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Opinion: The reversed OnlyFans content ban highlights the hurdles sex workers face

Celebrity interference and privacy concerns threaten the livelihoods of NSFW content creators
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KRISTAL MENGUC/THE VARSITY
KRISTAL MENGUC/THE VARSITY

In August, the popular content subscription website OnlyFans announced a ban on sexually explicit content on its platform. Only one week later, the site reversed its decision. 

Although the reversal of the OnlyFans ban was beneficial for not-safe-for-work (NSFW) content creators and online sex workers, there are still many flaws in the site’s culture that threaten the livelihood of those who use it to make a living. Such flaws could also impact students that may use the site as a convenient way to make money.

What is OnlyFans?

OnlyFans is a site where followers pay creators to receive access to exclusive photo and video content. Many celebrities also use OnlyFans to interact more closely with their followers. The site is not designed specifically to feature sexually explicit material, yet OnlyFans is primarily known for its NSFW content. As of this August, OnlyFans is known to have 130 million users and two million content creators.

The ban was announced in late August after financial partners that help to fund OnlyFans requested the removal of material deemed to be sexually explicit. The ban was intended to come into effect on October 1. However, after public outcry and demands made by sex worker advocates and content creators, OnlyFans reversed its ban a week later on August 25.

Due to the pandemic, many people lost their jobs and main sources of income. This has prompted individuals to seek out new ways to make money. For many, OnlyFans became a refuge where they could make money on their own time and reap large financial profits. Some OnlyFans content creators have said that the income they made from the site not only covers their basic expenses, but also covers some frivolous expenditures and the expenses of their loved ones.

The pandemic has made it extremely difficult for sex workers to continue making revenue, as public health protocols resulted in the closure of many adult entertainment venues where they were employed. Through OnlyFans, sex workers found a new platform where they could safely engage in their work and have an income even while COVID-19 rages on.

The proposed ban on sexually explicit material on OnlyFans may have caused a lot of damage for many creators on the platform. The popular sexual content on the site has helped many people sustain a source of income during the pandemic, and such a ban could have therefore eliminated large amounts of essential revenue for content creators. And although the ban has been reversed, sex workers and creators still face impediments that threaten their careers on OnlyFans, possibly threatening their livelihoods.

Celebrities divert revenue away from those who need it

One factor that is also potentially problematic for sex workers and NSFW content creators on OnlyFans is the presence of celebrities on the site. Celebrities and influencers who have large social media followings outside of OnlyFans are more likely to succeed and make more money from the site. This could be detrimental for individuals who rely on OnlyFans as their main source of income but may not initially have a large following.

Additionally, some celebrities have been criticized for their use of OnlyFans, as they have been reported to be falsely advertising expensive content. An example of this was when actress Bella Thorne was reported to have falsely advertised a $200 pay-per-view message in which she was supposed to be naked. 

Now, there are spending restrictions on the site that prevent creators from charging steep prices for their content. Unfortunately, this may also hurt less popular content creators, as they may not be able to price their content to the amount they believe it is worth. In this way, expensive content from celebrities on OnlyFans can make it difficult for smaller creators to increase the prices of their content, thus affecting their revenue.

Another issue many sex workers and NSFW content creators on OnlyFans deal with is the issue of content leaks and privacy concerns. ‘Capping,’ a practice where forbidden recordings and screenshots of paid material are taken and distributed, has caused financial troubles for many OnlyFans creators. ‘Doxxing,’ the process in which private information is published online without permission, has also been an issue. Capping and doxxing not only prohibit OnlyFans content creators from receiving their deserved income, but also threaten their existence, privacy, and security.

Students struggling financially may rely on sex work

OnlyFans has been a refuge not only for sex workers seeking digital forms of income during the pandemic, but also for university students. The nature of OnlyFans’ content subscription method paired with the possibility of making money quickly has made the platform appealing to many students. While trying to manage studies, social lives, difficulties in the job market, and high education costs, OnlyFans and sex work in general has been a way for many students to make a decent amount of money on their own time.

A study by Swansea University discovered that one in five students have considered engaging in the sex industry and that five per cent of students do end up working in the industry at some point. Evidently, the sex industry is appealing to students, but online sex work could be even more appealing as it is safer and workers have more control over their working conditions than conventional sex work methods. This appeal is then likely to impact University of Toronto students who may be struggling financially, including those already involved in sex work.

Earning back sex workersʼ trust

The increase in celebrity content on OnlyFans along with privacy concerns threaten all NSFW content creators, including those who may sit among us in our classes. Many individuals who post sexually explicit material on the site are considering using more sex-friendly platforms, such as PocketStars, ManyVids, and Frisk, to gain revenue.

To secure the confidence of sex workers and NSFW content creators, OnlyFans must demonstrate that it prioritizes the livelihoods of such people over celebrities and large financial institutions. Yet, even after the reversal of the content ban, it seems like it will be a difficult journey for OnlyFans to once again gain the trust of the people who made the platform a success. 

While the reversal of the sexually explicit content ban on OnlyFans has saved online sex workers and NSFW content creators from losing sources of income, such a move by the platform is only a band-aid solution for the large gashes which continue to injure vulnerable content creators — including university students — the most.

Thérèse Perucho is a third-year human geography, political science, and practical French student at University College. She serves as the Literary & Creative Arts deputy commissioner of the University College Literary and Athletic Society.