want to be a fearmongerer, but to me thats a sign of how extreme this pushback against sex work is,” she said. “We should be paying attention because I would have thought those are the last folks that would have been impacted by all of this.”
While stigma targeting sex work isn’t new, crackdowns on the industry have been hammering down in recent years, making it more and more difficult for online sex workers to do their jobs. In fact, it’s one of the reasons Sage transitioned to in-person work a couple years ago.
In 2018, former president Donald Trump signed into law a pair of acts known as Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers (SESTA) and Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking (FOSTA). These acts were put in place to ostensibly fight sex trafficking, but in practice amp up surveillance of sex workers. Platforms hosting third-party content—including Instagram, Google, Reddit, or even online payment mechanisms—are liable if content posted by users could be viewed as “promotion of facilitation of prostitution.” (It’s unknown whether SESTA/FOSTA have anything to do with the crackdown on SextPanther’s texting service, Alex said.)
Other assaults on the sex work industry have also made headlines: Last year, MasterCard instituted strict regulations targeting the adult industry—a move that resulted in detrimental effects to the livelihoods of sex workers, Motherboard previously reported. Earlier this year, VISA and MasterCard cut ties with PornHub’s advertising network. OnlyFans, a platform known for its sex work community, tried to oust porn from its site last year in order to become more attractive to potential investors, but walked its decision back after receiving immense backlash. PayPal and Venmo have also shut out sex workers, as did Wells Fargo.
This news from SextPanther also doesn’t represent the first time a platform has taken action against a client who violated its rules. A spokesperson for SextPanther said the unnamed SMS provider “pointed towards a policy that prohibits and/or limits S.H.A.F.T. use cases (Sex, Hate, Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco).” Services like Twilio that manage SMS messaging for companies do take action against customers that violate their policy. Last year, for example, Motherboard reported that Twilio removed users who used its platform to steal multi-factor authentication codes. SexPanther did not say that it was a Twilio customer, but Twilio’s policy does prohibit “S.H.A.F.T.” use cases.
All this is happening as more people are turning to sex work to supplement their income amid skyrocketing inflation and a looming recession—and being punished for it.
The SextPanther spokesperson confirmed that it’s currently in communication with new providers, but also noted that it stands on its own as a web-based platform, and that “the majority of models and users had migrated to web-based messaging, prior to the outage.” In a statement, a spokesperson from Sextpanther said, “our emphasis is, and has always been protecting the ability of the models on SextPanther to earn a living.”
MelRose Michaels, a sex worker who has modeled through SextPanther and founded adult creator education company Sex Work CEO, launched a Twitter Spaces chat on Tuesday to discuss the platform’s changes. During the chat, she pointed out how many chat services—Telegram, Facebook messenger, WhatsApp, and even iMessage—are web-based platforms, so performers shouldn’t be too worried about shifting to an app- or web-based version of SextPanther.
Michaels also said that there are perks to the browser and app, like that models can see when clients are online and available to chat—something they couldn’t see while using the SMS service.
“While I understand all the panic and the fear that’s happening right now around SextPanther, I do think that we should zoom out and look at the grander scheme of things,” she said.
But even with the possible positives of SextPanther’s transition, Michaels still expressed concern.
“It sucks that a service provider would cut ties because of what’s being said in SMS messages,” Michaels said. “It’s shitty. Its just another attack on sex work and I certainly feel that myself.”