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I Produce Adult Content on OnlyFans. Their Ban on Porn Will Hurt Me.

OnlyFans has announced that in October the site will ban adult content. Sex workers like me who depend on the platform for their livelihoods will be hit the hardest.

OnlyFans will prohibit sexually explicit content beginning October 1. (Sheldon Cooper/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

If you browse through OnlyFans’ social-media advertising, you’ll find a sea of TV personalities, influencers, and fitness instructors. But you won’t find a word about the community and content that built OnlyFans into a platform worth more than $1 billion. Sex workers are the core of OnlyFans’ success, as the company was recently forced to concede after a backlash following their announcement of a ban on adult content.

After OnlyFans was founded in 2016, many sex workers turned to it as an alternative to traditional sex work. The platform offers creators greater autonomy and charges a lower commission on earnings than other digital options. In 2020, 2 million creators and 130 million subscribers generated $2 billion in sales, of which OnlyFans took a 20 percent cut. Adult videos and photos make up the vast majority of this content.

As the company announced on Saturday last week, from October 1, OnlyFans will prohibit sexually explicit content. Creators will have just two months to remove existing content that breaches the new policy.

The changes will leave hundreds of thousands of sex workers like me worse off financially. And some will be exposed to danger and abuse as they are forced into traditional sex work or porn studios, which are often underregulated or criminalized.

Credit Card Companies Against Exploitation?

OnlyFans claims that its rapid growth forced the site to rely on major banks and payment processors like Mastercard and Visa. The company argues that these financial institutions have forced OnlyFans to impose the ban.

In a statement from April this year, Mastercard outlined new standards and requirements that adult content websites will need to meet in order to use their service to process payments. Adult content will require stricter proof of “clear, unambiguous documented consent” as well as documentation proving the age and identity of producers and sex workers. Mastercard claims the new requirements are designed to fight sexual exploitation and prevent exposing children and minors to abuse.

This, however, is not the whole story. In recent years, conservative organizations such as the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) have stepped up a campaign demanding that credit card companies bar adult websites from using their payment services. NCSOE — formerly known as Morality in Media — was founded in the 1960s as part of a religiously inspired backlash against liberalizing attitudes toward censorship. Today, it still advocates for banning all pornography.

NCOSE’s president, Patrick A. Trueman, has previously worked for the American Family Association (AFA), a famously conservative, anti-choice organization whose work — in its own words — involves “combatting the homosexual agenda.” AFA recently organized a campaign against breakfast cereal manufacturer Kellogg’s after the brand participated in Pride Week.

In August 2021, NCOSE listed Visa among a “dirty dozen” companies that are “facilitating or profiting from sexual abuse and exploitation.”

This puritan push has gained broader support. Last year, the New York Times published an article accusing MindGeek, Pornhub’s parent company, of hosting and profiting from child pornography and revenge porn. Subsequently, Mastercard and Visa investigated the allegations and withdrew their services from Pornhub. In response, Pornhub deleted 78.5 percent of its existing content and now offers cryptocurrency as the only payment method for their premium service. Visa has subsequently reinstated the use of its services to a small number of MindGeek’s companies.

NCOSE celebrated the victory in a post to their website addressed to supporters, praising “advocacy from passionate defenders of dignity like you.” NCOSE credited their victory to a “cunning strategy and the brave survivors who used their voices to expose this exploitative and abusive industry — steps we believe will truly help cripple online pornography forever.”

Mastercard and Visa’s support for survivors of violence only goes so far, however. Both companies still allow vendors of firearms and assault weapons to use their services.

Puritanism 2.0

The attempt to purge the internet of adult content didn’t start with OnlyFans. In 2017, Visa and Mastercard suspended payment processing services to the adult social-networking site FetLife.

Then, in 2018, Tumblr and Patreon banned sexually explicit content. The move scattered producers across disparate digital spaces. Social media sites Instagram and TikTok have also cracked down on accounts that promote sex work, prohibiting users from including links to OnlyFans pages in their profiles or content.

The OnlyFans ban on adult content is worse, however, because it will directly deny hundreds of thousands of sex workers income.

Some articles have focused on a few OnlyFans creators who earn annual salaries in the millions. This is a misleading representation of the realities of online sex work. Most creators on OnlyFans did not join to expand their huge online empires. Most sex workers on OnlyFans earn just enough to support themselves and their families.

Although OnlyFans is acting under pressure, the company is not a victim. OnlyFans could implement a rigorous method for ensuring that all content was filmed and posted with documented consent. They could also shift to alternative payment processing services, following the lead of sites like AdmireMe.VIP and FetLife.

Whether OnlyFans’ decision is born of a desire to avoid administrative costs or is part of a broader shift toward investor-friendly content, it is motivated by profit. It will come at the expense of the sex workers who made OnlyFans into a billion-dollar platform.

As safe online spaces for sex work close down or become more restrictive, some sex workers will be forced to migrate to street-based and brothel-based sex work, which can be more dangerous. So far, OnlyFans has not acknowledged this consequence of their decision to ban adult content.

Statistically, sex workers are overrepresented among murder victims. The lack of regulation and the criminalization of sex work often prevents survivors of sexual abuse and exploitation within the industry from coming forward. Many workers fear losing employment and face stigmatization from their communities if they do so. We also know that LGBT, immigrant, disabled, non-white, and inexperienced sex workers are among the most at risk. According to Trans Murder Monitoring, between January 2008 and September 2017, 62 percent of the 2,609 reported victims were part of the sex worker community.

Of course, OnlyFans is not free of problems. However, for many sex workers, it is a far safer alternative to face-to-face work or traditional porn studios.

Indeed, the pandemic created an influx of new OnlyFans subscribers and content producers. In the name of opposing abuse, the OnlyFans ban on adult content will expose many vulnerable or inexperienced sex workers to danger, abuse, and exploitation.

A Personal Toll

I first joined OnlyFans in 2020, during the pandemic. I was recovering from a suicide attempt. Due to chronic illness and my struggle with poor mental health, it wasn’t possible for me to work a nine-to-five job. But I still needed financial freedom, autonomy, and security.

When I started producing paid content on OnlyFans, I didn’t expect to make the minimum payout of twenty dollars. Within the first few months, however, I was listed in the top 10 percent of creators. I was earning as much as I did in my previous job. And let’s be clear: I wasn’t filming fitness regimens or cooking. I was making porn.

This income meant that I could afford mental health care, pay for my medication, and move closer to my family after my suicide attempt. It also gave me enough free time to begin studying at university.

For the first time, I felt in control of my life.

Now, the October deadline is looming, threatening to leave me jobless. Congested welfare services and insufficient unemployment payments offer little comfort. I’m not sure what I — or my community — will do.

One thing is clear, however. We need to fight to defend sex workers against conservatives who weaponize the stories of survivors and hide their puritan agenda in the guise of defending victims. And we need to call out companies that will throw their workers on the scrapheap to defend profits. If they have their way, sex work and pornography will not end — but they will force sex workers to face hardship and danger.