by Tess Joseph
On August 19, 2021, OnlyFans shocked the internet, announcing a policy change that would, as multiple news outlets wrote, “ban porn.” The platform’s statement read: “Effective 1 October, 2021, OnlyFans will prohibit the posting of any content containing sexually-explicit conduct. […] Creators will continue to be allowed to post content containing nudity as long as it is consistent with our Acceptable Use Policy.” In its proposed Acceptable Use Policy, OnlyFans detailed that the banned content would include material that shows: “actual or simulated sexual intercourse, including genital-genital, oral-genital, anal-genital, or oral-anal, between persons of any sex”; actual or simulated masturbation; any “exhibition of the anus or genitals of any person which is extreme or offensive”; and “actual or simulated material depicting bodily fluids commonly secreted during sexual conduct.” As Alex Kirshner notes, the updated guidelines, while potentially ambiguous, made clear where the company was heading: overtly censoring the very adult content that built the site to a billion-dollar valuation.
It’s no secret that OnlyFans’ success is overwhelmingly due to the labor of sex workers. After all, Kirshner writes, the company’s name has become “synonymous with the adult performers who use it to sell content to their fan bases without going through the old-school porn industry.” Even with OnlyFans’ massive success—a testament to the adage that “sex sells”—several banks, according to founder and chief executive Tim Stokely, cut off OnlyFans from making wire transfers to creators, thus making it almost impossible for many of the contributors to the site to be paid for their labor.
While this explains the motivation for the change, it makes clear that OnlyFans was willing to protect its business at the expense of those whose labor built it. Thankfully, less than a week after announcing its prohibition of “sexually-explicit conduct,” OnlyFans reversed its decision in an abrupt tweet. Sex workers can and should celebrate this rare victory, but Sara Morrison acknowledges they “can’t trust that OnlyFans won’t do something like this again (the company has only ‘suspended’ the ban, which isn’t the same thing as canceling it).” Creators of the “sexually-explicit conduct” now know that OnlyFans will toss them aside when banks require that they do so. Their livelihoods (and by extension, lives) remain in a precarious situation.
We at Woodhull Freedom Foundation were outraged to hear of OnlyFans’ proposed censorship of adult content, and we are relieved to know that for now, the company won’t proceed with the ban. We know that sexual freedom is a fundamental human right, one that absolutely recognizes and centers the creativity, resilience, and efforts of sex workers.
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