Twitch trends come and go, but one thing remains constant: the endless debate around what women should be allowed to wear on the platform. Now it comes in a summery new flavor: hot tub streams. Recently, streamers have declared these broadcasts the new “meta,” outraging the usual suspects—but also leading some female streamers to voice skepticism as well.
Hot tub streams are not entirely new—they came into vogue for a time last year, as well—but they really began to take off in March. The formula is simple: Streamers, clad in bathing suits, sit in hot tubs and chat with viewers. Some use full-blown, poolside hot tubs, but others who can’t afford or don’t have access to that level of luxury use a different kind of full-blown tub: the inflatable variety. Others parody hot tub streams with green screens and other things that are not actually hot tubs.
Why now? Different streamers who’ve participated in the hot tub meta have different opinions.
“It’s getting nicer out, and people are getting spring fever,” Twitch partner and cosplayer Spoopy Kitt, who recently added hot tub streams to her repertoire, told Kotaku in a DM. “I think people like looking at pretty women in bikinis, and I love being in a hot tub and meme-ing around, so it’s a win-win.”
Variety streamer XoAeriel says she was the first streamer to use an inflatable hot tub late last year. She thinks the accessibility of her method played a major role in hot tub streams’ current popularity.
“In December of 2020, I went on Amazon and purchased a blow-up hot tub,” she told Kotaku in an email. “I wanted some kind of different content, and no one else was doing it. I got a couple of LED lights to go inside, and when it arrived I began streaming. Views took off pretty quickly, and my following started to grow pretty fast. A few streamers started noticing my views shot through the roof and also ordered a blow-up hot tub...People have said, ‘Hot tub streams existed before you.’ Yes, this is true. However, blow-up hot tub streams did not, and it never became a meta until I did it.”
Twitch partner Firedancer, who is newer to Twitch, followed the lead of other streamers. “I think most Just Chatting streamers look to others for inspiration and, for me, it started as exactly that,” she told Kotaku in a DM, also noting people being stuck in their homes due to covid has probably played a role. “I’ve done many pool and beach streams before, so the idea of a hot tub stream wasn’t too far-fetched for me personally.”
For the most part, hot tub streams unfold like other streams featured in Twitch’s Just Chatting category, with streamers engaging their chats on a variety of topics. Difference is, many of these conversations come back to the fact that the streamer is kicking back in a simmering chlorine stew while wearing revealing attire. Some in chat ask standard questions about how streamers are doing or what they’ve been up to, or they crack jokes. Others do little to disguise their leering, remarking on how hot streamers are or imploring them to remove clothing.
Over the years, women streamers have faced controversy for wearing low-cut tops, as well as swimsuits in other contexts. Streamers who emphasize their bodies—and even many who don’t—have been branded “titty streamers” and other similarly derogatory terms. Male streamers, in turn, have baselessly accused women of stealing their viewers. All of this has prompted Twitch to crack down inconsistently, banning some women for nudity, but others because of seemingly innocuous things like a Chun-Li costume. In some cases, bans on the basis of attire have been warranted. In others, not so much. This backdrop has laid the foundation for the current discourse around hot tub streams.
One smaller streamer sparked off much of the recent conversation by posting several screenshots from hot tub streams to Twitter.
“Went on Twitch and seriously got confused as to what app I was actually on,” she wrote late last week. “What in the actual fuck happened to Twitch?! I really wanna know.”
This tweet wound up on r/Livestreamfail, a massive Twitch subreddit that does not typically take kindly to scantily clad women on Twitch despite boasting a NSFW tag for frequent posts that are even more explicit, with the title “The absolute state of Twitch.” It garnered over 15,000 upvotes, with many saying hot tub streams verge on being porn and comparing Twitch to more adult-oriented platforms like OnlyFans.
On Twitter, some streamers pushed back against the original tweet.
“Well then, it’s just too bad people like you don’t decide what’s appropriate for Twitch,” said streamer and cosplayer Hillary “Pokket” Nicole. “We live in a world where it’s okay for men to sexualize women in media all the time. The minute a woman owns her own sexuality it’s somehow...*gasp* immoral!”
“I don’t think it’s fair to hate on women doing the hot tub meta,” said streamer 39daph. “Twitch has the power to do something about it but chooses not to. Their inconsistent enforcement of rules is definitely strange.”
She also noted that female Korean streamers “have been banned for less” and that after a look around Twitch, she came to the conclusion that it’s not as “big [a] problem as people make it to be, and no doubt people will get bored of it eventually anyways.”
But that hasn’t stopped other female streamers from voicing concerns. Twitch partner and member of streamer collective E-Girl Rejects QTCinderella devoted a portion of an early March stream to her conflicted feelings on the matter, on one hand acknowledging that other women have every right to do what they want with their bodies, but also saying that if they do it on Twitch specifically, it might cause viewers to come into her chat and make unwanted sexual advances. Speaking with Kotaku, she expanded on her remarks.
“I want to make it very, very, very clear that there are multiple parties at fault here: Twitch as a website, sexually charged streamers, and viewers choosing to harass them,” QTCinderella said in an email. “Twitch needs to set clear guidelines and to help get rid of harassers, hot tub streamers need to follow whatever guidelines Twitch sets up (which they currently are so there is no real issue), and the viewers need to learn that just because one streamer does something does not mean another will. Shroud plays Valorant every day, but no one comes into my chat telling me I need to play Valorant. It is not okay to expect me to get in a hot tub in a bathing suit because another girl is doing it.”
