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Honeypot: sex worker-led adult site
Illustration Gabrielle Lynne

Honeypot is the sex worker-led site seizing porn’s means of control

Despite OnlyFans’ backtrack on its explicit content ban, the platform remains a precarious place for sex workers – we get an exclusive, explicit look at honeypot.xxx, a new platform run by and for adult creators

“We believe that if sex workers want a future, we need to make it for ourselves,” says the collective of creators behind honeypot.xxx, an in-progress sex worker-led porn site. “Tech execs are not invested in our survival; they build their platforms with our labour and then dispose of us as soon as we’re inconvenient. We can’t trust execs to make decisions on our behalf. We need the power to make our own decisions; we need a platform that we own and govern ourselves.”

honeypot.xxx launches as a demo site today (October 10), with a video tour premiering on Dazed. The site’s creators hope it will revolutionise the way adult creators work online. Set up like a traditional content distribution site – think: OnlyFans – honeypot.xxx will incorporate new innovations that sex workers have been calling for for years – such as in-app image editing, the ability to divvy up sales so all contributors get their fair share, and new methods of discoverability. Run by sex workers for sex workers, honeypot.xxx will be collectively governed, meaning everyone involved will have their say on new features, policies, and creators’ cuts.

Although the site has been in development for two years – initially as an “insomnia-fueled codebase” by software engineer and indie porn star Delilah D’lune – the recent OnlyFans drama lit a fire under its creators. In August, OnlyFans made the sudden announcement that it would be banning sexually explicit content on the site. The decision was made because of pressure from payment providers, who were making it difficult for OnlyFans to pay its creators. Predictably, a week later, the platform suspended the ban. By then, however, the damage had been done. Sex workers – who already understood the precarity of relying on third party platforms – had lost faith in OnlyFans, and felt more galvanised than ever to stake a claim for their autonomy.

D’lune had already predicted OnlyFans’ move, so announced the project on Twitter in June – but her tweet circulated again in light of the ban. Now, honeypot.xxx – once a “passion project” – has evolved into “a rowdy international collaboration”. “There are now hundreds of people on our Discord,” the creators tell Dazed, “including contributors who are helping to write code, investigate policy, and put together a brand identity that evokes the sweet, sticky mess of collective effort.”

As honeypot.xxx’s demo launches today – it will be ready for public use in about a year – its creators sit down with Dazed to discuss what users can expect, how it will be different to traditional adult sites, and how they’ll circumvent financial discrimination by big banks.

What challenges have you faced during the development of honeypot.xxx?

honeypot.xxx: Writing code is easy, but organising dozens of volunteers? That’s hard stuff. Most of us have full-time jobs or are juggling dozens of gigs, so we only have a few hours each week to put towards the project. To use those hours well, we need to be clever about the way we organise ourselves. That’s something we’re still figuring out how to do, but we’re encouraged by the number of people who are stepping up to manage the project.

There’s also the stress of it. OnlyFans may have suspended their decision to ban sex work, but ’suspend’ is not a promising verb. We needed to release this project yesterday. Instead, we’re worried that we’ll be too late to catch people once OnlyFans really does start tossing us overboard.

Can you talk me through some of the site’s features?

honeypot.xxx: We have the usual features, of course: sex workers (swers) can upload pics and vids, users can follow swers and purchase content, and on your home screen, you get a feed of what your peeps are up to. This model works well and we don’t see a need to innovate there. Instead, we’ve been focused on usability and discovery. A lot of honeypot.xxx’s innovations stem from our frustration in trying to work with the existing platforms. For instance, none of the other platforms give us the ability to edit images in-app. Instead, we need to use third party software, which can become time-consuming. After a while, many of us simply stop trying to post nice pics. So when building our own platform, we included an image editor. It took a couple of weeks of coding but, collectively, it’ll save each of us hours of tedium. As for our users? They’ll get better content. Literally everyone wins.

“A lot of honeypot.xxx’s innovations stem from our frustration in trying to work with the existing platforms”

Another frustration many swers have with the existing platforms is the inability to divvy up sales. Let’s say two swers shoot a scene together – on other platforms, these two contributors would each upload a copy of the vid to their respective accounts. Any sales they make would be their own, which may mean that one gets three sales while the other gets 300, despite the two putting equal effort into the shoot. On honeypot.xxx, we credit everyone involved in a production, which could also include videographers, photographers, and other crew. We can then divvy up sales, ensuring each contributor gets their fair share. This transforms the competitive marketing of a shoot into a collaborative effort that will help everyone’s career thrive.

In terms of discoverability, we wanted to give users multiple avenues by which to find new content. This includes both the basics (a search bar, tags, feed notifications), as well as the ability to navigate other users’ purchases. This unconventional choice allows users to find people with similar tastes and interests, and to discover more content through their activity. Additionally, users can create curated lists of their favorite types of content, making navigating their own collection easier. Meanwhile, other users can browse (and even follow) your lists, which, again, helps everyone find more content to enjoy. For swers, this also means we can count on the platform to help us sell our content and augment our own marketing efforts. This is a significant bucking of the trend set by OnlyFans, which places the full burden of discoverability and marketing on the content creators’ shoulders.

