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Sex Work, Kink, and Consent: Here's How the Anime Community Can be Better With Adult Content and Its Creators

by Lucas DeRuyter,

Photography by Justin Morrison

Note: The images in this article are likely NSFW.

Cosplay model, panel host, and sex worker Ronnie/Bunni Black described the anime community as having "cognitive dissonance" towards adult content. As sex workers in the anime community are quick to note, anime conventions court noteworthy cosplayers, but give them little support to make the most of their attendance. There's a misogynistic contradiction of femme cosplayers needing to meet fetishized beauty standards, while also being berated if they try to capitalize on their crafted appearance. There are long lines to enter 18+ sections of convention floors, but those spaces never expand, nor are attendees given an overt warning on what material they'll see behind the curtain. And, of course, hentai remains popular, but there are painfully few legal means to purchase that kind of media.

All of this is to say that, while the anime community isn't the worst place to be an adult content creator, it can be better. While members of the anime community have found success creating adult content principally for members of this community, these creators don't always feel welcome. As lifelong anime fan and cosplayer Stephanie Michelle notes, “It's interesting, I've been going to anime cons since I was in middle school and even then I saw fan art and hentai that was pretty accessible if a booth owner wasn't too watchful. It's been a part of every major convention I've been to…So it is a little shocking to see when other women or myself embody a sexy character, we are not as loved online as the art itself. At the end of the day, I'm a fan expressing my love for the same art as everyone else.”

If the anime community is going to grow in a way that is beneficial to its diverse and marginalized membership, we have to figure out how we can make this space better regarding adult content and adult content creators. For the sake of improving our community for all of its members, here are the problems sex workers and other experts in the anime fandom identified and their solutions to them. Implementing these solutions and being mindful of other issues around consent and how our community fits into broader culture is vital in keeping our space safe and welcoming. The anime community has come a long way in its short life, and this is how it can mature further.

The biggest obstacle standing in the way of making the anime community a better space for adult content and adult content creators is the lack of a consensus over when something becomes NSFW or when work becomes sex work. I interviewed over half a dozen self-identified sex workers for this article, and all of them felt that there's no universally shared boundary between sex work and non-sex work. Without a clear definition of what sex work is and is not, it's challenging for organizers to create policies and guidelines around that material or for people to know what they're consenting to view in an area that features sexual content. Bunni Black also noted that this inconsistent labeling works against solidarity and organizing among sex workers, which is needed more than ever in the face of puritanical legislation that has much more haphazard definitions of sex work.

Photography by BrainRotRobot

Adult content and the people creating it, not having enough space, security, or resources at anime conventions are widely expressed concerns. Adult model and entertainer Shelby Vixon normally attends anime conventions for general attendee activities, networking, and to hand out her business cards and custom stickers. In her convention attendance, she's noticed that "major cons are shoving adult material into a corner." When asked why she attends anime conventions, award-nominated adult film actress and sex worker of three years Mimi Oh said, “For me personally, I go to conventions because I love cosplaying. I love the look on people's faces when they see you cosplaying as a character or franchise that they really enjoy, I enjoy the camaraderie between meeting fellow cosplayers, overall I just love how celebrated this very nerdy hobby is when you go to a convention." Oh also stressed that “[there is] not really a space for adult content creators to be recognized as a part of the community. A lot of conventions want attractive cosplayers, but they don't want sex worker cosplayers.”

The glossing over of adult content at conventions and in the anime community more broadly also leads to the stigmatization of adult content creators. Ronnie/Bunni Black has been disinvited from appearing at conventions in a safe-for-work capacity after organizers learned that she also creates not-safe-for-work content. This directly impacts her financially, as she sells prints and other items at conventions. Discriminating against a person for having done sex work is not only oppressive, but minimizes their work in a way that goes against the spirt of fan conventions.

Lastly, this community's unwillingness to address adult content in this scene has led to a blending of overt sex acts into regular convention fare. If you were at an anime con in the past year, chances are you saw someone walking around with a sign that read “I will step on you for $5” or “I will spit in your mouth for $5.” Adult model Nekomiiya pointed out that, “this can be seriously considered soliciting which could get someone penalized or even arrested with the wrong company around.” Persephone, interim CEO of the non-profit and kink/BDSM education-focused Threshold Society, noted that this behavior is reprehensible. These acts are overt public sexual play, and others present at a general anime convention have not consented to be passive participants in them.

“Fuck no on public sex acts. Kink relies on consent, and there's no way to guarantee the consent of pedestrians,” Persephone said. Mimi Oh described this phenomena as “people cosplaying sex workers,” and noted that this trend is doing material harm to her and other content creators, as conventions move to broadly ban signs in response to the trend. For both adult and vanilla creators, signs are an easy way to inform people about their social platforms and the kind of work that they do. Losing signs as a means of advertisement at conventions would be a huge blow to any line of work in this community that necessitates a large social presence.

Those are, broadly, the most significant pain points around sex work in the anime community right now. Collectively, they denote systemic issues where a lack of shared definitions and language around sex work leads to a stigmatization of and willful ignorance of the needs of this part of the community, which leads to subpar and even consent-violating experiences. Fixing processes and changing attitudes on this scale is no easy task. Still, this change is necessary for the anime community to have a healthy, well-adjusted attitude toward adult content and ensure its members' well-being. Here's how sex workers and experts think we can improve our space.

Folks interviewed offered several practical definitions of sex work that all fit a philosophy of making sex work as broad a discipline as possible. Michelle defined sex work as "selling images, action, or services with an intention to excite the consumer sexually." Ronnie/Bunni Black similarly said that "sex work is all-encompassing; any profession that is sexually gratifying is sex work."

