The sex worker forum Stripperweb looked like a perfect 2000s-era internet relic. Its “classic” interface was a pleasingly saccharine amalgamation of soft pinks, accented by a bubble-lettering logo that substituted flowers for letter counters, and a particularly literal illustration of a stripper standing in front of a web. This unwavering design—barely altered since the forum’s launch in 2002—was a familiar comfort to sex workers and their clients. Within its vast nexus of subforums, they could find discussions about nearly every aspect of sex work: rates to charge; club reviews; tax advice; warnings about dangerous clients. More than that, users could forge friendships, vent to an understanding audience, and enjoy a rare safe space online where being a sex worker was wonderfully unremarkable.
That is, until last week, when a baby-pink banner appeared at the top of the website warning of the imminent closure of the forum. “For over 20 years, Stripperweb has been one of the best resources for exotic dancers and webcam models on the internet,” it read. “We’ve made the difficult decision to close Stripperweb effective February 1. Thank you to everyone who has made this such an amazing community.”
As promised, the site shuttered on Wednesday. The forums that once littered the homepage are gone, as is everything else.
With just a week’s warning of the closure, sex workers reacted to the news with shock and anger. Many of them took to Twitter to express their devastation at the “immense communal and cultural loss” of an “invaluable” sex work resource. One person described the shutdown as “the modern burning of the Library of Alexandria.” “That’s not even dramatic,” Darcy Delaney, an exotic dancer and adult content creator from North Carolina, told me. She cried when she found out about the closure. “Sex worker history is always being erased,” she said. “We’ve been here for millennia, but we so rarely get to share our stories in our own words, and on our own terms.”
Cam model partners Nyx, 26, and Vixen, 32, from the east coast of Australia, first visited the site five years ago, before they started camming. Initially, they scoured the forum for advice on cam sites, equipment, and payment processors, but they eventually used it to connect with peers and keep up-to-date with ever-changing cam site policies. They pointed out that cam girls also relied on the site to warn each other of any pirated porn they came across, as well as to mobilize against mistreatment.
“Stripperweb was a space where we could be free from the observation of the public, the titillating or stigmatizing gaze, and from having to inhabit a fantasy,” the pair told me. “To vent, commiserate, connect, support, and share skills with each other. Its loss is truly the end of an era.”
But while some were mourning its loss, others were organizing. On Stripperweb, the campaign to save the site started immediately. Urgent threads about possible crowdfunding efforts sprang up, as did archiving inquiries and questions about ownership—specifically, who was the current owner, where were they, and why had they shut the site down?
Even for the site’s moderators, the reason behind the closure remains a total mystery. “It’s all rumors and speculation at this point,” Taja Ethereal, an adult creator and Stripperweb moderator, told me. Initially, like many users, Taja thought it was a financial issue, so she decided to create a thread to gauge how many people would contribute to a crowdfunding effort, or who’d be willing to adopt some kind of paid subscription model for the site. The majority of respondents said they’d be willing to pay to keep the forum alive. Taja said she also offered to buy Stripperweb herself for $12,000, posting her proposal in the private moderator lounge, as well as emailing it to a super-moderator. No one got back to her. “They didn’t even bother to come to the table and negotiate,” she lamented. “If the offer was too low, we could have easily gotten [more] money together—we have members on the forum making six figures a year.”
From this, Taja has concluded that the shutdown must not be related to money. But, without any communication from the forum’s owners, it’s difficult to draw an alternative conclusion. And so, the hunt for Stripperweb’s bosses—and therefore answers—began. In one thread, users shared tips on tracking down whoever runs the site. Someone linked to the profile of an anonymous administrator called “Bob,” who Taja said “entered the picture” around 2009. Apparently, he’d been online in the days since the closure announcement was made. Others shared their own failed attempts at contacting the official Stripperweb email addresses, which appear to have been closed last week.
Nobody had any luck (including me—I also got a bounceback alert from the Stripperweb admin email). The domain information website ICANN didn’t offer many clues, either—the Stripperweb URL was registered in 2001 by a private individual via Domains By Proxy, a service that obscures the identity of website owners. There’s an option to contact the anonymous domain holder, but at the time of publication, they haven’t responded to my request.
All we know about the people behind Stripperweb comes from a 10-year anniversary post by the site’s founder, Curtis Pryce. He wrote that he developed the forum as a “college kid trying to figure out what the internet could be used for,” alongside some dancer friends who “were in need of a virtual hangout to call home.” This post also appeared to be Pryce’s retirement announcement, as he revealed he was passing admin duties onto someone called Wayne. He also thanked “The Other Owner,” who “offered to carry most of our financial burden at a critical time,” and continued funding after that, too. I reached out to Pryce via Twitter, but received no response—he hasn’t tweeted since 2013.
