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Marianne Wilson
IllustrationMarianne Wilson

How performers are affected by PayPal pulling out of Pornhub

The payment platform has long been discriminating against sex workers

Earlier this month, PayPal announced that it will no longer be supporting certain types of payments from Pornhub – a decision affecting the livelihoods of thousands of performers. In line with the moral charade of FOSTA-SESTA – a bill signed into law by Donald Trump intended to curb online sex trafficking – it’s a move which only leads performers to resort to less lucrative payment platforms or, in some cases, potentially more dangerous offline encounters. 

PayPal claimed that Pornhub “made certain business payments… without seeking our permission.” In a statement, Pornhub said they were “devastated” that PayPal was stopping payouts to its sex-positive Model Program, which claims to “empower” content creators within the adult industry by providing a secure space to sell and share original video content. 

Eliza – a non-binary, trans woman performer – tells Dazed that most of her income from the past five years has come from sessions which clients pay for via apps like PayPal. Given PayPal’s continued banning of sex workers, Eliza has been forced to find other options like Google Pay or PayPal-owned company Venmo: however, these processors also have a history of deleting accounts, she says. While there are a handful of sex worker-friendly options, these can take a cut of up to fifty per cent of the money. 

“Being a freelancer is already precarious and unpredictable: having the added barrier of platforms refusing to process our payments is extremely stressful and can really impact people's lives”, she explains. It’s a situation that has only been exacerbated by FOSTA-SESTA, and yet, as Eliza points out, Pornhub has failed to “address the harm caused by these laws”. 

It’s worth noting that the discrimination of payment apps against sex workers predates FOSTA-SESTA. Another performer, Yevgeniya Ivanyutenko, tells Dazed that PayPal’s refusal to do business with sex workers has been going on for over a decade – fortified by Obama’s controversial ‘choke point’ which was introduced in 2013 to crack down on “high-risk” merchants. 

While PayPal have continued to do business with Pornhub since then, over the years it has consistently targeted women receiving payments for anything even suspected of being a sexual service. One example highlights issues with ASMR artists – who are predominantly female – also having their PayPal accounts shut down

“Sex workers are the last group of people it's become truly acceptable to discriminate against… when it comes to employment, housing, health care, the legal system, and definitely when it comes to banking and receiving payments,” Ivanyutenko says.

She puts it down to an attempt to “restrict women’s rights as a whole”, by preventing them from making large sums of money independently from the safety of their own home. “Capitalistic systems always need someone at the bottom to act as disposable labour,” she says. It’s hardly a surprise, therefore, that marginalised groups of women are being targeted. 

Many sex workers are speaking out freely against the injustice, and refusing to be ‘put in their place’ by a system which seeks to wipe them out. Pornhub also need to do more to protect workers, and this includes severing ties with platforms like Paypal that consistently undermine the right of workers to make money in fully legal ways.  

While it’s becoming increasingly difficult for adult performers to survive the intense censorship and discrimination from tech companies and banks, Eliza says she is hopeful about the future: “sex workers are the most brilliant organisers and I believe that we'll figure out something”. At least with the high-profile nature of cases like this one involving PayPal, the issue might finally be getting the attention it deserves.