Sex Tech Professionals Are Using Clubhouse Despite Privacy Concerns
Dissecting the allure of the invite-only social networking app.
Designed like a giant conference call, Clubhouse is an audio-based social networking app initially released in March 2020. It enables users to drop into seemingly intimate conversations with other members, either to participate or just listen. These conversations run a wide range of topics, sex and sex tech included.
Part of Clubhouse’s allure is its exclusivity, you can only join by invitation from an existing user.
Given this structure, the primary demographic on Clubhouse was limited to the same kind of humans who created the app—white Silicon Valley types. But the longer the app existed, the more it opened up to diverse voices.
“Clubhouse eventually became a place for community gatherings and a digital space where sex workers were talking about their lives and their experiences and building solidarity among each other,” says Val Elefante, head of community at Lips and Clubhouse user since August 2020.
She then adds a critical detail: “Those rooms were open to [any Clubhouse user].”
Direct connections with prominent industry figures
Elefante describes tuning into conversations featuring sex workers like Jet Setting Jasmine and Lotus Lain. Later, she met angel investor Terri Hanson Mead in a welcome room for new users. This connection was valuable because throughout 2020, Mead hosted fireside chats with sex tech founders, including Cindy Gallop from MakeLoveNotPorn and Lilly Sparks from afterglow.
“Clubhouse is good for giving you that initial introduction to folks who you might not otherwise connect with on other platforms or in the physical world,” Elefante says. “It’s also a place for sex tech founders to find customers and partnerships or connect with other founders and investors.”
Where the conversations are happening
Even with a number of industry professionals on Clubhouse, there haven’t been many groups, referred to as “clubs” on the app, dedicated to sex tech specifically.
According to Elefante, most tech-related conversations come up in the context of other discussions around sex and sexuality. “Of course, tech comes into that, but it’s not explicitly a sex tech space,” she explains.
There is one club called SexTech. It hasn’t been very active historically, but that is changing this summer. Elefante and Sx Noir, president of the Women of Sextech cyber society, will be hosting monthly speaker and networking events through this club starting in June.
Privacy and safety concerns
When it comes to recommending the app to other sex tech professionals, it’s impossible to ignore Clubhouse’s issues regarding safety.
Many of the app's features aren’t built with user privacy in mind. One example: Anyone with your phone number in their contacts will be notified when you join the platform. Another: The Stanford Internet Observatory confirmed that Clubhouse’s backend infrastructure is provided by a Shanghai-based company that could potentially provide data access to the Chinese government. Deleting your account is also particularly difficult.
Another significant criticism is Clubhouse’s insufficient response to harassment reports. Because of the free-flowing nature of conversations on the app, there isn’t much of a moderation structure. New York Times reporter Taylor Lorenz has been documenting instances of harassment, abuse, and misinformation on Clubhouse—and these are likely only a fraction of the total occurrences.
“It’s hard to recommend an app that doesn’t take [personal security or privacy] into consideration,” says Elefante. “I wouldn’t encourage people who need to be careful to join.”
TLDR: Consider trying it out, but proceed with caution
It’s important to assess the risks before joining a new social networking platform—and Clubhouse is no exception. But if you have the privilege to overlook or deal with the potential harm, Elefante says that the app can be beneficial in many ways.
“[Clubhouse] can be a place where conversations can progress,” she explains. “You can meet people who share your values and passions. You can talk about what you’re working on when it comes to sexuality and technology. Whether that’s in a QueerAsF*ck room talking about your sexuality or whether that’s talking about your sex tech business, you will find people who really see you and support you.”