One of the worst decisions in the history of business decisions was made on the 19th of August when OnlyFans decided to ban the main thing millions of users use their platform for – pornography.
Sure, although the platform wasn’t originally intended for porn, the ability to allow content creators to directly sell material and keep 80% of revenue made the platform incredibly attractive to sex workers. It was a solution to the exploitation commonly experienced by workers in the sex industry, a way to take control of their own bodies, own content and own viewers.
There are constant reports about the industry’s use of deceit, manipulation and unjust distribution of income, as well as a severe lack of regulatory mechanisms in place. So, OnlyFans is empowering, if you think about it.
OnlyFans sky rocketed, becoming a multi-billion dollar creator-based empire; sex workers were liberated from the shackles of the porn industry; and users were getting some quality, juicy content – or so it seemed.
Onlyfans then went and fucked everyone over, including themselves.
OnlyFans had been able to do what so few, if any, have done in the past: they normalised sex work. The company allowed sex workers, who are predominantly women, autonomy over their work, hours, and environment. But more importantly, it allowed them autonomy over their bodies in a safe space, a right which is somehow constantly being debated in media and politics.
Working through OnlyFans meant that over 1 million content creators were self-employed and able to earn a liveable wage, especially during COVID-19 lockdowns. This was brought to light in late 2020, when an article from The New York Post, intending to shame full-time EMT and part-time content creator Lauren Kwei, instead received a supportive response from readers. The situation brought attention to the low salary of healthcare workers and catalysed the conversation on sex worker rights, as well as praised OnlyFans.
Cutting through the horseshit, the decision was a result of banks distancing themselves from the sex industry, refusing to process payments associated with adult content on the OnlyFans platform due to a fear for their own reputation. Venture capitalists also refused to invest in a company associated with pornography. The decision infuriated many.
The banning of sexually explicit content would have left many with no other source of income and no work in a COVID-19 world, where job security has already been significantly affected. This decision sparked anxiety in subscribers, many of whom left the platform, which caused an instant loss for the business as well. Many even deleted their accounts, angry and having lost faith in the company.
Inevitably, they came to a post-nut realisation of their stupidity and reversed their decision.
Well, the correct term would be ‘suspended’. On the 25th of August, just six days after the initial announcement, Tim Stokely, founder and CEO of OnlyFans, thanked users in a tweet for “making your voices heard” and claimed that adult content would be able to stay.
Needless to say, it sparked numerous questions. He told the Financial Times that Bank of New York Mellon, Metro Bank and JPMorgan Chase, the banking partners that caused the initial decision, had managed to “secure assurances necessary”. But if it was resolved in such a short period of time, was there even that much pressure to begin with? Who is to say that they won’t announce it again due to the banks having a change of mind?
So much trust in the company has been lost, even prior to this decision.
For example, in September 2020, movie star Bella Thorn charged users for, what they thought would be nude photos but were instead photos of Thorn in underwear. After backlash from subscribers and extensive refunds, an executive decision to cap exclusive content at $50 and tips at $100 was made which sparked outrage from users due to a reduction in their income. While the executives claimed that the changes were unrelated to Thorne, it just seems awfully convenient. Coincidence? I think not, and neither did users.
When the ban was announced many content creators rightfully swore to never return to the platform. The lack of respect and care OnlyFans has for its users is evident, the same workers who have given the company more than a billion in revenue.
Let’s give sex workers the happy ending they deserve.
Imagine going to Maccas regularly, ordering food and actively enjoying it, then degrading the workers who cooked for you and served you. This is what we do to sex workers.
Porn is so normalised in society, but the people who make it are under constant scrutiny for “using their bodies” to earn an income. Construction workers use their bodies too, but we don’t degrade, shame and humiliate them. So why sex workers?
Sex worker rights go hand in hand with so many marginalised and oppressed groups in society: women and gender diverse people, the LGBTQI+ community, HIV agencies, laborers, people in poverty, and so many more. OnlyFans has been praised for giving sex workers a safe space to operate and earn money, however, this decision that barely lasted 6 days has cost communities so much. The action reinforced a conservative perspective of sex workers and validated their devaluation.
It is thought OnlyFans made the decision to avoid the same fate as other explicit content websites such as PornHub where payment processing institutions including Visa and Mastercard ‘pulled out’ due to the presence of unlawful content. However, PornHub has been known to deal with sex trafficking, rape, child pornography, and many other violations of human rights. Almost every sex worker has a story of how they were taken advantage of, where they agreed to do one thing and were forced to do another in front of the camera, or stripped of the money they rightfully deserved, or were sexually abused and assaulted. It is evident that PornHub couldn’t care less about its content creators, and it is ironic that by making the decision to ban sexual content, neither does OnlyFans.
There have also been issues which expand outside of the sex industry, where sex workers who attempt to leave the field of work have found their previous employment to limit job prospects in non-sex work industries as well as affect court decisions in child custody cases.
We need to stop ignoring these violations of rights. We need to stop degrading and dehumanising sex workers.
While OnlyFans may be ‘cancelled’, it has paved the way for other platforms to thrive. FanCentro, another subscriber-based platform, temporarily removed their cut of revenue to allow new content creators to keep 100% of the profits they make, a marketing strategy aimed to encourage workers from Onlyfans to migrate to their platform. AVN Stars is another platform which specialises in adult content, had a strong launch with a quality website that is clean (well, as clean as being dirty can be 😉) and easy to navigate. It prides itself on its professional layout as it is founded on the basis of sex work being a legitimate and valid occupation.
Some have even got a little creative. Fansly, which is probably the most similar to OnlyFans in terms of its operation, added a special ‘emoji’ feature, where creators can cover any part of their content with emojis or text to ‘tease’ viewers. Viewers then need to pay extra in order to ‘strip’ these emojis away for full access to the material.
While these alternatives provide temporary security, they are just a band-aid solution. Social pressures and taboos prevent businesses from being able to legitimise sex work out of fear for their reputation. We need to address the root of the problem and challenge this stigma. We need to do better for our sex workers, as they deserve a happy ending as much as we do.