Many of the women I spoke with believed that this big umbrella approach to defining sex work allows for the most collective action and that generality is preferred to excluding a subset of sex workers. However, online sex worker Perle noted that "A lot of full-service sex workers do not consider online nude modeling to be sex work; or at least that the workflow, risks, and rewards incurred are so different in full-service sex work than online work that it's not particularly accurate or helpful to lump them together. Which, to an extent, makes sense! They are very different jobs in some ways, and regulations affect both industries differently!" With this in mind, having a more frank acknowledgment of sex and sex-adjacent work will benefit all people in that field and allow for more nuanced discussions about how specific kinds of sex workers can be better welcomed and supported by the anime community.

Victorian Government of Australia's Better Health channel defines full-service sex work as "sex work that involves in-person sexual activity with a client, such as vaginal or anal sex."

Regarding the issue of sex workers not being given enough space at anime conventions, adult-only cons are on the rise, some of which are even organized by adult content creators. Ecchi Expo has three venues annually, and adult cosplayer KITVIXEN organizes the 21+ Ahegao Con in Minnesota. Folks interviewed for this article had a particularly high opinion of Kimochii Con (formally Waifu Expo), which adult cosplayer Juliette Michelle/Bishoujo Mom created. Stephanie Michelle notes that Kimochii Con has a far above-standard security presence, which she and her peers appreciate. Shelby Vixon also describes adult-only conventions as having much better communication, both on an organizational level and in interactions with con attendees.

Photography by Justin Morrison

While these adult-only conventions seem to be the path forward to addressing many of the ways the anime community is failing sex workers, participants also had advice on how general conventions can improve.

Stephanie Michelle stated, “Consent is another huge part of creating a positive experience for all, and cons need to work better to maintain this as a standard. I'd love it if there was a roped off separate area or photo room that has its own security to monitor photos, and also give a clear list of what is/isn't allowed per the cosplayer comfort levels. That way, guests who don't want to randomly run into a light kink photoshoot can avoid it.”

Persephone supported this approach and took it even further, advocating for conventions to give attendees a list of content they can expect to see displayed before purchasing a ticket. Persephone made it clear that, only through an abundance of communication can attendees consent to the inherently sexual material they'll encounter in these spaces, and anything less than that is both unethical and unsustainable.

Regarding the issue of anime fans cosplaying as sex workers engaging with sexual material and acting wantonly, anime fans need to accept that this is no longer a niche community. From glomping to yaoi paddles to the recent trend of Nanami cosplayers pantomiming hair-pulling, anime fans can be extra when it comes to anything sexual. This community's willingness to acknowledge and engage with human sexuality is a big part of its appeal, but long gone are the days when someone could get away with inappropriate and disrespectful behavior by claiming that they're just rowdy anime fans. You can be an overt anime fan anywhere and anytime now, and your identity as an anime fan has never and still does not mean you don't need to be mindful of the needs and expectations of the people around you.

Beyond addressing these specific issues, there are broader ideas anime fans can keep in mind to benefit the most marginalized in our space as we shape this community's future. First and foremost is acknowledging that, for as sectioned off as the anime community can feel at times, it still exists within a broader culture that's defined by puritanical creep and patriarchal oppression. As noted by Threshold CEO Persephone, and corroborated by the CDC, "one in four women [in the United States] have experienced rape." If the anime community is going to be a space where sexual expression is both accepted and encouraged, an abundance of effort and caution needs to go into ensuring that the people making this content feel safe.

The anime community isn't particularly great at making women, especially marginalized women, feel welcome, as Mimi Oh noted that misogyny and especially transmisogyny are still rampant. Mimi expressed frustration and disappointment in people at conventions calling her a trap, a transphobic slur, to her face in the year 2023.

Persephone goes on to say that wider education on consent, which she stresses can only occur when all parties involved in an activity “express an enthusiastic yes” can help alleviate a lot of these issues.

Persephone described the anime community as being "essentially a locker room" where this kind of casual dehumanization and objectification can go unchallenged. She also theorized that a lot of this behavior comes from anime fans learning about sex and sexuality from hentai; a medium that is even more exaggerated and farcical than live-action pornography. Persephone went on to say that wider education on consent, which she stresses can only occur when all parties involved in an activity “express an enthusiastic yes,” can help alleviate a lot of these issues.

Lastly, as it's now easier than ever for an individual to perform sex work — to the point where some might be doing so without realizing it — those interviewed had a wealth of advice for new sex workers or those looking to perform that labor. Bunni Black stressed the need for an SFW income stream while doing sex work as a side hustle, and Mimi Oh reinforced this point by explaining that "for as glamorous as the job can seem, most sex workers are living paycheck to paycheck." Shelby Vixon stressed that you're essentially a small business owner as a model and erotic cosplayer and that filing quarterly taxes and keeping business-related receipts is important. Stephanie Michelle's career advice is to "Take your time, figure out your boundaries. Figure out what you like doing and gather an audience around what makes you happy." She also noted that it's both critical and personally fulfilling to "build a community space with other creators or join one." Stressing the need for personal safety above all else, Perle said, "My biggest advice to anyone getting into the industry is to be as discreet as possible with your identity and hustle until you've thoroughly vetted the people in your life who can and cannot be trusted with the information. Sex workers still get stranded, cut off, abused, and even killed by partners and family members who do not approve of their work."

All work within the anime space is complex and widely involves people juggling various side hustles to make ends meet. The quotes above make clear that it's challenging to be a sex worker within the anime community, which is ironic considering how vocally appreciative anime fans are of sexual material. Obviously, these problems can't be fixed overnight, but as an inclusive community comprised of people from all backgrounds, implementing these changes will not only benefit some of the most marginalized members of this community, but the space as a whole.

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