The last contact from anyone who might be in touch with the owner(s) appears to be from Stripperweb’s super-moderator, just before the site went down. On Twitter, Taja shared a screenshot of the “very last message” they posted on Stripperweb. “I’m sorry that I don’t have any other information to provide,” it read. “None of this is within my control. I swear, if I could take this forum on myself, I would.”
Ultimately—no matter the logistical reasons—Taja asserts that Stripperweb is closing down “because the owner doesn’t respect us.” “If they did, they wouldn’t be pulling the plug this way,” she continues. “They don’t give two shits about what happens to the community.”
It’s not especially new or surprising that the owners of sex work sites don’t prioritize their users’ safety or well-being. Just look at OnlyFans’ 2021 proposed ban (and then backtrack) on adult content, Pornhub’s indiscriminate video purge in 2020, Tumblr’s 2018 porn ban, or Patreon’s 2017 crackdown on NSFW content. And, while traditional social networking sites like Instagram already notoriously shadowban and deplatform sex workers, this seems to be an increasing problem on more sexually liberal platforms like Twitter and Reddit, too. As reported by Rolling Stone in 2021, adult platforms Clips4Sale and ModelCentro were suspended without notice from Twitter, around the same time that the site saw an 82 percent increase in sex worker account deletions. Then, last year, sex workers on Reddit also found that their accounts were being removed or restricted. Both platforms denied that this was happening, and suggested there were no policy changes that would lead to such deplatforming. Most recently, the Australian social media platform Switter was forced to close last March.
In recent years, sex workers around the world have faced an onslaught of digital censorship efforts, owing largely to the introduction of various “online safety” bills and, most famously, the American anti–sex trafficking legislation FOSTA-SESTA. Passed in 2018, the bill, which holds websites criminally liable for content that may promote sex trafficking, has become highly problematic and dangerous to sex workers across the industry (not to mention completely ineffective at stopping trafficking). It does not differentiate between sex trafficking and consensual sex work, meaning that perfectly consensual sex acts—as well as mere discussions of sex work and community-building among sex workers—can be interpreted as promoting trafficking.
With this in mind, it’s possible that Stripperweb’s threads about escorting—which is not legal in most U.S. states—triggered some sort of SESTA-FOSTA-related ban. That said, the posts didn’t advertise sex for money—they simply offered advice on how to do it safely, or offered escorts the opportunity to connect with one another. Plenty of other forums host similar information, particularly on Reddit. Yet, they’re still up and running, while Stripperweb is not.
A silver lining, at least, is that much of Stripperweb’s content can still be viewed, thanks to the tireless work of sex workers and allies who scrambled to archive the site, its various forums, and indispensable threads ahead of its closure. The Wayback Machine has managed to save nearly, if not all, of the forum’s decades-long history. Los Angeles-based performer and sex worker Maya Kendrick also appears to be working on an extensive archive, while an anonymous data scientist posted on Stripperweb to offer their services. “I have seen how deeply many of you care for this place,” they wrote on a now-archived Stripperweb thread. “Libraries are an incredibly important thing.”
For their part, the anonymous owners did suggest an alternative forum in their closure message: AmberCutie’s Forum, which has over 59,000 members and is run by the eponymous Seattle-based cam girl (who didn’t respond to Slate’s request for comment). The forum is functionally similar to Stripperweb, with forums for certain conversations—like “Cam Chat,” “Stripchat,” and “Random Chat”—as well as a marketplace for seeking/advertising services. That said, it seems to be less defined and exhaustive than Stripperweb, and has a particular focus on camming, which has made many users reluctant to join.
Taja has also created an alternative, called CammodelWeb (though it’s currently got a temporary URL, shitguyssaytocamgirls.com). Her “backup” forum actually existed before Stripperweb announced its shutdown because, as she says, she’d “always noticed a lack of transparency regarding who was really in charge,” and had predicted that “this day was coming” long ago. “Folks are already reaching out to assist the transition in any way they can,” she continued. “Despite the predicament that we’re all in, the show of support is what’s driving me to make CammodelWeb a success.” So far, the forum has nearly 8,000 members.
With Stripperweb closed, it’s unclear where its former users will turn—but it’s undeniable that a safe space for sex workers to gather privately online is vital, pressing, and increasingly hard to find. “Spaces for sex workers being reduced in tandem with anti–sex worker legislation, discriminatory banking policies, and social media and web-hosting discrimination is part of the larger kyriarchal project to control the bodies of women and queer people as a class,” declared Darcy. “Some of us are survival sex workers, meaning this is all we have. So many of us are disabled or otherwise marginalized, but we still need to live.”
“We deserve spaces for us and run by us,” she concluded. “Silencing us won’t make us go away.”