Twitch to further limit sexual content, again

Twitch is further limiting sexually suggestive content in yet another change to its rules around the subject.

Starting Friday, the streaming platform will no longer allow livestreams focusing on clothed intimate body parts for prolonged periods of time. They include the “buttocks, groin, or breasts,” according to details in its updated community guidelines.

If that sounds specific, it is — Twitch has emerged in recent years as a popular platform for livestreams of everything from video games to ASMR but also one that has had an uneasy relationship with some creators who have embraced mildly sexual content, such as wearing revealing clothes or streaming from hot tubs. 

“Our goal, always, is to make Twitch a welcoming place. We regularly assess our rules to ensure they’re clear and effective, recognizing that online behavior can shift over time,” a Twitch spokesperson wrote in an email Wednesday. “Today’s update was meant to clarify what’s allowed on Twitch, while giving our community time to adjust and ask questions before enforcement begins.”

Twitch, which is owned by the e-commerce giant Amazon, has tweaked its policies several times in recent months as it tries to strike the right balance for what sexualized content is permitted.

The company stirred confusion in December when it decided to start allowing artistic and digital depictions of fictionalized nudity, only to roll back the new policy two days after its announcement.

In a company blog post about the abrupt reversal, CEO Dan Clancy wrote that some streamers had responded to the news with content that violated the policy and that users had also expressed concern about the type of content that would be permitted.

“Upon reflection, we have decided that we went too far with this change,” Clancy wrote. “Digital depictions of nudity present a unique challenge — AI can be used to create realistic images, and it can be hard to distinguish between digital art and photography.”

After the rollback, however, a controversial “topless meta” continued to gain traction: Streamers would imply they were nude on camera by using black censor bars and other objects to block their body parts.

Though that workaround was properly labeled under “Sexual Themes” and didn’t technically violate Twitch policies at the time, the trend prompted Twitch to issue another policy update in early January — now prohibiting streamers from suggesting that they might be fully or partly nude and clarifying that female-presenting streamers can show cleavage only so long as it’s clear they are wearing clothing.

Since its launch in 2011, Twitch has become one of the biggest livestreaming platforms in the world. Streamers on the site, known largely for its gaming and esports communities, have also built sizable audiences through activities such as engaging in casual conversation, cooking meals and performing ASMR, or autonomous sensory meridian response, content.

Some sex workers have also used the platform to engage with viewers who might purchase their more explicit content on outside platforms like OnlyFans. (Though those streamers aren’t permitted to link directly to such content, they can link to personal websites that then lead users there.)

But research has shown that female livestreamers are generally more sexualized regardless of whether they inhabit sexual niches. A study published last month in the peer-reviewed journal Humanities and Social Sciences Communications analyzed nearly 2,000 popular video clips collected in 2022 from Twitch’s video game and IRL directories.

It found that women on the platform sexualized themselves more often and with higher intensity than male streamers, as they were more likely to wear revealing clothing, focus the camera on sexualized body parts and pose in ways likely to be interpreted as seductive or explicitly sexual. Women also made up the vast majority of the “ASMR” and “Pools, Hot Tubs, and Beaches” categories, both of which included the highest volume of sexualized streams.

Female Twitch streamers still make up a minority of the platform’s creators, which gives incentives for a degree of self-sexualization to compete with male streamers in a “profoundly masculinized environment,” according to the researchers.

“This generates a hostile male-dominated environment in which hate speech towards the female gender is disseminated, including harassment, negative assessment of their competence, and sexual comments about their bodies,” they wrote in their analysis.

While nudity and sexually explicit behaviors are strictly prohibited, Twitch does grant some leeway to certain types of content as long as they are appropriately classified as having “Sexual Themes,” meaning they won’t be recommended on Twitch’s homepage.

Activities that fall under the requirement include performing erotic dances, wearing BDSM-associated attire without engaging in sexual activity and discussing sexual topics or experiences in a non-educational way.

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