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Gay men helped turn Twitter into an amateur porn paradise

Exhibitionism lives on Twitter, if you know where to find it.

A shirtless man on his phone! He may or may not have an alt, but he is shirtless.
Getty Images/South_agency

Twitter, I’ve come to learn, is a fantastic place to find, store, and share homemade gay porn.

The platform may have banned a former president who helped stoke a deadly insurrection, but nonviolent, non-extremist, consensual nudes and sex videos are fair game, according to the site’s media policy. (Twitter, reached for comment, directed Vox to said media policy.) It’s a sex-positive policy on an increasingly sex-wary internet. Anyone, if their heart desires, can post nudes, selfies, and homemade videos of up to two minutes and 20 seconds. And a faction of gay Twitter users have taken full advantage through their alts.

“Alt” can be read as alternative or alter ego, but the word has its own life as the term for secondary account. They’re not that different from the urge to create “finstas” (fake Instagrams) or private Snapchat accounts, pseudonymous accounts where users can, paradoxically, really be themselves. And some of Twitter’s sexiest alts have huge followings.

The alt known as A Considerate Top (not safe for work) explained this to me while recounting his origin story. He started using his handle — which, translated into heterosexual English, refers to a penetrating partner in gay sex who, against popular stereotype, has a caring nature — to post his nudes and sex dates because he ran out of space on his iPhone. (The app, unlike other social media platforms, doesn’t compress images, and quality matters: Penises are variable, but if given two identical pictures with the only difference being image quality, you’d be hard-pressed to find ardent admirers of manhood who prefer the grainy one.)

He says that when he went to bed on July 17, his account was a fun side project with a couple dozen followers.

A Considerate Top (ACT) woke the next day and found his 20 or so followers had ballooned to the thousands. His DMs were full. A popular account had retweeted one of his videos.

The video in question is one minute and two seconds long. It’s shot from bed height. You can see the fire alarm on the ceiling. ACT’s headless body, thighs that stretch into eight defined and divided abs and then into a well-muscled chest, presses up against an unnamed partner’s jock-strapped butt. Skin thwacks against skin. At 30 seconds in, ACT asks, “Can I cum?”

To date, ACT’s video has been viewed over 110,000 times. ACT now has more than 50,000 followers and, since mid-August, a burgeoning OnlyFans account, where 110 posts have garnered more than 16,100 “likes.” The 24-year-old says the porn he makes is enough to pay the bills.

Not all alts are created to hit 50,000 followers, nor are porn alts exclusively gay. But they do seamlessly tie into certain aspects of gay men’s culture that are played out in hookup apps and other social media platforms.

Compared to straight culture, gay male culture and queer culture at large are often more straightforward and open when it comes to discussing and expressing sexual desire. Hence, a common refrain from a certain faction of straight people is that gay men and queer people “shove it down our [their] throats,” with “it” being a euphemism for sexuality. Alts, for some, represent freedom from that response and maybe even certain norms within gay male culture. One man I spoke to explained that nudes are already swapped on Grindr chats and that his alt is nothing you couldn’t find there.

“There’s still moments where I think maybe gay men are not always 100 percent with our peers on all the stuff that we’re into,” a man I interviewed said. “There’s still the radical faerie in me that feels like there’s still some aspects of a heteronormative life and that we still allow our sexuality to be shamed even with ourselves. And the alt peels that layer back even more.”

Further, multiple men I spoke to over email and DMs and phone calls talked about how their alts make them feel confident, provide instant ego boosts, and let them tap into and share fetishes and kinks in a way that feels safe. It’s also, according to many men, a secure, anonymous way to release the sexual frustration that’s built up over the pandemic.

It doesn’t seem like alts are going away when things get back to normal, either. For some alts, like ACT, they change what’s normal.

If anything, one of the only dangers to alts may be when they become too successful — to the point when they’re no longer secondary. It’s not unlike the same problems we see across the creator economy: expectation fatigue, clout-chasing, and burnout.

Why gay men love their alts

Special Water Park Party Held Ahead of the Annual Tel-Aviv Gay Parade
If I had abs, I would be exponentially hornier on main!
Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images

To understand alts is to understand who we are on the internet, our “mains.” Mains are short for something that means our main accounts, but the term has developed its own identity; they’re where we post thoughts, photos, and bits of information that we’d be comfortable attaching our names to and having publicly consumed.

This reality didn’t come from users independently. A lot of it stems from social platforms themselves, sometimes with the altruistic idea that if we attach names to things then maybe we’ll all act more responsibly. It’s also a boon to platforms like Twitter and Instagram when real celebrities post on them with their verified statuses. The counterargument is that the more on main we are, the less we’re likely to really have free speech. People won’t fully say things they’re feeling if they have to attach their identity to them.

