“Flower of Life,” by Alphachanneling, who worries about getting kicked off Instagram. (Image courtesy of Alphachanneling)

The artist known as Alphachanneling uses Instagram to share a dreamy world of soft psychedelic sexuality where brilliant lotus flowers burst from the tips of candy-colored penises. The images are surreal and seductive, and tens of thousands of “likes” appear to agree.

But Alphachanneling worries each day may be their last on Instagram.

“This morning when I woke up, I saw yesterday’s post was removed,” they said. “I’ve had my account deleted before, and it has this feeling of a sandcastle that you keep building, but a wave can just erase it in the second.”

Alphachanneling, who uses gender-neutral pronouns, posts fast and posts a lot. They describe their methodology as “spontaneous and loose.” The pace is the opposite of the traditional artist’s laborious trajectory, where months or years of work have the sole goal of landing in a museum or gallery. Instead, Instagram offers a chance to promote an artistic vision that might be seen for a matter of seconds.

While the process has been one of growth and self-discovery, the San Francisco Bay area artist feels plagued by the precarious nature of Instagram. The erotic artists we spoke to say Instagram has expanded their reach, but the platform’s guidelines leave them never knowing what might lead to a post’s being removed, their account suspended, or worse, their Instagram existence deleted and purged forever.

“There’s an irony to how perfect social media is for art,” Alphachanneling said. “But at the same time, it’s so precarious. One never knows if it’ll be there the next time they check their phone.”

Nikki Peck, an artist from Vancouver who goes by @BonerCandy69, tried to make her work Instagram-appropriate by creating a second account and placing bow and flower emoji over genitals and breasts. Still, her accounts have been deleted twice. “So I made my current account and cross my fingers. I’ve had a bunch of posts removed, and I know I’m always at risk.”

“Anita Darling” by artist Nikki Peck, who goes by @BonerCandy69 on Instagram.

Peck worked in galleries and museums and for corporate commissions before starting her erotic body of work. She sees her account as an exploration of the classic female nude with contemporary social commentary. While she’s been surprised by the pushback of both the platform and some of its users, she has accepted it as a sign of success. “Art should be bold, and it should create conversation and dialogue,” she says. “Otherwise, you’re just making comics.”

Instagram’s community guidelines recognize that nudes can be “artistic or creative in nature” but says the content can still violate the platform’s policies. The grounds for removal are specific:  “photos, videos, and some digitally-created content that show sexual intercourse, genitals, and close-ups of fully-nude buttocks.” Images of female nipples can also violate the platform’s guidelines, but photos of post-mastectomy scarring and women actively breastfeeding are allowed. Emily Cain, a spokeswoman for Instagram, added by email that, “Paintings and sculptures (art) that shows the same things would NOT violate our Community Guidelines.”

The process for removal often involves user-based reportage — users can flag content by clicking the three dots next to a post’s username and selecting “Report” — then an internal review committee will decide whether the content fits the guidelines. In the hands of the Instagram community, some artists feel vulnerable.

“Nudity in paintings is okay to post on Instagram, but the problem is that even though I follow the Instagram guidelines, people can still report it if they feel provoked,” said Tina Maria Elena Bak ( @tinamariaelena), a watercolor artist from Odense, Denmark, who focuses on sensuality from a woman’s point of view. “I definitely worry but know I’m never violating any rules.”

Community reporting has left some erotic artists wondering whether certain content is more prone to protest than others.

Noomi Roomi, a Moscow-based artist who paints ethereal wisps of figures participating in BDSM as @EroticWatercolor, says the only images that have been deleted from her page have been gay drawings or those depicting femdom, meaning a woman dominating sexual interaction. “I prefer to have people who admire diversity and are open-minded, as my art promotes equal rights and sexual freedom for everyone, as long as it is consensual.”

Roomi’s account has been deleted five times. After the second time, she added “subtle lines” to censor certain body parts and actions the platform forbids. In turn, she sought out other platforms such as Patreon and Telegram, which she considers “more open.”

“It is a disappointment, but it will never stop me,” she says. “I will re-upload it until they will erase me from the Internet.”

Millie Moonhouse (an artistic alias, @milliemoonhouse ) of Toronto says she successfully appealed to Instagram when her account was deactivated. “I searched for the links to contact them and tell them it was wrongly deactivated,” she explained. “After reading the Instagram TOS, I can see why nudity and art can get confused and reported and deleted. I let them know it’s not pornography, it’s art.”

She also uses Tumblr, where the sexual-content guidelines are more inclusive. Artists can flag their account as NSFW (not safe for work) if they regularly post adult content, which shuffles them away from users who have noted they prefer not to see this type of material in their feeds.

Subconscious and conscious self-censoring also sometimes comes with the worry of being deleted or suspended.

After the account belonging to the anonymous Mexican artist EromaticaX was deleted, they “started to do things a little less explicitly and blocked body parts with hair or clothes.” EromaticaX’s work is cute but undeniably 18+.

“I wish I could not worry about hiding what I want to draw. But as I only do one drawing a day, I spend a lot of time thinking: ‘Will this be something that gets taken down?’ ”

Still, for many, the erotic art outlet and community on Instagram has been a source of freedom and empowerment, especially for those who feel oppressed offline.

“Owning my own sexuality was something very new to me, and I view it as a luxury to be able to put my art out there,” said DarlingKink, an artist based in Manila. “Not a lot of women are afforded the space to be free to express what they want. For me, I’ve felt stronger as a woman.”

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