Sex politics: OnlyFans bans explicit content

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The subscription-based content sharing site OnlyFans has recently backtracked on a decision it made on August 19th to ban sexually explicit content from its site. Their actions shocked many as the site gained its popularity as a platform for adult content uploaded and shared by its own users – something most other social media sites have strict rules against. 

The initial decision was met with huge protest by its users and creators, who argued that removing what had become a safe and accessible platform for sex workers to share content and be paid for their work would fracture sex workers’ client-based and force business back underground. However, others believe the ban was a step taken to protect vulnerable and underage users from exploitation. There are certainly two sides to such a debate as what can be seen as sexual liberation and financial freedom by some would be argued to be inappropriate and bordering illegality by others.

Often referred to as the world’s oldest profession, sex work has always and will always continue to exist regardless of legality or social perception

Often referred to as the world’s oldest profession, sex work has always and will always continue to exist regardless of legality or social perception, whether it be taking place in a red-light district or an online chatroom. What OnlyFans appeared to provide, however, was a new sense of control and safety – providing a straightforward platform for newcomers to use, complete flexibility as to how much they wish to work, and the benefit of pocketing the majority of the proceeds from their content. OnlyFans surged in popularity during lockdown and allowed many creators to make a small fortune, not just on subscriptions but through individual donations and private messages.

During a time of such financial and personal instability, OnlyFans quite literally paid the bills for many people as the website only takes 20% of all revenue made. This is arguably something that other websites, such as popular free pornography website Pornhub, have failed to do. Former porn actress Mia Khalifa spoke out about her exploitation by other sites, criticising that contracts signed with porn sites preyed on vulnerable young people and meant she was paid very little for what became hugely popular videos. Other criticisms pointed to unethical content and negligence regarding trafficking and sexual assault. The nature of OnlyFans as a platform, where content is posted by users themselves, puts the creator in control, because they consent to participate, and are paid comparatively well for their work.

This is not to say that OnlyFans is flawless and devoid of illegality or exploitation, however. It has been argued that the decision to ban adult content came in response to leaked documents regarding accounts which posted illegal content, and under-18s ability to use fake IDs to set up accounts, triggering OnlyFans to take action to protect vulnerable users, and themselves in the face of criticism from the children’s commissioner for England. Although claiming to prevent this content, it is unlikely OnlyFans will ever be able to make their website completely safe (as some would argue, such is the internet).

Debates on the morality of this issue will always come down to personal opinion and lifestyle

As well as this, many argue that websites like OnlyFans make sex work too easy and accessible, as although prostitution is legal in England and Wales, the concept of ‘soliciting’ (which is illegal) is hard to define and police in an online space. The same protests against the encouragement of illegal or immoral behaviour that for years have debated the legality of prostitution, or red-light districts are now being directed at the online space. Debates on the morality of this issue will always come down to personal opinion and lifestyle, but surely providing a safe online space for sex work at least prevents workers from having to use unregulated and lesser-known platforms, or literally onto the street.

With the moral standpoint of banks refusing to work with OnlyFans due to their adult content being the cause of this situation in the first place, it appears societal attitudes towards sex work are still hugely important. With OnlyFans ultimately backtracking and claiming to listen to and stand by their creators, the website is seemingly here to stay.

Image: wili_hybrid via Creative Commons.

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