The news hit August 19th: OnlyFans, which might as well be called OnlyPorn, was banning sexually explicit photos and videos. Apparently Axios released a report the same day saying that “OnlyFans, the online creator platform known for its adult content, is struggling to find outside investors,” because “sex sells, based on company financials leaked to Axios, but it also scares off venture capitalists.” OnlyFans’ response? Fuck over around half of their two million content providers: as of October 1, the site will ban upload of “sexually explicit content,” and all sexually explicit content must be removed by Dec. 1, or “by any other date.” Some nudity will still be allowed “long as it complie[s] with OnlyFans’ acceptable use policy,” but no one has clarified what that acceptable use policy will be.
OnlyFans had become known as a safe haven for sex workers, “especially,” says Hollywood Reporter, “those from underrepresented backgrounds who may have struggled to get work in the traditional adult film industry.” Its membership exploded during the pandemic: in December 2019, The New York Times reports its user base as 17 million. Now, it’s skyrocketed to 130 million, and those users ain’t there for behind-the-scenes content of from their favorite chef. The vast majority of its content creators are what Vice calls “bona fide sex workers—many of whom rely on earnings from the platform to survive.”
As the site exploded, becoming what Wired dubs the “premiere adult subscription site online, drawing users from all corners of the internet,” it attracted many content providers from marginalized communities. “This is nothing short of catastrophic to thousands of survival sex workers, the vast majority of whom are Black, Indigenous, brown, queer, mentally ill, disabled, fat, single parents, undocumented, and unhoused,” Anshuman Iddamsetty, a 38-year-old nonbinary creator, said. “If this was any other industry, we would report it as a staggering number of people being laid off across the planet.”
While they say they only earned “modest” amounts, it was enough to help “stabilize my life after being laid off from my previous job in tech.”
But some stand to lose far more.
“I know 10 or 15 trans people making over $10,000 a month on OnlyFans,” Ashley, an organizer with SWOP (Sex Workers Outreach Project) Behind Bars, told The New York Times. “And I’ve never known more than one trans person making that much a month in full-service or porn or anything. It’s taking folks from barely homed to having a savings account.”
Why We Need Sex Sites
People wave away Craigslist ditching its popular “personals” section, Patreon dumping its adult content, and Tumblr purging its porn, Reddit removing forums related to prostitution, Yellow Pages erasing its escort services. But these venues all provided a safe space for sex workers to congregate — off the streets. Much of this turns comes back to FOSTA-SESTA: the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act. The bill “conflates sex trafficking with sex work” and gins up a federal crime of “punishable by up to 10 years in prison, to operate ‘an interactive computer service’ with ‘the intent to promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person.'”
Sounds good, right?
Sites like these, including OnlyFans, served several purposes. They provided greater safety for sex workers: researchers found that Craigslist ads, specifically, allowed women to move their work indoors and screen for safer clients, leading to a staggering 10-17% reduction in “female-victim homicides.” These sites also moved sex workers off the streets by giving them a digital platform to earn money: the most important concern for OnlyFans. When FOSTA-SESTA showed signs of passing, Lola, a community organizer with Survivors Against SESTA, told The Daily Beast that, “The small, niche corners of the internet are being hit the hardest, which also means the most marginalized communities are being hit the hardest” — exactly what’s happening with OnlyFans’ ban. “I’m already hearing stories of trans sex workers getting ready to go back on the stroll, where they may face more violence, harassment, and, especially, abusive policing,” she continued.
How many sex workers will go back to the street because of OnlyFans?
Who OnlyFans Punishes
OnlyFans exploded because of its sexual content. That’s not new. It happened when Tumblr banned porn and when Patreon ditched its adult content. Companies cited their “pressure from payment processors” like Visa, Mastercard, and PayPal. While they float those justifications, often the real reasons have much more to do with making sites more acceptable to investors and giving them a shot at becoming apps. Sex workers and adult content creators build a site up, then find themselves tossed out. Iddamsetty calls it “the ongoing gentrification of the internet.” The Daily Beast cites Snapchat as an example: it was popularized by sex workers, and now it’s cracking down on sex workers’ accounts.
It’s no coincidence OnlyFans exploded during the pandemic. Sex workers saw their in-person clients bottom out. People were stuck at home with nothing — and no one — to do. And with most of the adult content coming from small-scale creators such as Iddamsetty, the income it provided allowed many, like content creator Jasmine told Wired, to survive the first year of the pandemic. User TrapCry says that when Covid started to limit hours in his health-care job, OnlyFans was “a lifeline.” “Utilizing OnlyFans stabilized my finances aIt’s no coincidence OnlyFans exploded during the pandemic.nd kept me in the green throughout the year,” he reported.
Now Delta’s raging, and their income’s been yanked.
As The New York Times says of the vast majority of adult content creators on OnlyFans, “For some people, an extra $250 a month is the difference between making rent and being evicted, which renders that income indispensable rather than supplemental.”
It’s Not Just Small-Time Earners In Peril
The New York Times reported on OnlyFan content creator Gia the Smutty Mystic, who saw her in-person clientele disappear when COVID-19 hit. She’d just signed a lease on a $4,000 a month San Francisco apartment exclusively for seeing clients and panicked. But after a year of sustained effort, she’d become one of OnlyFans’ top 0.5% of content creators, earning enough to buy her way out of her lease and purchase some luxuries like an ergonomic desk chair. She’s metaphorically fucked now.
So is Allie Rae, who quit her job as an ICU nurse to make six figures a year on OnlyFans. She remembers setting up her account in September of 2020: “I posted a couple of photos and by the end of the day, I had 20 subscribers,” she said to The Daily Beast. “So, I posted every day—or every other day—and by the end of our first month, we’d made $8,000, which surpassed my monthly nursing salary. And it was COVID, so it wasn’t the most pleasant time at work.” As of August 14th, 2021, when The Daily Beast ran her profile, Allie Rae was raking in $65,000-75,000 a month. She has three children, and luckily enough socked away to see her through this.
But that’s not the case for many of the adult content creators OnlyFans is leaving behind. Silfy, a 30-year-old from Dallas, told Bloomberg that she relies on the site to pay her bills. These are the people OnlyFans closing will gut: people who rely on the site for their basic income. That’s not an insignificant number of people — primarily those from marginalized communities. While right-wing groups pat themselves on the back, while Visa and Mastercard and PayPal silently push for less porn, while investors shy away from sex, real people living on the margins will be harmed. Many will be forced to build brand-new followings on other platforms. But others will inevitably go where many sex workers find themselves when every other avenue dries up: the street.
A Better Ending
On Wednesday, August 25th, OnlyFans shared a tweet saying that they “secured assurances necessary to support our diverse creator community and have suspended the planned October 1 policy change.”
The Los Angeles Times said that a spokesperson for the company told them in a statement that the changes in policy “are no longer required due to banking partners’ assurances that OnlyFans can support all genres of creators.”
Hopefully, OnlyFans will remain a safe (and profitable) space for sex workers.