The Secret Censorship of Online Porn

Porn-friendly payment processors have some rather rigid rules about what is, and isn’t, acceptable for their clients to sell.

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Nov 25 2015, 3:30pm

Image: Surian Soosay/Flickr

The XXX internet is often portrayed by the media as a hedonistic playground where no urge is too depraved to capture on camera—a place where the only limit to a scene's filthiness is the director's imagination. But even the smuttiest of smut peddlers are still held back from exploring every single dirty desire they might wish to capture on film, often because of the very payment processors who make online porn possible in the first place.

Unfamiliar with the world of porn payment processors? Here's a brief tutorial: If you want to sell something on the internet, you need a way to process credit cards. For most companies, that means finding a third-party payment processor to take money on their behalf. Mainstream companies have a wealth of options, including PayPal, Stripe, Amazon Payments, and more.

But for porn companies, things are a little different. Due to restrictions and fees that Visa and MasterCard place on anyone processing credit cards for "high risk" sites, only a handful of companies will actually process payments for websites selling porn, and even these more libertine enterprises still have some rather rigid rules about what is, and isn't, acceptable for their clients to sell.

So much for the wildly hedonistic world of porn.

Take, for instance, CCBill, one of the most popular payment processors for online adult sites. Section 3 of the company's acceptable use policy offers a twenty-seven point explanation of actions considered to be violations of CCBill policy. Six points in—sandwiched between the ban on anything even remotely referencing underage porn and the ban on bestiality—is the rule that even some of the most vanilla porn producers find themselves running up against:

The posting or display of any image or wording depicting or related to extreme violence, incest, snuff, scat or the elimination of any bodily waste on another person, mutilation, or rape anywhere on the site in a sexual or erotic manner, including the URL and meta tags.

On its surface, that rule might seem straightforward. Who among us really wants to advocate for murder and shit porn, right? But as with many things, the devil is in the details. And in this case, the details result in many sites being banned from publishing a whole host of kinky (and not so kinky) content, including menstruation porn, golden showers, and even wax play involving red candles (more on that in a second).

Before getting too deep into all the perverted fantasies payment processors are preventing you from enjoying, I should note one thing: It's not exactly the payment processors themselves who are at fault here. All CCBill (and Epoch, and any other adult payment processors) are doing is enforcing the vaguely expressed wishes of Visa and MasterCard—and that vagueness is a large part of why pornographers are so frustrated and confused.

Due to the unclear wording of the policy, many pornographers don't even realize they're in violation until they receive a notice from their payment processor instructing them to remove the offending item. And sometimes the violation can be, well, a bit baffling. Colin Rowntree, the founder of hardcore BDSM site Wasteland.com, informed me that his site "can no longer use red candles for hot waxing in our movies," since Wasteland's payment processors seem to think melted red wax is a dead ringer for blood.

And the wax play restrictions don't end there: "We are no longer allowed to use any blade to scrape off the wax after it cools," Rowntree said. "This includes not only sharp knives, but butter knives and scissors. So, what we do now is scrape the wax off on camera with a credit card."

So much for the wildly hedonistic world of porn.

Other pornographers report that they've had to remove pissing scenes (bodily waste), fisting (extreme violence), and any mention of fantasy nonconsent—even when it's a model sharing in her bio that she enjoys consensual "force fantasies."

But perhaps the most egregious act of censorship is the full on banning of porn that involves even the slightest hint of menstruation. Whether it's because of the blood, or the notion that menses are "bodily waste" akin to piss or shit, earning your red wings is a major online porn no-no according to virtually every payment processor.

Ela Darling. Image: Imgur

There are a lot of angry feminist reasons to argue against that restriction—among others: it upholds the notion that women's bodies are shameful, and that vaginas and the things that come out of them are dirty. But maybe the best reason to advocate against it is that it prevents us from enjoying some super hot period porn fantasies, like this one that VRTube.XXX's Ela Darling says she'd be all too happy to shoot… if only Visa and Mastercard would let her:

Guy and Girl are making out, coy and flirty, they've clearly never hooked up with each other before and the excitement and sexual tension is palpable. They take their time and slowly move from 1st base to 2nd until our gentleman caller starts to move his hands down south to the lady's panties. She pauses and pulls his hand away. She informs him that it's not a good time for that due to her moon time and all that. "Let me just take care of you," she suggests.
Our male talent insists that any natural processes of her body are part of the package he's eager to enjoy and he is unfazed by a little (or lot) of blood. He assures her that if she really wants what she's suggested, he will respect her boundary but otherwise it would be his pleasure to rock her world. So he does.
Bloody fingerbanging, oral, and deep hardcore awesome sex ensues, with blood happening as it happens and both partners enjoying themselves thoroughly. It ends with them in the shower. The pop shot happens, then the guy keeps pleasuring the girl for several more minutes with his hands and the shower head until she has a final orgasm and then the scene ends with the camera focused on swirls of blood in the water running down the drain.
It's something I think would be cool because it addresses the inherent shame a lot of women have around their cycle and it shows how a happy healthy sex experience can happen without turning a natural process into an opportunity to deny women gratification. It's important that the scene doesn't end with a pop shot to me because I'm tired of seeing sex defined by the male orgasm. I want the scene to end because she's satisfied and done, not because he is.

And if Darling's bloody fantasy doesn't sway you, maybe this will: at any point in time, credit card companies could update their content policies to ban whatever happens to get you hot and bothered.

As long as credit cards are the dominant way to purchase items online, Visa and MasterCard will still hold this power over the smut peddlers of the world. So unless Bitcoin, or another relatively unregulated digital currency, happens to take off, banks will continue to have the power to silently shape the landscape of porn, enforcing their view of acceptable sex on the rest of us, whether we like it or not.