The subscription site has suspended its proposed ban on pornographic content, but adult creators say they remain sceptical of their future on the platform
Earlier today (August 25), OnlyFans suspended its widely-criticised ban on sexually explicit content, which was announced last week and was due to come into effect from October. In a statement on Twitter, the subscription site said it had “secured assurances necessary to support our diverse creator community”, adding that “OnlyFans stands for inclusion and we will continue to provide a home for all creators”.
While the news has been welcomed by adult creators – who’ve earned OnlyFans the majority of its revenue – and sex work organisations, many sex workers remain sceptical. “Still no clarity, no guarantees, or safeguards it won’t happen in a few weeks,” Irish creator Megan Sims wrote on Twitter, “didn’t communicate with creators first. What a nightmare.”
Speaking to Dazed, stripper and host of the Strippers in the Attic podcast Heaven, says that OnlyFans’ backtrack may be too little, too late. “Most sex workers have stopped trusting OF. Platforms such as AVN Stars and LoyalFans will, I’m sure, be taking the custom that OF once held.”
OnlyFans first announced the ban on Thursday (August 20), telling creators: “In order to ensure the long-term sustainability of the platform, we must evolve our content guidelines.” The site said the changes were being made “to comply with the requests of our banking partners and payout providers”.
Expanding on this in an interview with the Financial Times yesterday (August 24), OnlyFans founder Tim Stokely blamed “unfair” treatment by banks for forcing the porn ban. “We pay over one million creators over $300m every month,” he told the newspaper, “and making sure that these funds get to creators involves using the banking sector.” Stokely named and shamed UK-based Metro Bank, JPMorgan Chase, and the Bank of New York Mellon as cutting ties with OnlyFans and sex workers – he said the latter had “flagged and rejected” every wire connected to the company, “making it difficult to pay our creators”.
This isn’t the first time in recent months that banking companies have persecuted sex workers (who are still suffering under 2018’s FOSTA-SESTA bill, which intended to curb trafficking, but has instead resulted in the overpolicing of nudity, kicking sex workers out of online spaces and forcing them into less safe methods of working). In December, Mastercard, Visa, and Discover blocked their customers from making purchases on Pornhub, after journalist Nick Kristof published his controversial New York Times investigation into the prevalence of non-consensual content on the adult site. Sex workers told Dazed that the move threatened their only source of income, with one saying that blocking payments “does nothing to help victims, it only hurts legal sex workers”.
What’s worse is that Kristof’s primary source for his article was Laila Mickelwait, the founder of the anti-Pornhub campaign Traffickinghub and the former ‘Director of Abolition’ of a Christian organisation called Exodus Cry. While Traffickinghub claims to be “non-religious”, Exodus Cry refers to the sex industry as the “sexual exploitation industry” and suggests that everyone who works in it is being exploited. “At its root, (the New York Times article) is a religious anti-porn group’s propaganda,” sex worker Mary Moody told Dazed last year. “It uses salacious anecdotes to tickle the puritanical subconscious of the nation with the ultimate goal of censoring porn.” The credit card companies’ actions are directly influenced by Kristoff and Mickelwait’s allegations.
Writing on Twitter, Mike Stabile, the director of public affairs at the Free Speech Coalition, said that OnlyFans’ backtrack is a win for sex workers and a “devastating” loss for Mickelwait, Exodus Cry, Mastercard, and anti-porn group NCOSE, which has also been instrumental in the attacks on Pornhub and OnlyFans. “In attempting to take down the biggest community of adult creators on the planet, they’ve exposed themselves as frauds – and failed,” Stabile wrote. “This is a game-changing victory for sex worker activists.”
Now, the question remains as to whether OnlyFans can recover from sex workers’ loss of faith in the platform. Below, Dazed speaks to five adult creators about what the proposed ban would mean for them, what it says about the wider digital persecution of sex workers, and where they’ll take their content next.
