While all manner of businesses were impacted by the current global coronavirus pandemic, one industry that was hit particularly hard was that belonging to sex workers. Under social distancing restrictions and lockdown laws, sex workers were at a loss as to how best to continue operating - or at least that was the case until OnlyFans emerged. In pivoting to the online space, the subscription-based platform allowed users to sell access to photos and videos, many of which were pornographic in nature or sexually explicit. For sex workers, it was a vital form of income and not surprisingly, the platform rose to prominence and popularity as a result of their involvement. Now, in a huge landslide for sex workers, OnlyFans has announced it will ban sexually explicit material from October, in response to pressure from its banking partners and payment providers.
If you’re unfamiliar with OnlyFans, the website isn’t solely a destination for sexually explicit material. Boasting all manner of creators (the website says it has 2 million active creators), you’ll even find the likes of celebrities like Cardi B and Bella Thorne, among other notable names in the realm of photography and fitness. More than 130 million users pay for monthly subscriptions to such content, but an overwhelming majority of it is adult content. Unlike Instagram and Facebook that don’t allow for nudity and sexually explicit content, OnlyFans does.
But as with all subscription businesses, OnlyFans relies on relationships with banks and payment processors. As a result of this dependency, it’s now about to implement a huge change across the service as it announced that those financial companies that back OnlyFans are looking to distance themselves from pornography and explicit content online. The impact this will have on sex workers is impossible to overstate. In a recent NPR episode, show creators interviewed a woman by the name of Morgan Music, a single mum who sells explicit photos and videos on OnlyFans as a means of supplementing her day job. According to Music, “I didn’t have panic attacks in the grocery store checkout aisle - like, all of that anxiety. To have that lifted because I have, like, a savings account for the first time and have a good credit score for the first time in my life, I think it’s really hard to convey how much that means to a person’s quality of life.”
While OnlyFans is yet to disclose just how the new rules will come into affect and to whom they will apply to, sex workers are understandably apprehensive about the changes. OnlyFans has said it will ban sexually explicit content, but still allow posts containing nudity, with some questioning where it will draw the line.
Creator Kenneth Pabon told The New York Times, “OnlyFans is how I pay my rent…I feed myself from this.”