All of this is, of course, subjective.

The general rule, though, is that you’re not allowed to be horny on main.

Some people defy that rule and live brazenly online. But others, to get around this pesky identity attachment, have done things like create alter egos or secret accounts like finstas or burner accounts. Even celebrities have been known to partake. “The Finsta, for the unaware, is … Fake Insta(gram) — an unofficially official account used to post content that’s, well … not exactly meant for 500 of your peripheral friends to see,” New York magazine explained in 2017.

Yet there are times when horny on main still happens. And alts look more and more like a way to get around that problem.

In 2017, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz’s verified Twitter account “liked” a porn clip in which a fictional stepdaughter is caught in the throes of passion by her fictional stepmother. Many saw this as political hypocrisy; Cruz tried to defend a ban on sex toys in 2004, and here he was, purportedly enjoying incest porn. (As the Guardian reported, “Cruz’s senior communications adviser said ‘the offensive tweet posted on @tedcruz account earlier has been removed by staff and reported to Twitter’” — which did not actually explain how the account happened to “like” the clip.)

That threat of blowback resonates with George, a 28-year-old who works at an American university. Like the other men I talked to for this story, he spoke on condition of anonymity because his being identified might threaten his job.

George follows an array of people on Twitter, some of whom post or “like” porn. Said porn ended up popping up on his main. Because of the social media platform’s algorithm, his feed became difficult to open in public.

“My alt started originally because I wanted a Twitter account to separate the porn that I was already seeing on my personal Twitter from everyday life,” George told me. “On public transit, I’d be looking at the news, and I would see, like, full, uncut Latin dick, which I won’t complain about, but public spaces, you know?”

His alt was a place where he could silo all that stuff away. It made life on main easier and less of a liability. It made porn easier to find and watch. But the alt also became a way for him to interact with these accounts and partake in the show-and-tell. Multiple men I spoke to said they migrated to Twitter and created alts to follow porn after Tumblr instituted an adult content ban in 2018.

George started posting nudes on his alt but with some rules. His face is a no-go. That could easily get him in trouble at his university. He has a tattoo that he’s sure would get him recognized, so he covers it up (“it’s not like every other gay dude, like a series of Roman numerals above their titty,” he says).

An alt allowed him to explore kinks like group sex, bareback sex, and exhibitionism — stuff that he could never try on main, or even in real life. His alt also became popular, which was validating and thrilling for George.

Ideally, posting a thirst trap on Twitter or platforms like Snapchat or Instagram (on the limited “Close Friends” feature and over private DM) results in a lot of positive feedback. It feels good to know other people think you’re attractive, but it feels even better when you can quantify that.

“I’m a heavier dude and I’m losing my hair,” George told me. “But then, like, one person turns into 100, and 100 turns into 300. And then 300 eventually turns into 1,500. There were moments where it was a self-esteem booster, to just post my naked body and know that it was doing it for somebody.”

While his two-year-old alt has 1,500 followers, George’s 12-year-old main account hovers at just a little over 1,700. His recent tweets on main are about Black Lives Matter, democracy, mass shootings, allergy season, and drag queens. His main is curated; it’s what he wants people to think about him. But he appreciates that an alt can be more authentic.

“I think that any kind of private internet space like that is an opportunity for us to actually be free and open with it,” he told me.

There’s a thrill for the audience, too; social media platforms allow users to comment in ways that may be more suggestive than they would allow themselves in real life. Pretenses of politeness are thrown out the window, and responses turn into “yum,” expletives, “when’s my turn,” and sexts in response.

The rise of gay Twitter alts coincides with the rise of amateur porn; in recent years, adult actors and sex workers have been going independent and filming and publishing their work through platforms like OnlyFans. But alts also seem to be influenced, at least in part, by the way we’ve learned to interact with one another on social media.

“I used to post thirst traps to Instagram, but they were seen by a few hundred followers, mostly people from old jobs or high school,” Franz, 27, told me. “The thrill about posting hot pics to Twitter is that they’ll be seen by thousands of people within a couple of hours. My followers on Twitter are a combo of internet friends and Gay Twitter people. It feels less like a reputational risk and more like fun.”

Franz, blond and bearded, doesn’t post nudes, just pictures of him shirtless and appearing to be semi-aroused in various colors and kinds of underwear (mostly black trunks and boxer briefs), in tight gym shorts, or in towels (white, all of them). He says his alt persona on Twitter is pure performance. It’s almost all surface-level vanity, and he presents himself as a himbo, he says.

He says it’s fun and exciting, although he admits it reinforces some existing social realities. He’s muscular and square-jawed, which wields a lot of currency when it comes to gay beauty standards. As thrilling and liberating as alts can be, the massive following someone can get by being fit and handsome can still make it feel like a popularity contest.

