Bianca Jarvis, MPH, is a sex educator based in Chicago, Illinois. But she doesn't spend all of her time developing sexuality curricula and presenting workshops. Jarvis is also an artist who—as her Etsy profile explains—creates penis, vulva, and skeleton art "to encourage everyone to love their bodies & cherish their sacred sexuality."
Recently, Jarvis was contacted by the staff at Etsy due to the maturity of her shop's content. She was asked to obscure the images of her products because they depicted human genitalia.
This is one of the standard guidelines for sellers offering what is considered to be "mature" content. In addition, sellers are asked to include the term "mature" in both their listings and their tags. This allows shoppers to filter out such content when they search the site.
"I have no problem labeling my products as 'mature' so they don't show up in search results for people who don't want to see sexuality-related content," says Jarvis, "but I am being forced to blur or completely distort the images on my store's front page, which negatively impacts my business. I am being forced to sell behind a curtain, essentially."
"It's analogous to having a brick and mortar shop where you'd have to lift up a curtain to see any of the merchandise," says Jarvis. "People are less likely to walk through the door if they don't know what's being offered."
She provides a link to one of her products, the Takaragai, a Buddhist goddess amulet considered to be lucky because of its representation of that which gives birth to all things. "The rest of my art is very whimsical, colorful, and cartoonish," says Jarvis. "It's intended to be educational and fun, and to help people discuss sexuality in a non-threatening way." But she says that being censored in this way can make her and other artists who do work related to sexuality feel unwelcome.
Etsy provides a how-to page containing Photoshop techniques for those sellers featuring mature listings. Jarvis finds some of the language in this post to be problematic. For example, the author of this how-to writes that, "on a website of Etsy’s scale, certain words and images need to be concealed. These policies are about keeping this community healthy." Jarvis points out that this wording implies that sexuality-related images are inherently unhealthy. She also highlights a line in which Etsy staff encourage users to flag listings they feel are "too risque for Etsy." Says Jarvis, they are "essentially encouraging policing of sellers when 'risque' is a vague and subjective concept."
Because of this, Jarvis will begin selling her art through her own website in 2015.