OnlyFans, known for being a porn site, recently planned on switching tactics for a more mainstream model in an attempt to keep and attract investors, settle grievances with credit card companies, and expand their brand. This reasonably troubled the OnlyFans sex workers who, until then, made their living in the safety and privacy of their homes. The announcement coming in the midst of a pandemic when work was scarce only exacerbated this. But, in a shocking turn of events, this backlash actually changed the company’s mind.
According to The Guardian’s Jim Waterson, “OnlyFans has enabled tens of thousands of sex workers to earn substantial incomes in return for handing over 20% of their earnings to the company, with many creators saying it has given them financial freedom. Internal figures obtained by Axios suggest about 16,000 creators earn at least $50,000 (£36,000) annually from the site.” This is who OnlyFans endeavoured to leave behind.
It's of note that OnlyFans is similar to Patreon and Kofi in that content creators post exclusive material that fans must subscribe to access. OnlyFans has a reputation for hosting sexual content specifically, which they have profited off of since its conception. This summer, however, in a vaguely explained attempt to make the site "more accessible" (and therefore more profitable), they planned to do a 2018-Tumblr-style purge of all pornography on the site. Unlike Tumblr, though, OnlyFans never had a middle school aged audience. There was no one they were trying to protect besides themselves.
An OnlyFans spokesperson commented that the proposed change was to “ensure the long-term sustainability of the platform, and to continue to host an inclusive community of creators and fans.” But while preaching“inclusivity”, they deliberately brushed tens of thousands of sex workers to the sidelines; And the company later acknowledged this truth.
On August 21st they published the following tweet:
Soon after this was posted, twitter user and sex worker @PKat93 responded:
And less than 20 minutes later, fellow sex worker @QuiteTheFreak pointed out:
To OnlyFan's credit, it’s true that payment processors are cracking down on porn sites. PornHub is a prime example due to the incredibly negligent, irresponsible, and illegal actions of their head company MindGeek; an online pornography giant. The Guardian highlights this, stating that “payment processing companies increasingly control what material pornography sites are able to host.” In the article, they refer to December, when Visa and MasterCard banned payments to websites owned by MindGeek “following reports it was hosting “revenge porn” uploaded without the consent of those involved.” As a result, MindGeek deleted tens of millions of unverified videos from its sites, including PornHub, to be in the financial businesses’ good graces. OnlyFans wanted to make a similar move.
Whereas the safety and consent of sex workers should be the very first priority of their bosses, sites like Pornhub historically facilitate the circulation of revenge porn and child abuse. Verified and professional sex workers⏤especially those at high risk of online harassment and discrimination⏤trust OnlyFans because it substantially lacks this quality: it grants sex workers more autonomy. When sex workers are the ones in charge of the goings on (whether it be cam work, nude pictures, live streams, etc.) and know their bosses condone illegal activity (unlike other porn sites), it creates a significantly safer environment. In an NPR interview, OnlyFans content creator Morgan Music said the platform reduces her anxiety because "having a savings account for the first time and [having] a good credit score for the first time in my life... I think it's hard to really convey how much that means to a person's quality of life."
OnlyFans trying to set these new guidelines was yet another example of businesses (and, in turn, society) discrediting sex work as work by utterly disrespecting their workers. In this case, OnlyFans didn't even have the decency to notify their workers of their plans before notifying the public. But, fortunately, this case is an example of workers coming together to demand rightful treatment. NPR’s Joe Hernandez reported that “OnlyFans reversed its proposed ban after content creators, many of whom have come to rely on the site during the pandemic, pushed back. The website OnlyFans is reversing a planned ban on pornography and other sexually explicit content.”
In a separate interview of Sinead Connel, a 41-year-old mother, former bodybuilder, and current sex worker on OnlyFans, had this to say: “The reason why I call it porn and sex work is because I really think that it needs to be more accepted as a job. This is a job you can earn a lot of money from. I should not be treated any differently by anyone because I choose to do sex work. It’s a legitimate job...If more families were supportive about their [children] doing OnlyFans and sex work, these girls wouldn’t be getting themselves into bad situations or getting taken advantage of.” Even though sex work is the oldest profession, it is the least respected practice by far. Its workers are constantly diminished: OnlyFans made its name from the success of its sex workers, then made guideline proposals that betrayed them. But sex workers pushed back, making OnlyFans’ attempt to overlook them unsuccessful. There is hope.