Content Note: This article contains a detailed discussion of sexual violence and a brief discussion of racism and transphobia.
OnlyFans has announced plans to ban all sexually explicit content from its website as of October 1. The move came in the wake of Mastercard’s announcement that all adult content purchased through its network should be monitored, with illegal or exploitative content removed. The announcement sparked outrage. OnlyFans then decided six days later to turn around, confirming that the policy change would be “”suspended”. This series of bans and U-turns is only part of the right-wing’s battle against sex workers. The end goal is to limit their rights and rewind years of progress made in recognizing sex work as work. With risk to the entire virtual sex industry, many will have to give up remote work to engage in direct physical contact. This will only make workers more vulnerable to violence. Above all, the safety of sex workers must be a priority.
“The company has given up [workers] at the first sign of a financial threat “
Sex workers have made OnlyFans the billionaire company it is today, with net sales of $ 2.5 billion expected in 2022. The vast majority of the service’s top performers produce porn. Still, many OnlyFans employees won’t be returning to the platform since the ban and the U-turn. The company abandoned those that were so essential to its major growth at the first sign of a financial threat. As argued by a Twitter user and creator of OnlyFans, their “hard work” was used by the company to build its “notoriety” only so that those responsible would be betrayed. She advises creators to seriously think about returning to the profession.
OnlyFans has fundamentally let down its workers. The push for Mastercard came from a campaign against all forms of pornography by Exodus Cry and the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. While it may seem at first glance that Exodus Cry is only advocating the fight against sex trafficking, the Christian non-profit organization is in fact supporting the abolition of the legal sex industry. The group had immense lobbying power, leading MasterCard and Visa to stop processing all payments spent on pornographic content on Pornhub. In short, after years of progress, the sex industry is declining in stages. With the criminalization of sex work comes additional stigma. When consensual sex work is not accepted by society, a sexist culture is perpetuated as bodily autonomy is restricted by the state.
Republican politicians and Christian lobby groups have successfully cracked down on the legal online sex trade. Signed by Trump in 2018, the FOSTA-SESTA were adopted to allegedly fight sex trafficking. However, the bills are holding back the virtual sex industry, making it increasingly difficult for sex workers to continue their services. Reddit, Craigslist, and Google have already been affected by controversial legislation that seeks to censor material. These movements are part of a mission to control the bodies of sex workers, who are predominantly women. Consent is the key to this controversy. The consensual world of online pornography not only improves the authority and safety of sex workers, it also has the potential to encourage body confidence and empowerment. Sex work helps get the body back to what it is meant to be – controlled by its owner. By viewing sex workers only as victims or criminals, we forget that the production of pornographic material can be liberating and empowering for the creator.
“Criminalization of the sex trade only pushes the industry underground […] here the practice is not regulated, violence is normalized and workers are not safe ”
As a subscriber-only website, OnlyFans provides a secure and remote space for sex workers to make a living. It allows creators to choose their audiences and to have significant financial freedom; workers keep 80% of the income generated by their content. This agency is particularly important in the context of a global pandemic. As a result of sudden unemployment, many were drawn to the website to produce adult entertainment. The number of creators has grown from 450,000 in spring 2020 to more than double in March 2021. OnlyFans offers a service that can quickly generate high profits for creators. The decision to ban pornographic content from the Internet does little to protect the workers who need the service the most. Those who have come to rely on the website as their sole source of income are the most at risk. For them, street prostitution may be the only alternative. Such circumstances would be disastrous for people from marginalized backgrounds. In 2015, 41 sex workers were murdered in the United States, of which 17 were black and 12 were transgender women. Women of color and transgender people involved in the sex industry are extremely vulnerable to sexual violence. Criminalizing the sex trade only drives the industry underground; here the practice is not regulated, violence is normalized and, ultimately, workers are not safe.
Ultimately, OnlyFans’ panicked decision to block all pornographic images indicates how low priority the well-being of its workers is. This decision signaled the ignorance of the integrity of the creators of OnlyFans who advocate bodily autonomy in a safe environment. There is a myriad of data to suggest that online sex work is safer than physical labor. The internet allows sex workers to screen their clients, avoid potential violence, and gain financial freedom. OnlyFans must commit to creating a safer platform for all by self-regulating instead of announcing an outright ban. This could include introducing more stringent age verification measures by requiring the age of everyone in the videos, instead of just verifying the account holder ID.
The war on sex work continues. Attempts to de-platform creators of explicit content and destroy their secure virtual spaces will only increase the threat of violence. As with any other legal profession, sex workers have a fundamental right to personal autonomy and protection.
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