Portland-based sex and politics podcast Strange Bedfellows is on internet lockdown, because heaven forbid people discuss sex online and double heaven forbid those people are sex workers! The show’s hosts, sex educator Elle Stanger and private investigator Jen [who asked the Mercury to refrain from using her last name], have both worked as strippers for more than a decade.
Tackling taboo subjects like kink, libido, gender, and sex worker rights, Strange Bedfellows is a rare mix of sexy, interesting topics and smart breakdowns of everything from consent language to federal laws. But the willingness of the show’s hosts to shine a light into the modern bedroom has resulted in their show being blocked on many internet platforms and labeled as adult content.
“My writer website does not have a single nude on it,” Stanger explains. “It links to my phone sex page, which doesn’t have a single nude on it either, but it’s providing an adult service. Because crawlers detect that my stuff links to adult stuff, it labels all of my site adult. So people can’t even read articles I’ve written on parenting when they’re at the gym, because it’s marked adult.”
The duo started Strange Bedfellows in the spring of 2018, right as FOSTA-SESTA went into effect. Binging the show reveals a record of the acts’ unfolding implementations, which were proposed to fight sex trafficking, but also silenced and shut down communities of consenting sex workers. “Sex workers want to write about themselves and cover their own issues,” Stanger says. “But the writing they do has to be hidden behind unsearchable walls.”
The Strange Bedfellows Instagram account goes through semi-regular suspensions, and they have to be very careful about what they put up on their website. That makes it next to impossible to cross-promote their podcast.
“With Patreon, we agreed to be marked as adult content,” Stanger says. “So we can’t be searched within the site. People have to type in our URL to find us. If we were a big production company, it wouldn’t matter, because we’d have lawyers. And if you look at porn celebrities, they can post almost fully nude photos, but the thinking of FOSTA-SESTA is that, because they have a million followers, they’re not being trafficked.” That means new indie creators with sexual content run the risk of being labeled as potential trafficking victims and getting kicked off platforms.
Though Strange Bedfellows is largely informed by the duo’s experiences with sex work, Stanger also has a degree in criminology. When she and Jen were becoming friends, they repeatedly ran into each other at the State Capitol, where Jen was doing a political internship and Stanger was training to be a lobbyist.
“Jen was not out as someone who had worked in the industry,” Stanger says. “Whereas I, if I was known at all, was probably known most as ‘that stripper that started being a lobbyist.’”
Stanger is no longer pursuing a lobbyist track, but she has been monitoring Oregon Senate Bill SB 280, recently introduced by Senator Kathleen Taylor, which would force adult entertainers to become club employees.
A similar bill passed last year in Califonia, so the Strange Bedfellows hosts put out a call asking listeners how they were impacted. “That’s how we received screenshots, receipts, and testimony from workers that I could take to the State Capitol,” Stanger says.
Upon request for comment from the Mercury, a representative from Senator Taylor’s office stated that, after hearing from workers that SB 280 would not be helpful, they’re no longer pursing the bill.