I remember when I first heard about OnlyFans. The site was mentioned over and over in memes (clever marketing, meme pages). So many jokes about quitting jobs people hate to sell feet pics on OnlyFans, so many annoying men asking where all the nice women without OnlyFans went (rollin my eyes so hard at that last point).
Recently, OnlyFans announced that they were removing sexually explicit content from their site. More memes ensued when the news went out. How can a platform launched into infamy for sexual content remove the very thing that made it famous?
Let’s Run it Back to Pornhub
Last year, A New York Times article blasted Pornhub for the rampant issue of child pornography on their site. As a result, Paypal, Visa, and Mastercard had cut ties with the site, dramatically cutting their revenue and forcing them to rely on ads since people couldn’t pay directly for their services outside of cryptocurrency or direct bank transfers. This forced Pornhub to be reactive and remove videos not created by verified users.
The Times article contains interviews from individuals who had their videos of child sexual abuse shared on the site and how subsequently that ruined their lives. Even as they asked the site to take down their videos, they were still uploaded and reshared over and over again. The article highlights the harrowing consequences of having corporations exploit children and adults in abusive and non-consensual relationships in order to maintain profits. Yet we see how money ultimately greatly influenced Pornhub to take action.
OnlyFans is still doing this for the money
After seeing what happened to Pornhub, OnlyFans’s decision makes more sense. In their statement, they stated that they wanted “to comply with the requests of our banking partners and payout providers”. OnlyFans decide to “ensure the long-term sustainability of the platform” by giving in to the pressure from where the money comes from.
This isn’t a new demand from financial institutions. In early April, institutions like Mastercard started requiring companies to provide “clear, unambiguous and documented consent” for adult content. While this requirement comes under the pretense of eliminating abusive content, this direction is setting a devastating precedent for sex workers.
Once again, sex workers are forgotten
The major backlash for OnlyFans’s decision comes from sex workers and sex work advocates. Many sex workers and OnlyFans creators took to Twitter to condem the organization’s crackdown. Many feel anger and confusion that OnlyFans could use their content to launch them into such a lucrative position, just to pull the plug.
At the beginning of the pandemic, many saw OnlyFans as a way to supplement their income after being laid off or furloughed. OnlyFans became a safer option for sex work, both for the regulated nature and for the opportunities to engage with clients virtually. It’s interesting to note however, that as of the writing of this article, most of the content creators that were asked about the decision were not BIPOC creators, I wonder what the story would be for them if mainstream outlets asked for their opinions.
When big financial institutions withdraw their support of the porn industry, puritanical and “radical” feminist groups rejoice. Porn isn’t the issue, and when we address the problematic parts of porn without thinking about how sex workers will be affected by these decisions, we aren’t actually solving the root cause.
Sex workers aren’t deviant, and they are much different from victims of sex trafficking and abuse. Oftentimes sex workers choose to engage in the industry because they hold identities that have been socialized to think this is one of few options they have to be “successful”. Some people do it just because they like it, and they feel empowered. Whatever the reason, sex work is work, and sex workers deserve to work in safe environments just like any other job.
Why do we automatically blame and punish sex workers for taking advantage of the very conditions they are exploited by? The problem isn’t sex work; it’s the strict puritanical moral code that demonizes sexuality and pushes it to the shadows, and it’s the capitalist mindset that has conditioned all of us to feel like we have to monetize everything in order to survive.