Starting in October, OnlyFans, which has 130 million users, two million contributors and billions in revenue will ban its creators from posting pornographic material on its site, which many sex workers use to sell explicit content. Nude photos and videos will still be permitted provided they are consistent with OnlyFans’ policy, the company has announced.
As soon as the announcement was made, the narrative quickly focused on how unfair and discriminatory this move was, with many saying that the victims of the ban would be ‘sex workers’. The BBC suggested the porn ban would be a ‘“kick in the teeth” for creators’. And one commentator argued, ‘OnlyFans grew off the back of sex workers, who found a safe haven in the platform to charge their fans for access to explicit photos and videos. Unfortunately, there remains a stigma in the world surrounding sex…’
OnlyFans is perceived as a safe, consequence-free way to sell sex and home-grown porn that ‘empowers’ women. But it is anything but. The content remains on the internet forever, and often women are publicly identified which hits them hard in later life. It also has an effect on male consumers: men are literally ordering exploitative sexual scenarios from women in order to fit their violent and abusive fantasies. To think that this can have little or no effect on men in the real world is as stupid as it is irresponsible. With many brothels closing down or going bust during the pandemic, it would be surprising if men with an eye on how to make money from exploiting young women didn’t turn their attention to OnlyFans instead.
But why has selling sex – either from behind a screen or in a hotel room – become so normalised? How did we get to the point where it is seen as regular work? Kim Kelly, author of the forthcoming book, Fight Like Hell: The Untold History of American Labour argues that ‘OnlyFans would be nothing without the sex workers whose labour built it up into a major platform. Now it’s tossing them aside, and removing a vital source of income from a population of workers who are disproportionately marginalized and have no protections under US labour law.’ But unionisation does not and cannot protect women (or men) selling sex on OnlyFans.
Prostitution apologists argue that treating commercial sexual exploitation as ‘sex work’ would make preventing ‘forced’ prostitution and trafficking easier. They suggest that by acknowledging prostitution as a legitimate form of ‘work’, prostitutes would then have access to a range of resources to protect them (such as legislation, grievance processes, or officially recognised unions). But where prostituted women are officially recognised as ‘workers’, such as in the legal brothels of Holland, Germany, Switzerland or Nevada, rates of violence, coercion and health risks are higher, and the women are not protected by so-called ‘employment rights’.
A BBC investigation found that children as young as 14 were being exploited on the site. In response, OnlyFans told the BBC it has a ‘zero tolerance policy relating to child sexual abuse material’. In the US, the vice president of the National Centre on Missing and Exploited Children revealed that, ‘In 2019 there were around a dozen children known to be missing being linked with content on OnlyFans. Last year the number of those cases nearly tripled.’
Why is OnlyFans’ potential ban on porn being lamented by so many liberals? Vulnerable young women desperate for cash are even being encouraged by universities to take up all manner of forms of prostitution, including lap dancing, escorting, and making online videos. Why aren’t they trying to financially support students and protect them from predators instead?
The sex trade, in all its forms, is made up predominantly by women, and in particular those from the most marginalised backgrounds and horrendous circumstances. How can the sex trade ever be a safe place for women, when it is built on abuse, exploitation and misery?
Despite the propaganda, only a handful of women are making millions on OnlyFans. The average earnings are in fact £120 per month and most accounts take home less than £102. Nor is the site safe, as I discovered when talking to women who have been stalked, harassed and followed home by ‘clients’ that have managed to trace them. Many of those women face psychological damage after being coerced into dressing up as schoolgirls and acting out rape and childhood sexual abuse fantasies on behalf of their ‘clients’.
However it is dressed up, OnlyFans appears to be nothing more and nothing less than a pimping site, and no amount of sanitisation will change that. Banning pornographic content is a step in the right direction. The thing to do when a woman is hungry is not to encourage her into prostitution and excuse the men abusing her, but to find other ways to put food in her mouth.
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