We note the recent case of OnlyFans content creator, Titus Low, being charged for “transmitting obscene materials by electronic means”, and for failing to comply with a police order not to access his OnlyFans account.
OnlyFans is an online subscriber-only platform where distribution of content is not in wide circulation – content on OnlyFans is available to only those who seek it (and who typically pay for it). Some content may be sexual in nature.
We at Project X are concerned about the legal, social, and political implications of criminalising the transmission of sexual content between consenting adults. This case concerns not just content creators and the sex industry, but also society at large.
But first, let’s go back in history to locate the origins of our anti-pornography culture:
Between 1953 and 1959, in post-WW2 Singapore, contemporary Chinese intellectuals and students started a campaign against “yellow culture”, a term which is the literal translation of the Mandarin phrase for what was then deemed decadent and degenerate behaviour (黄色文化 Huángsè wénhuà). The social vices associated with “yellow culture” included pornography, sex work, gambling, gangsterism and pop music. Campaigners blamed “moral degeneracy” and “social ills” of the times on the increasingly popular strip-tease shows, sexually suggestive Hollywood films and the import of nudist picture books.
In 1959, PAP revitalized this campaign in an attempt to forge a unified national identity, one that was conducive for merger with Malaysia. Their anti-yellow culture campaign was a joint campaign between the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Culture.
This anti-yellow culture campaign continued into the late 70s and 80s, and its legacy included the elimination of pin-table establishments, the ban of comic books (including Spiderman), and the infamous ban of long-hair on men.
The ever changing definition of obscenity
“We will never agree as to what constitutes ‘objectionable’ and what constitutes ‘obscenity’. Even we ourselves in different settings and on different days may hold different views. It depends so much on the context, on the mood, on the exigencies of the day. It is a futile exercise to try to codify so precisely that a computer can interpret it. It is not possible. In the end, it is a judgment by human beings, for it is quintessentially a human matter.”
“Of course, from time to time, our standards will change and shift. Lady Chatterley’s Lover, once upon a time, shocked the community. Today, it is a subject of historical study. So we move on. Every 10 years, perhaps we take a step back. We appoint an ecumenical council, gather all the Bishops together and say, “Okay, let us make new pronouncements.”
– Minister for Information and the Arts (BG George Yeo) at the Second Reading of the Undesirable Publications (Amendment) Bill on 19 February 1998
What is obscene is extremely relative, and perhaps the time has come to redefine it.
Section 292(1)(a) of the Penal Code – transmission of obscene materials by electronic means/ sale of obscene books has been used on a variety of crimes including the sale of pornographic DVDs and books, to the SG Nasi Lemak administrators who profited off the sale of upskirt and other non-consensual sex videos, including those of students in school uniform.
Non-consensual transmission of photos (especially of photos taken without the subject’s consent) should be criminalised.
Consensual and private content shared with a willing, paying audience should not.
OnlyFans content is not widely circulated, not available to minors and non-consenting adults, and on a platform which requires signing in to verify one’s identity. What then is the rationale for policing consenting adults using OnlyFans?
Furthermore, the broad wording of the law means that sexting could be potentially criminalised. In a recent survey on sexual health during COVID-19, about 40% of respondents reported that they engaged in sexting. If we apply the law to all online sexual content, does this then make them criminals too?
Say no to moral policing
A purity culture that views sex or sexuality as immoral is at odds with a secular society where policies and legislation should be evidence-based. This is especially so when our policing revolves about consensual, private, and voluntary behaviors among adults.
If we don’t accept sex as a normal aspect of human behaviour, it becomes difficult for Singapore to tackle the issues we face around decreasing fertility rate, sexual health problems, sexual well-being, and addressing risks in the sex work industry. And if we shroud sex under a veil of criminality, it becomes taboo to engage in conversations about preventing sexual crimes and ensuring trauma recovery for sexual crime survivors.
On calls to make more police reports
Since the news broke, a spreadsheet that names local OnlyFans adult content creators has been circulating on the internet and there are rumours that even more police reports have been made.
This is doxxing.
It has struck fear and panic in many adult content creators, who now worry that their livelihoods will be completely upended and their personal liberty threatened.
We do not need more policing of sex workers and adult content creators. We should be working on ensuring that those who produce the content are fairly compensated, and those who subscribe to the content do not nonconsensually leak or share it, especially with minors.
Let’s be clear what is obscene.
To us, what is obscene is that we still live in a society where rape culture and moral policing goes largely unchallenged.
What is obscene is the lack of comprehensive education for teenagers and adults around consent, around sex and sexuality, and around respect for every individual’s bodily autonomy.
What is obscene is the lack of empathy for victims of technologically facilitated sex crimes, like image-based sexual abuse.
What is obscene is the widespread leaking* of content and the normalisation of adult content creators’ risk of extortion, harassment, stalking and online bullying. Adult content creators need to be able to access legal protections for these types of violence without fear of repercussions. The underreporting of such crimes against them will only serve to embolden groups like SG Nasi Lemak, which has since spawned multiple new offshoots.
*“Leaking” of content is an egregious form of physical, psychological, and sexual violence against adult content creators
We have moved far beyond the formative years of our nation building that we no longer need to define ourselves in opposition to ‘the West’. Our national identity shouldn’t be based on moral panic, but instead should embrace the diversity, tenacity, and creativity of those our nation creates.
Titus, like many other adult content creators (or adults who share sexual content) represent a segment of Singaporean society who celebrate human sexuality, spreading messages of body positivity, whilst making a living during these pandemic, social distancing times. Such entrepreneurial spirit and creativity is laudable.
Instead of criminalising adult content creators, we should be working on improving our criminal justice system to ensure that consent and sex positivity is not stigmatised. There needs to be space for consensual adult content provision, and economic security for those who provide such content. Regulations should reduce harm for everyone, rather than deepen existing inequalities.
- Cheng Tju LIM “The Anti-Yellow Culture Campaign in Singapore: 1953-1979”
- Lau Yu Ching (2016-08-16). The Anti-Yellow Culture Movement, 1953-1961: Morality and the Language of Decolonising Singapore. ScholarBank@NUS Repository.
- Tan RKJ, O’Hara CA, Kumar N. Partnership status, living arrangements, and changes in sexual behaviour and satisfaction during the COVID-19 lockdown: insights from an observational, cross-sectional online survey in Singapore. Sex Health. 2021 Nov;18(5):366-377. doi: 10.1071/SH21077. PMID: 34743786