Why The OnlyFans Debacle Is So Devastating For Sex Workers Like Me

"Thousands of creators like me who have spent time building up our fan base, building up OnlyFans’ reputation, would be left with almost nothing."
Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

I have been in the adult industry, as a performer, a producer and most importantly as an independent for over seven years. The sex industry can be a cutthroat safari, hard to navigate as an independent model. It can also be an oasis, offering stability and safety to thousands like me.

The pandemic has really shown how true this can be. We have seen in the last year alone a migration of newbies entering the adult world from the comfort and safety of their own homes, making content on their terms and selling it at their prices. For performers, this new era of direct sales to fans has been a game changer.

I’ve been using OnlyFans for over a year now, and before that I had my own paysite, as well as dabbling in webcamming. OnlyFans as a platform really let me be in control of my own work, what videos I made, when I made them, whom I made them with.

It meant I could do sex work with more safety measures than ever before, and exactly on my own terms. It let me be fully independent. I could pay my bills and rent, and start saving up for bigger things. I finally started a retirement account, for instance, and I even started looking to invest and find other income streams.

“Sex work is the lifeblood of OnlyFans that drives people to its site.”

OnlyFans has of course been the reason I could do all this. But creators like me are not the only ones who benefited. OnlyFans has grown so much in the last year, taking in over a billion dollars. And yet it’s been around for years. Before the celebrities came on, before it was making mainstream headlines every week, it was kept afloat by the hard work of sex workers.

It’s also thanks to all the new models, those who do nudity and porn as well as those who don’t, that it was able to grow and become such a well-known brand.

Even now, sex work is the lifeblood of OnlyFans that drives people to its site. Why do so many people subscribe to celebrities when they join? Because it has established itself as a place for porn, and users are baited into hoping they’ll see topless or lewd content from their mainstream favorites.

Even if celebrities sell nonnude content, they’re still selling sex appeal and the whisper of maybe something more. Take the scandal surrounding actor and singer Bella Thorne, who joined the site last summer and quickly made millions of dollars because many falsely believed they would be buying nude content of her.

OnlyFans has been in the news more lately for the rumors ― and then an announcement ― that it was cracking down on explicit content. It happens like clockwork. It’s no secret that payment processors like Visa and Mastercard, as well as investors, don’t like adult content. If OnlyFans wants to expand on its nonnude content and gain investors, will it ditch the adult content creators to “legitimize” its brand for said payment processors and investors?

It’s a real possibility, which is why every time rumors pick up, performers get scared. Because we know we’ll be left in the lurch. Thousands of creators like me who have spent time building up our fan base, building up OnlyFans’ reputation, would be left with almost nothing. All that work we put in to build up a stable income would be gone. How do we pay our bills? How do we reassure our fans we won’t be disappearing?

For veterans like me, it means work. There are other platforms besides OnlyFans, platforms that are open about their support for the sex industry. They might not be as well known as OnlyFans, and building up our base from scratch will be hard, but it’s possible. Sex will always sell, and the success performers have seen this past year on OnlyFans shows how in demand our content is.

“How can creators trust the site not to flip-flop on us again?”

OnlyFans began quickly backpedaling. One minute it was saying we couldn’t do porn, the next it was suspending its policy so we could. Sex workers make it so much money, and after a single weekend of sex workers leaving and taking their audience with them, OnlyFans is panicking because it realizes what huge losses it’s going to take.

It might be too late. How can creators trust the site not to flip-flop on us again? Why wouldn’t we go to a competitor that promises to support us sex workers and our long-term stability? Only time will tell if OnlyFans can survive its major blunder and if creators will still use its platforms, or if we will move on and build up the next company to overtake it.

The ones who are in danger are the new models, who so far have perhaps only dipped their toes into the adult world. It’s the new performers, who during COVID-19 turned to OnlyFans as a lifeline to be able to pay their bills and survive when industries everywhere were closing down.

For these performers, OnlyFans was the halfway house where they could make adult content without the full stigma of being on a pornographic website. These are the performers who don’t have experience navigating life as a sex worker in the sex industry, and all the risks it takes.

For those with experience, this is a tale as old as the profession. We’ve seen performers on Patreon migrate when Patreon started to ban explicit content. We saw the decline of Tumblr. Yet sex continues to sell and is being consumed more than ever. There are other platforms than OnlyFans, and performers will join them if OnlyFans abandons them. Their audience will follow and continue to buy their content.

Sex work is work, and as long as there is a demand, there will be a supply. With or without OnlyFans.

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