OnlyFans, the content subscription platform, announced earlier this month it would be banning sexually explicit content beginning in October. The platform has since reversed that decision following public outcry, but the reversal may only be temporary.
The company originally stated on Aug. 19 that the changes were made to "comply with the requests of (OnlyFans') banking partners and payout providers."
But the decision to ban sexually explicit content, which is the very thing that gave the site any profit to begin with, is furthering the notion that sex work is a taboo profession.
Sex work is labor and valuing profit over workers is a dangerous precedent for digital media companies putting themselves over their users.
In a tweet last week, the company said: “We have secured assurances necessary to support our diverse creator community and have suspended the planned October 1 policy change. OnlyFans stands for inclusion and we will continue to provide a home for all creators.”
If the platform truly valued its creators, however, it would not have instituted the ban in the first place. OnlyFans creators believe banning sexual content on the site will soon become permanent. In an interview by The Guardian, sex workers believe this reversal is fleeting.
“Considering that they’ve said ‘suspended’ the ban — not that they aren’t going through with it — I think they’re going to go through with the ban in a few weeks’ time,” said Lola Hunt, a Melbourne-based sex worker.
The instability of the site has caused many sex workers to move their content to other platforms like PocketStars or ManyVids, which follow a similar subscription-based model.
Banning adult content on OnlyFans is also not a good long-term business decision for the company. In 2018, Tumblr placed a similar ban on explicit adult content, which Vox said led to “sustained user outrage and internet-wide fears that [banning adult content] would mean the death knell of the platform.”
It’s also easy to blame the iOS App Store’s restrictions for OnlyFans’ decision to ban sexual content — in fact, it’s the reason Tumblr banned “adult content”. Tumblr’s previous decision to do so is an ominous reflection of OnlyFans’ sexual content ban.
These bans serve as reminders to preserve the sanctity and safety of sex workers.
Let’s get one thing perfectly clear: sex work is work, and workers deserve to be paid and protected.
In light of COVID-19, as OnlyFans has risen as a source of income and safety for sex workers — who all too often face both digital and physical danger — ideas of sex work and labor have become more commonplace, and rightfully so.
For many sex workers, COVID-19 has been a destabilizing force for their health and financial security. Sex workers run a higher risk of virus transmission, as many jobs require physical intimacy or in-person interaction. Strip clubs have closed, and many sex workers have had to shift industries altogether.
As the fate of OnlyFans is wobbly, we should support sex workers where they’re at — on and off of the platform. Consider donating to the Sex Workers Outreach Project, a national social justice network dedicated to protecting the “fundamental human rights of people involved in the sex trade and their communities, focusing on ending violence and stigma through education and advocacy,” or to sex workers directly.
We also recommend reading up on the fight to decriminalize sex work, as reported by Human Rights Watch, a step towards a future in which sex workers are free from arrests, fines, and will “guarantee them full human rights as workers in America.”
You can support the decriminalization of sex work by opposing FOSTA-SESTA. The bill package, which consists of the U.S. Senate’s Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and the U.S. House of Representatives counterpart, Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), has been responsible for the removal of content pertaining to sex work from websites like Craiglist and Reddit, a prescient force in OnlyFans’ almost-removal of sexual content.
Before we officially make OnlyFans persona non grata, let’s continue supporting sex workers on the site, on their new platforms and beyond.
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