Instagram’s Sex Policy

This is the second in a series of posts examining the sexual content policies of major social media platforms. All policy details are copied exactly from the sources provided as of the publication date. Unless otherwise noted, all emphasis has been added by me.

Remember that policy does not necessarily reflect what actually happens on a platform. At best it can be read as what a company wants their stance on content to be.


Instagram is an unusual example of a social media platform owned, but not entirely consumed, by a bigger one. Launched independently in 2010 it was purchased by Facebook in 2012 for one billion dollars and has since reigned supreme as the most popular photo-sharing social media platform in the world (and the fifth most popular over all). Behind the scenes it is operated by Facebook and shares their policies (and now messaging) but is still viewed and generally treated by users as a separate platform.

Full disclosure, Instagram is my personal favorite social media of the moment. I find it generally far more pleasant an experience than Facebook or Twitter, although you can certainly find some nasty stuff on it if you go looking. My hypothesis is that there are two big causes for this positive nature:

  1. It’s image-focused. Yes each image has a caption, and yes you can throw some text into an image format and post it, but generally the point is the photos which makes it much harder to share news, insults, or hot takes.
  2. There’s no easy ‘re-share’ mechanism. You’ll see reposts on Instagram, but they’re all done via third-party app. You can’t just single-click to boost something to all your followers, which cuts down on amplification and the ‘ganging up effect’ quite a bit.

With that said, the image-focused nature also tends to exacerbate the problem of users comparing their own messy realities to the carefully selected and filtered feeds of others lives they see on the app, especially body comparisons. There are some great accounts that focus on the difference between Instagram and reality in an attempt to counteract that problem.

BUT we’re here today to talk about sex policy, so let’s get going.

Instagram uses the details of Facebook’s community standards, so everything from my previous coverage of Facebook’s sex policy applies here. They also have their own top-level community guidelines page, which has a few things worth calling out. Instagram skews younger and has a more friendly feel to their guidelines than Facebook, so it’s particularly interesting to me what they choose to include in what is essentially their “tl;dr” version of the guidelines.

The Short

We want Instagram to continue to be an authentic and safe place for inspiration and expression. Help us foster this community. Post only your own photos and videos and always follow the law. Respect everyone on Instagram, don’t spam people or post nudity.

The nudity ban is important enough to call out specifically in the top line summary.

The Long

Instagram is a reflection of our diverse community of cultures, ages, and beliefs. We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the different points of view that create a safe and open environment for everyone.

They include seven more detailed paragraphs to illustrate parts of “the long” view, two of which are relevant here.

Post photos and videos that are appropriate for a diverse audience.

We know that there are times when people might want to share nude images that are artistic or creative in nature, but for a variety of reasons, we don’t allow nudity on Instagram. This includes photos, videos, and some digitally-created content that show sexual intercourse, genitals, and close-ups of fully-nude buttocks. It also includes some photos of female nipples, but photos in the context of breastfeeding, birth giving and after-birth moments, health-related situations (for example, post-mastectomy, breast cancer awareness or gender confirmation surgery) or an act of protest are allowed. Nudity in photos of paintings and sculptures is OK, too.

People like to share photos or videos of their children. For safety reasons, there are times when we may remove images that show nude or partially-nude children. Even when this content is shared with good intentions, it could be used by others in unanticipated ways. You can learn more on our Tips for Parents page.

This first sentence strikes me hard every time I read it because it completely ignores the fact that people very often want to share nudity for sexual reasons.

It seems to be taken for granted that wanting things for sexy pleasure reasons is inappropriate, that putting those things out in public is going to offend people, and that making sure those people aren’t offended is far more important than allowing people to build community around positive sexuality.

They have the same exemption carveouts as Facebook – breastfeeding, birth, protest, cancer and gender confirmation – all added after various controversies pushed for change.

Interestingly, there is not an educational content exemption mentioned here, although it’s certainly present in the Facebook rules if you click through that “nudity” link.

Follow the law.

Instagram is not a place to support or praise terrorism, organized crime, or hate groups. Offering sexual services, buying or selling firearms, alcohol, and tobacco products between private individuals, and buying or selling illegal or prescription drugs (even if legal in your region) are also not allowed. Instagram also prohibits the sale of live animals between private individuals, though brick-and-mortar stores may offer these sales. No one may coordinate poaching or selling of endangered species or their parts.

Remember to always follow the law when offering to sell or buy other regulated goods. Accounts promoting online gambling, online real money games of skill or online lotteries must get our prior written permission before using any of our products.

We have zero tolerance when it comes to sharing sexual content involving minors or threatening to post intimate images of others.

The “sexual services” link goes to Facebook’s Section 15. Sexual Solicitation clause, which consequently puts “wanna have sex? 🍆 💦 🍑” in the same bucket as selling drugs and poaching endangered species.

Or, should I say, selling 💊 and poaching 🐅 🐘 🐋.

I do appreciate their call-out exclusion of child sexual abuse media and revenge porn, even if the links just go to Facebook’s details and the link to their ‘how to remove revenge porn’ guide is still broken. 🙄

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