What are the main issues you’ve faced with other content distribution platforms?

honeypot.xxx: While other platforms are generally exploitative towards swers, the nature of that exploitation varies from site to site. Typically though, it’s one of two things: first off, we have platforms like OnlyFans which were “never meant for porn”. These platforms tend to have more favorable cuts (such as OnlyFans’ 15 per cent) because they’re trying to appeal to a broader range of creators. However, swers are treated like unwelcome guests there. Our activity is hyper-surveilled, and content creators are sometimes banned for no apparent reason and with no recourse. We can pour years of labour into building a presence on these platforms, only to have it arbitrarily taken away.

The platforms that are “meant for porn” exploit swers in a different way: they gouge us. Most of these platforms are built with cheap technology, poor UI/UX, and ultimately offer few of the features we actually need. However, they charge us a premium for it, often taking cuts in excess of 25 per cent. The beautiful thing about swers governing our own platform is that we’ll get to decide for ourselves what that cut will be, how our collective funds will be spent, and what new features we’ll add next.

What influence will honeypot.xxx’s community have in the running of the site, as well as its establishment and growth?

honeypot.xxx: We’re collectively governed by our content contributors. Imagine if every porn star on OnlyFans had the power to propose new policies, to vote on them, and to join the committees responsible for transforming those policies into reality. That’s what honeypot.xxx is. The collective operates like a board of directors, defining a high-level vision for the platform and providing oversight of its implementation. At a lower level, we empower committees to implement this vision. For instance, the tech committee is empowered to write our code, manage our servers, and train new engineers to help grow the project. We have similar committees for design/branding and community management.

“The beautiful thing about swers governing our own platform is that we’ll get to decide for ourselves what that cut will be, how our collective funds will be spent, and what new features we’ll add next”

Many sex workers have praised sites like OnlyFans for allowing marginalised creators to become top earners. How will honeypot.xxx strive for this same community wealth?

honeypot.xxx: Like OnlyFans, we don’t silo our content. Which is to say, we don’t have a ‘gay’ tab, a ‘trans’ tab, or a ‘Black’ tab. In a sense, everyone has an equal opportunity to make their living through the platform, or at least, nobody is relegated to the sidelines. However, we need to contend with the fact that this industry is dominated by skinny, white, cis women, and when platforms don’t actively counterbalance that bias, it places the onus on marginalised creators, who then have to work that much harder to survive.

We have plans to feature marginalised creators on our homepage, but that also isn’t enough. We need to ensure that marginalised voices are centered throughout the decision-making process, especially since a 66 per cent majority vote will likely still favor privileged contributors. We have a new proposal in the works to address this issue, but it’ll likely only be the first step as we figure out how to promote equality on our site.

The now-suspended OnlyFans’ ban has once again shown the precarity of sex workers relying on platforms led by those who have no personal investment in the industry. How will a sex worker-led platform be different?

honeypot.xxx: Platforms like OnlyFans and Tumblr may benefit temporarily from swer contribution, but when their leadership is long-gaming for a mainstream audience, we will always be disposable. This project is founded on the simple premise that swers are pragmatic people. We’ve struggled enough to take our survival seriously, and if we had the power to govern our own platform, we would make decisions that ensure both the platform’s viability and the livelihoods we’ve built through it.

In light of big banks cutting their services to adult sites, have you thought about what payment method you will use?

honeypot.xxx: We’re undecided on whether to go with crypto. While it has the immediate benefit of circumventing the regulations put in place by financial institutions, it’ll also alienate many potential users. And that’s not to mention Bitcoin’s impact on the environment. 

The other option is to work with the regulations put in place by the banks. These regulations are clearly outlined and we’ve come up with viable strategies to meet them. This option will require extra work and delay our beta release, but may ultimately give us a larger platform on which to sell our content. The main drawback of working with the banks is that their regulations strictly prohibit hard kink. If we want to provide a platform for kink as well, we’ll need to either go full crypto or federate our codebase so that a separate, kink-friendly platform can pop up and use crypto while the main platform works with the banks.

What is your hope for the future of digital porn and the stigma surrounding sex and sex work?

honeypot.xxx: Our hope is that sex work gets decriminalised and destigmatised and, given how powerful our voice is growing on social media, we may actually see that happen in the not-too-distant future. To support us in our struggle, please continue to centre the voices of swer activists and journalists like Ana Valens, Charlotte Shane, Hacking//Hustling, and SWOP Behind Bars.

Visit the honeypot.xxx landing page here, and, if you want to get involved, you can join the creators’ Discord channel here.