It is not difficult to find instances of hot tub streamers allowing (or failing to deliberately prohibit) the sort of sexual comments that would get viewers banned in other streamers’ chats. However, Spoopy Kitt doesn’t think that’s the root of the problem.
“I think women get sexualized no matter what,” she told Kotaku. “I’ve had big boobs since I was 12 and started getting weird comments from then on. I think people get jealous [and] want to control women, and that’s what their issues boil down to.”
XoAeriel agrees and thinks that as long as sexist men exist, she might as well make money off them.
“I know some streamers have negative feelings towards hot tub streams, but I will continue to ‘get my bag’ as one streamer [put it]. Hot tub streams most definitely draw in more views. However, is it really all that different than pool streams or IRL beach streams that have been on Twitch for years?” she said. “These men, who overly sexualize women, already exist. Most of them have had their Twitch accounts for years. They didn’t just make an account because I was in the hot tub...They have always been misogynistic and will continue to do so after the hot tub stream meta dissipates. I think women blaming other women for this is a serious issue.”
Kotaku reached out to Twitch about the rules surrounding hot tub streams, and a Twitch spokesperson pointed to the company’s policies around sexually suggestive content—and, more specifically, an exception for swimwear in the nudity and attire policy.
“Swimwear is permitted as long as it completely covers the genitals, and those who present as women must also cover their nipples,” reads the policy. “Full coverage of buttocks is not required, but camera focus around them is still subject to our sexually suggestive content policy. Coverage must be fully opaque, even when wet. Sheer or partially see-through swimwear or other clothing does not constitute coverage.”
Between that and the fact that hot tub stream cameras do not directly “focus on breasts, buttocks, or pelvic region, including poses that deliberately highlight these elements,” most of them are technically in the clear. But they are still pretty obviously intended to highlight streamers’ bodies, some more overtly so than others. Streamers also mostly categorize them as Just Chatting broadcasts, which further muddies the waters of a section that’s already difficult to pin down even on its best days.
“People are frustrated because they feel like Twitch’s platform is being taken advantage of,” said QTCinderella. “However, hot tub streamers are not taking advantage of the platform because the platform is currently allowing it. Twitch needs to be vocal with their audience that this is okay. By not doing so, it is encouraging a bizarre pent-up resentment.”
The question, then, is what Twitch should do about hot tub streams, if anything. In recent times, the company has clarified its attire policies, but hot tub streams present more questions. QTCinderella believes Twitch should require hot tub streamers to occupy a more specific category than Just Chatting to discourage viewers from “seeing the next girl in Just Chatting and expecting her to do the same thing.”
Other Twitch streamers and viewers think Twitch should take it even further and create an 18+ section that would allow for more adult-skewing content. On one hand, doing so might clear up confusion about what Twitch does and does not allow by providing a dedicated category, which could, in turn, decrease harassment faced by women on the platform. But as many have pointed out, Twitch probably won’t do it because the company makes a major chunk of its revenue on advertising money.
“Unless content harms the audience/other creators, I don’t want to stop it,” popular WoW streamer Asmongold said on Twitter. “Pornography harms creators by alienating advertisers and lowering their income. A girl in a bikini does not alienate advertisers in the same way that hardcore porn does.”
In much of this discussion, however, XoAeriel sees a conflation of concepts that are not intrinsically the same.
“You can be sexy without being sexual,” she said, “and I think that’s where a lot of people have hot tub streams confused. Are bikinis sexy? Yes. But are they sexual? No. Same with low-cut shirts. We are allowed to have unlimited cleavage. Is cleavage sexy? Yes. But is it sexual? No.”
If Twitch were to create new sections—especially ones dedicated to adult content—it would risk reinforcing the long-held societal idea that women’s bodies are inherently sexual. Worse, Twitch would ultimately be in charge of enforcing what is sexual and what is not, an issue where its track record is already very spotty. But as long as women continue to receive harassment for existing on Twitch, the platform will always bear a large portion of the responsibility for it.
“Twitch needs to do something to help female streamers,” said QTCinderella. “The first thing that comes to mind would be a way to report sexual harassers on the platform and being able to submit logs to get them banned off the entire platform. That sounds easier said than done; in a four-hour stream, I would need to report minimum [of] between 10 to 20 viewers. That is a lot of time out of my day. Eventually, I think I would just give up and stick to the current protocol of keeping them banned in my personal chat because it is the easiest. I wish I had a better answer for this, but I hope Twitch will begin to brainstorm a way to help.”
In the meantime, streamers who’ve embraced the hot tub meta are glad to have gotten their time in the sun, and they hope other streamers can see that they’re not hurting anybody.
“As long as something isn’t hurting anyone, why do we get so upset by it?” asked Firedancer. “Why should anyone have a problem with what someone else is wearing? I am happy that Twitch is being lenient about attire while streaming because it gives more chances for expression and individuality.”
“If Twitch decides to remove hot tub streams altogether, I would actually be kind of shocked,” said XoAeriel. “But if they do, I will just move on to creating the next meta.”