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The OnlyFans Debacle Shows That Sex Workers Deserve Better

OnlyFans has made millions from sex workers but almost decided to throw them under the bus regardless - they deserve better

By James Morley

You’ve probably heard of OnlyFans. You’ve probably seen the phrase “subscribe to my only fans”, countless times as you have scrolled through twitter. The online service that allows you to subscribe to view exclusive content has been an online megahit and is now a multi-billion-dollar company, with its value predicted to be close to $6 billion dollars by the end of this year. Throughout its existence the site has managed to generate over $3 billion dollars for creators. OnlyFans has always marketed itself as a multi-faceted website giving creators from all walks of life a platform.

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However Only Fans has not become the recognisable name it is today because of makeup tutorials or cooking classes. OnlyFans is popular because of adult content. It has become the de facto forum for sex workers and adult models to sell exclusive pornographic content to subscribers.

Sex workers are the ones who have made OnlyFans the huge success that it is today. Some of the most liked and viewed content on the site is created by sex workers and sex workers have been a key part of the platforms ability to become the international success that it is. It is sex workers and adult creators who have given the platform its place in the cultural language of the 2020s. Even Bella Thorne who has had mainstream success as an actress and model offered naked photographs as a way to increase her subscriptions on the platform.

This is why some were shocked that OnlyFans made the decision to ban pornography from its platform. However, even though Only Fans owes its success to sex workers it was always inevitable that they were going to take a decision that would negatively affect them. This isn’t because of the type of company that Only Fans is, but because our entire economic and social system is set up with complete disregard and even disdain for sex workers.

Sex workers are some of the most vulnerable and disenfranchised people in our society. Sex workers are more likely to be the victims of violence, are more likely to be discriminated against by police, and more likely to be infected with HIV. They also suffer huge amounts of economic insecurity. Sex work is, by its nature, inflexible and unstable. For the vast majority of sex workers, they are not guaranteed work and so have the vulnerabilities that come with insecure earnings. 

It is more than that though. Institutions which many people rely on in order to support themselves and their families are often hostile to sex workers and refuse to support them in a way that will help them live their lives in peace and security. Banks have been the biggest culprits of this, with there being recorded cases of them refusing to open bank accounts for, or closing the bank accounts of sex workers. Bank accounts are a necessary part of human life, being required by most landlords, employers, and credit providers. Without bank accounts sex workers are pushed away from mainstream society. In America  Congress has exacerbated this as well and OnlyFans has stated that their decision was motivated by pressure from banking institutions

These organisations endanger the wellbeing and the lives of sex workers and Only Fans’ decision threatens the safety and security of many sex workers who have been able to make money safely from home as content creators and now face the very real possibility of having to return to the streets or meeting strangers who pose a risk to their lives.

The  initial decison by OnlyFans to  ban  porn on its platform is not unique and is just one example of the establishment’s disdain for sex workers. When politics, banking, and the forums you depend on turn against you it can seem daunting, and so the fact that sex workers and their allies managed to get OnlyFans to reverse their decision is nothing short of commendable. 

This is not just a story of powerful forces using and exploiting a vulnerable group, but of that group refusing to be exploited and standing up for themselves.

It only took days for OnlyFans to reverse its decision to ban pornographic content and that was not due to investors or banks, it was due to the power of mobilisation. Social media was full of creators and subscribers stating they would leave the site and move elsewhere. Boycotts were called for and people showed that they were not prepared to tolerate exploitation. This kind of pressure, where people can impact the profitability of a company, is essential if we want to change the way our society treats its most vulnerable members.

For now, OnlyFans has secured assurances from banks that money generated from adult content will be processed, but if that were to change in the future then online activism and boycotts may not be enough to protect sex workers. Now is the time to push forward. Pressure needs to be applied even higher than OnlyFans to the banking and financial institutions that are refusing to treat sex workers with the dignity and humanity that they deserve. OnlyFans is the beginning of a struggle for respect that sex workers deserve, and though the first battle has been won it isn’t the end.

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