SAVANNAH, SOUTHERN UNITED STATES
“I started OnlyFans in January 2020, and it’s currently all of my income – a mistake I hope not to make again. I had three other part-time positions before the pandemic, but cut down to one after my OnlyFans suddenly and unexpectedly took off. I kept the one part-time job because the company was so good to me and I didn’t want them to be scrambling to get someone else, even though I was making significantly more on OF.
The proposed ban is bullshit. OnlyFans knows its site would be nothing without sex workers. Period. It would be nothing. I wasn’t surprised, but god damn I was disappointed. This happens every time sex workers build a new platform up. It happened to Patreon, now OnlyFans, and it will happen to whatever site we migrate to after this. They will let us break our backs to build a platform, only to spit in our faces and toss us out as soon as they’ve made their money.
I have no idea how a ban would impact my livelihood, other than I’ll take some sort of hit if explicit content gets banned. Most of my content is casual and cosplay nudity, so I wouldn’t experience what many of my peers would, which is totally having to uproot a following and coax them into signing up on another platform. I think we’re about to see more censorship, with the banks moving in a puritanical direction as more social media platforms seek to monetise. And everyone hates sex workers, but God they love to watch our porn; it’s always been that way, and it’s always gonna be that way. If explicit content was banned, I’d leave my OF up with the content that’s still under terms, but all new and old explicit content would have to be moved to my Fansly or PocketStars account.”
“Everyone hates sex workers, but God they love to watch our porn” – Savannah
“OnlyFans has been a complete saviour during the pandemic. When the UK went into lockdown in March, I was left completely jobless; sex workers weren’t eligible for government support and I had no idea when I would have any income again. I turned to OF, and within 48 hours I was earning a living again.
I’m in a privileged position where I can go back to working in person (if OnlyFans pursues its ban), but unfortunately for a lot of people this is just not possible. Many people use OF because it creates a safe barrier between the creator and the customer. It’s also a great space for people who are not physically able to work in person for medical and health reasons.
Online censorship is a terrifying reality for marginalised communities across the board, as well as for artists and educators working in sex work. Not having access to necessary information is deeply damaging to any society, and cutting the supply does not stop demand. OF was very happy to use sex workers as a means to gain popularity. If it drops us as soon as it has what it needs – millions of pounds, notoriety, loyal custom – it’s deeply shameful. It appears they are prepared to listen to the huge backlash, however, and have just suspended the October date, but I’m not confident (it won’t just be delayed). Most sex workers have stopped trusting OF. Platforms such as AVN Stars and LoyalFans will, I’m sure, be taking the custom that OF once held – I will move over to these sites in the next few months.”
Yes. Also with OnlyFans it’s the first time I knew more than one trans person making over 5k a month. I knew around a dozen trans performers making 10k a month. Just who I personally knew!!— Ashley Lake (@AshleyLatke) August 21, 2021
This has never happened before, literally never that kind of community wealth https://t.co/ctDOSgrH0V
“I started using OnlyFans in March of this year. I always look for side hustles to afford living in the city while being at college and balancing a retail job. The money I make on OnlyFans is like getting a big bonus every month, which is super helpful for affording my life. Even though I wish I had more time to put into my OnlyFans page, I still make the same amount of money working a quarter of the time on OF than busting my ass at my main job.
(Banning adult content would be) stupid unless the main goal is to lose creators, users, and money. It would make no sense since OnlyFans is synonymous with porn at this point. I only create solo content so I probably wouldn’t personally be too affected by a ban – though if it did come into effect and I continued posting, there would likely be less users looking to subscribe to OF creators knowing there will be absolutely no sexually explicit content.
It’s surprising how backwards we seem to be progressing in terms of sex work. The porn industry brings in so much money, and yet sex workers are forced to find options that can lead to exploitation because there’s such a limited amount of safe spaces in which to run a business on your own terms. People will still continue to find and make adult content no matter what, so why get rid of platforms that benefit and uplift sex workers? I’m sure it can be difficult to monitor pornographic content rigorously, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to just shut down any type of sexual content. It’s important to uncover awful things that go on in the porn industry and to hold people accountable, but (it shouldn’t be at the expense of making sure) sex workers can work safely and legally.
