Adam Blythe, a 27-year-old ceramicist from Illinois with just over 5 million followers on his TikTok account, @thrdfloor, is tired of all the references to that scene in the 1990 film Ghost. You know, the one in which Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore use their entwined hands to massage a lump of clay as the Righteous Brothers’ haunting “Unchained Melody” plays on the jukebox. It’s widely considered one of the sexiest film scenes of all time.
“The amount of times I’ve read, ‘Why isn’t ‘Unchained Melody’ playing in the background?’” he said. “You get certain comments all the time that are irritating.” Blythe said that as “an act of protest” he’s never watched Ghost. And he’s made a concerted effort to avoid associations with TikTok’s ceramics scene’s more sensual side. “Thirst trap content performs really well and gets a lot of engagement,” he said. “But sometimes my question is, Is the audience really there for your work? Or are they there for the video?”
A quick glance at the platform’s #pottery hashtag, which has amassed almost 10 billion views, reveals an abundance of videos that cater to the thirsty masses. It’s easy to see the appeal, erotic romance novelist and sex educator Scotty Unfamous said. “You see them doing stuff with their hands, using a very delicate touch, and you start to wonder what those hands would feel like on you,” she explained. “How delicately could you touch, mold, and sculpt me?”
Although plenty of women clad in crop tops have found success on TikTok throwing pottery, it’s the men who seem to attract the most attention. Male ceramicists, wearing aprons over bare chests, make eye contact with the camera as they massage phallic lumps of clay. Some dispense with the aprons altogether.
Blythe, for one, keeps his shirt on. He wants to be known for his art, rather than his torso. “It can be frustrating when I take an active effort to kind of fight that stereotype, and because of this environment that exists, you sometimes get lumped in with super overtly sexualized content,” he said. Still, the thirsty comments — “I’ve never been more interested in this man *I mean pottery*” and “he knows what he’s doing” — persist.
Some ceramicists are more willing to embrace the sensual side of their craft. “It’s quite a sexual, intimate thing — just the way it looks, I guess,” said Pottery Boy, a 25-year-old ceramicist from Melbourne, Australia, with 1.6 million followers on his TikTok account who has previously made international headlines for being “dreamy.” (Pottery Boy asked BuzzFeed News to withhold his name for privacy reasons.) “I suppose I’m a sexual person,” he said, “and I like the sexual element of lots of things in my life.”
Pottery Boy admitted his videos have horny undertones: He said he adds “extra mayo” — Australian slang for a bit of “spice” or “oomph” — to the slaps he gives the clay at the beginning of his videos, and he’s learned that making direct eye contact with the camera excites his viewers. At the same time, he doesn’t consider himself a thirst trapper. “No one ever says my videos are thirsty-trappy. They just say that they find them very attractive,” said Pottery Boy, who pumped a bare arm for the camera in a recent video as he lifted a particularly heavy lump of clay. “And I’m not shirtless,” he insisted. “I’m wearing an apron.”
Others in the scene blamed the intimate nature of pottery for revving up their viewers. “Having that undivided attention” — that potters give to their clay — “is something most people crave from their partner, whether they realize it or not,” said Renee Monaco, a 28-year-old ceramicist and entrepreneur from New York with almost 2 million followers on her account, @peachmangojuice777. “I think viewers feel like they’re getting that through the pottery videos, which is nice.”
Monaco’s videos often involve her shaping phallic-looking lumps of clay using repetitive stroking movements, set to innuendo-laden songs like Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop” and Sam Smith’s “Unholy.” Her comment sections are filled with horny adoration.
But she insists that she is simply being herself and behaving normally in videos, rather than trying to be sexy. “I don't think anything of it, but of course, like, it’s all about what the viewer thinks — it's totally up to them,” Monaco said.
She added that she is unbothered by viewers who choose to sexualize her: “They have every right to take the video and see it the way that they want to see it.”
While some TikTok ceramicists are happy to leave their videos open to interpretation, others have joined the platform with the express purpose of changing the way their craft has been framed.
“I was at a fine art school when I started my TikTok, and I felt like [the shirtless videos] were completely taking away from the art form and focusing on sexualizing it. I didn’t want that to be what people thought pottery is,” said Oliver Elias, a 22-year-old ceramicist from Minnesota with 1.3 million followers on his TikTok, @oliverthepotter. Early on he used the hashtag #ikeepmyshirton in the captions of his videos, he said, “because I was like, Fuck this, I want to be an all-clothed potter.”
Although Elias has since taken a live-and-let-live approach to pottery thirst traps, he hasn’t escaped the stereotype. His followers frequently leave comments like “I feel like you’d be a good hugger” or “pottery boys know how to use their fingers.” “Obviously I enjoy the comments like, ‘Oh, you're cute,’” admitted Elias, who added that his TikTok “has definitely allowed me to gain that exposure in my work and bring me more commissions.”
Blythe’s comment sections, in comparison, are tame — although he does get some seriously horny private messages. “I get very strange emails, where it’s like, ‘Could you massage my socked feet?’ or something like that,’” Blythe recounted. “I don’t know if they thought the socked part made the outrageous request more normal, but something about that makes me laugh.”
Still, as 60% of Blythe’s viewers are women, he feels he has it easier than most of his female peers. “I think if you're a woman on the app that does pottery, you could probably get a lot of creepy messages,” he said. Monaco — who gets comments like “Nobody is looking at the pottery” and “We all know why we watch” — said she doesn’t “think it’s too bad.” She added, “Most of them are pretty funny.”
Unfamous said that influencers may be reluctant to admit they’re purposefully thirst-trapping. “If you are leaning into it, there’s a negative judgment that comes with that,” she said. “There’s also a cringe factor that plays into it: It’s cooler to pretend that you’re aloof, and pretend that you’re above it, than admitting you’re doing it.”
Unfamous also told BuzzFeed News that, while she could appreciate the sex appeal of pottery TikTok, thirsty viewers should be following the lead of influencers when it comes to the comments they make. “There is a boundary. There are some people that are cool with [being sexualized], and there are others that are not,” she said. “Viewers need to take that seriously in terms of consent.”
For ceramicists like Pottery Boy, however, horny comments are a small price to pay for success. While he did not admit to intentionally thirst-trapping his followers, he does welcome the attention that those kinds of viewers bring. After all, they helped him to sell all of his $53 mugs in 40 seconds last year. His IRL business is thriving, too: He operates three pottery studios that attract 350 students a week and has plans to open two more this year. “Business is going really, really well,” Pottery Boy said. “But I don’t think my TikTok can take full credit for that.”
“To be honest, I'm not too phased about how I'm perceived,” PotterBoy said. “I want to create content that people love to watch, and that brings more people to the sport of pottery. I think my videos are doing that, and that's the most important thing. If you come for the pottery or if you come for the sex appeal, I welcome everyone.”
Blythe, meanwhile, hopes to keep his brand PG. “I try to structure my stuff where I'm glad people think I'm cute and enjoy watching me do my work. But if that was the only reason they're there? That wouldn’t be a very sustainable future for me,” he explained. “Because at that point, what you have to sell is not your work, it's you — and that's a difficult thing to sell, unless you start an OnlyFans.” (Incidentally, Pottery Boy does have one set up, although there aren’t any posts on it.)
But it doesn’t mean Blythe’s completely opposed to putting on a show. “If I get to 10 million followers,” he said. “I would make the best-edited, thirsty pottery video.”