OnlyFans: the sex workers almost left behind
Lucy Evans explores the temporary decision by OnlyFans to ban sexually explicit content on its site and what this tells us about the societal disregard for sex workers.
OnlyFans, the content subscription site mainly used for sexually explicit content, has gained enormous popularity during the pandemic — the Financial Times commented on a growth from “less than 20m users before COVID-19 struck to more than 120m.” Despite this incredible growth, on 19 August, OnlyFans unveiled a plan to ban sexually explicit content from its site, seemingly out of nowhere. The plan was to remove all sexually explicit content by 1 October 2021.
Amongst the anger and concern following the announcement, there was one overwhelming emotion: confusion. Why would a subscription service primarily made up of sexually explicit material decide to ban it? The BBC states that OnlyFans had said the ban was due to “pressure from banking partners.” This comes after a BBC report on illegal content on the site. It is fundamental that, even when dealing with the fallout of the proposed ban, OnlyFans makes removing the illegal content on its site its top priority.
For a subscription service made popular by the labour of sex workers, the proposed ban blindsided many content creators who depend on using the OnlyFans platform for income. OnlyFans has created greater accessibility to sex work, for both users and content creators, during the pandemic and beyond. It also allows creators to become self-employed. To ban sexually explicit material would be taking this away from the sex workers who have made the platform what it is today.
The original ban exposes a larger societal issue: disregard for the labour and validity of sex work
If the plans had gone ahead, many sex workers would have lost their primary form of income. For those in this position, it could have meant financial insecurity and an enormous amount of worry regarding employment and future finances.
OnlyFans takes a 20 per cent fee from all payments to creators (most of whom create sexually explicit content), meaning that the success of the platform has mostly derived from the labour of sex workers. Sex workers have built the OnlyFans content subscription service into what it is today; the initial plans to ban all sexually explicit content from the site almost left these sex workers behind, even though they were the ones to popularise the platform. The original ban exposes a larger societal issue: disregard for the labour and validity of sex work.
The reversal of the decision to ban explicit content came six days after the initial announcement; six days which must have been incredibly stressful for content creators. The decision to reverse the ban only came after enormous online backlash in which people called out the implications of banning sexually explicit content on the site. It is vital to question whether, if this online backlash didn’t occur and content creators didn’t express their concern and upset about the decision online, the ban would still be going ahead.
We will never know the answer, but we do know that OnlyFans is going to have to work hard to earn back the trust of the sex workers it almost left behind.