“When I post thirst traps, they’re very intentional: framed and edited so that I look good. Even worse, I know that I only have so many followers because I’m a fit, blond-haired and blue-eyed 20-something gay,” Franz told me. “My posts get attention because many Twitter users — and perhaps the algorithm of the platform itself — privilege bodies like mine. The images are of me, but the subject might as well be a different person.”

Franz has close to 85,000 followers. A picture of him in his underwear has over 20,000 “likes.” That’s a lot of dopamine.

“I possess some of the attributes that gay men find conventionally appealing,” Louis, a 36-year-old professor, told me. “And I’ve always enjoyed showing off for people because I think I get gratification from, you know, when I send a picture, and people respond enthusiastically.”

Louis had previously posted a nude on a Reddit subforum designed for faceless dick pics and gotten a good response. A Twitter porn account picked up those photos and got 2,000 retweets, affirming Louis’s belief that he has at least one attribute that gay men find appealing.

Louis decided to cut out the go-between and started his alt account.

He explained to me that his alt is more discerning. It’s locked, meaning he has to approve every person who wants to follow, and he’s only allowed 200 followers so far. To get access, Louis has to “be interested in what he sees” and like what they’re posting on their account. It’s a very specific, very targeted brand of exhibitionism and voyeurism.

“Listen, if I wasn’t [working] at an elite university, I would love to, like, fuck a porn star on OnlyFans, which I think is very similar in some ways to what an alt is, right?” he says. “And I’d love to have people get off to watching me do that. But, you know, it’s about as safe a space as I can get.”

What happens when your alt becomes your main

For a lot of people, and for the apps themselves, the goal of social media is to grow your following. The companies behind these apps want you to be on their platforms as much as possible.

Dennis, a 43-year-old consultant, thought he understood the alternate persona he had created. His videos focused on certain specific acts that sometimes take place in laundry rooms or offices, and may or may not involve a foot fetish. It was all about control, or so he assumed.

In talking to his therapist, he came to a bigger realization. She told him that his proclivities might be less about control than about getting validation by giving other people pleasure. It was the people getting off on him getting off that got him off.

Narcissus.
Narcissus! A Greek myth about falling in love with your own image.
Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty images

“I was kind of blown away by that a little bit, whether it’s right or not,” Dennis says. “And so I’ve had the thought, is my general whorishness because I’m so horny? Or is it just basically trying to go out and having guys like me? Through that lens, is wanting those likes some sort of additional external validation?”

If you’re posting sex on your alt, then you’re not just getting the instant gratification of the sex but also the added gratification of like after like that comes tumbling in after you post. But is there a point where there are too many likes?

The titillation of fledgling exhibitionism and kinkiness was something that really excited ACT, the suddenly famous alt, in the beginning. But as he grew a following and as he posted more, he found his followers wanted a certain type of post or for him to fulfill a certain type of fantasy.

His fans want him to be their version of ACT. That’s basically a top, he explains, who is super empathetic to his partners. “Shockingly, that seems to be a rarity in a lot of porn, where a lot of tops lack some really basic communication skills or decency,” he tells me.

With his followers seemingly dictating his identity instead of the other way around, his alt sounds less like the personal storage space he started it as and more bound to typical pressures in the creator economy.

“I find when I post about what my genuine interests are,” such as posts about RuPaul’s Drag Race or music or the concern about the rise of Asian American hate crimes in the US, “then my earnings and my growth plummet, which makes it very apparent that you’re being conditioned to post a certain type of content and hope you strike gold with it,” he said.

He reassured me that though the waning excitement sounds like a bummer in some ways, he’s also grateful for it. Before his OnlyFans success, ACT never had a full-time conventional day job, and he says the income has “saved his life.”

Sometimes, he admits, he has to think about business and PR decisions for his brand and how to grow his base. But the sex, he assures me, is still hot, still homemade and authentic, even though the OnlyFans component can sometimes throw in wrinkles.

“Sometimes if there’s an incredibly hot session with lots of chemistry, there is a tinge of regret that you didn’t set up your camera, or you might interrupt the mood by setting up a different angle or adjusting the lighting,” he said. “Other times you have a spectacular fuck and instead of leaving on wonderful terms you overstay your welcome because there are technological issues when you try to exchange the video between devices or you have to edit it there and sit in silence for an extra hour.”

At the end of our conversation, I ask him if he’s ever thought about creating another alt, given how this one turned out. I wonder if he’d be happy with another account where he can talk freely about his personal life that isn’t about the sex or being considerate.

“The answer is yes. But I just think having three accounts and switching constantly between those would be a true nightmare,” he said.

Relatable top, I think.

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