If OnlyFans does continue with its ban, I may start a Fansly account. I saw a thread on Twitter that included a list of sites that OF workers can migrate to, so I plan to look into those as well. It’s just a shame because OF is such a well known site that brings in many users, so I’m worried that other platforms couldn’t guarantee the same amount of revenue.”
A lot of people are getting the OnlyFans story wrong, and the reality of it is a lot more damaging and concerning to both the livelihood of sex workers and online freedom in general.— Post-Culture Review (@PostCultRev) August 20, 2021
BRIDGETT, NEW YORK
“I’ve been on OnlyFans for a little over two years. (A ban would) drastically impact my livelihood as I make most of my income from online sex work – largely via OnlyFans. Online platforms – especially ones that have amassed such a large following in their antics – love to use semantics to manipulate their ‘content creators’ to appear as if they are on our side. I doubt (OnlyFans suspending the ban) is going to turn into them cancelling it, but, rather, is a way of buying themselves time.
Sex workers who have been in the industry before the rise of OnlyFans as a commercial and cultural norm have predicted, or rather, anticipated a move like this for a while. A lot of us have imagined a significant shift to the game since Bella Thorne joined OnlyFans, and a bunch of non-sex workers, celebrities, and others who don’t know what the fuck they’re doing in an online sex working space followed suit. It’s disappointing but not surprising; it’s violence against the community.
FOSTA/SESTA changed everything. When credit card processors and big banks cut ties with Pornhub, there was an expectation that the same would soon happen to OnlyFans. (The conflation between legal sex work and trafficking, much of which is fuelled by religious organisations), is dangerous, fear-mongering, and wildly inaccurate. It harms the people who are truly in danger and disables them even further; it perpetuates the stigmatisation of sex work; it eliminates the autonomy of consenting adults; I could go on, and on, and on. But ultimately, it’s harmful to sex workers and non-sex workers alike. This is when allyship is the most necessary.”
“I doubt (OnlyFans suspending the ban) is going to turn into them cancelling it, but, rather, is a way of buying themselves time” – Bridgett
“I’ve been in this industry for ten years now. My first week on webcam I earned over $7,000, which was more money than I’d ever seen at any one time. I became one of the top earning webcam models in the space, and built a large brand around myself. In 2018 I pivoted to premium social media and paywalls, which gave me the ability to build a team and launch other businesses. Right now, my team consists of five people whose income solely depends on my own – and Onlyfans, Mastercard, and NCOSE are threatening to rob me of that.
My sex worker clothing company Networthy shared profits with organisations like Pineapple Support – a mental health resource providing free and low cost therapy to sex workers – which I would no longer be able to do. My SexWorkCEO platform is entirely self-funded out via my OnlyFans income. The proposed OnlyFans ban and general censorship faced by adult creators is not just destroying us, our loved ones, and our livelihood, it’s also destroying organisations that we fund because no one else cares to.
To say that we didn’t see this coming would be foolish; we did, but we didn’t think it would happen so soon. We didn’t think legislators would apply pressure to platforms feeding so many mouths during a pandemic. We thought the heavy taxes we pay on our incomes meant we had representation in our legislation, but we don’t. And it appears we never will. Although we’re doing legal jobs, we are criminalised and punished.
I’m in the process of building creator tools for sex workers, in collaboration with my SexWorkCEO company, so that we can move and adapt more quickly to changes like this, and take our entire fan base with us in just a few clicks. What these evangelists and payment processors don’t realise is that the adult industry pioneers nearly all technology that goes mainstream. We are the innovators and early adopters; that will not change. If the ban does go ahead, we will adapt and overcome it.”
*Name has been changed