This week we learned that OnlyFans will be taking the bold step of removing sexually explicit content from its site. The stated reason for this seismic business model shift was that “banking partners and payout providers” had requested it.
OnlyFans is a site that allows social media influencers to post their own content and get paid for it. Why would people pay for something that can be found on Instagram for free? Well, because OnlyFans has historically been far more permissive regarding explicit content. It picks up where Instagram leaves off, allowing users to follow their favorite social media stars into their more private moments. This can land anywhere from hanging around in the nude, to bathing, to having sex, solo or otherwise. There is a spectrum in terms of how explicit the content can get. Thought, it’s safe to say that OnlyFans qualifies as a porn site.
OnlyFans Vs. Porn Sites
There is however a huge difference between OnlyFans and other sites like PornHub, which typify the mainstream porn industry at large. While OnlyFans allows its creators to maintain control over their content and activities and even set their own membership prices, the mainstream porn industry is horrifically exploitative, forcing performers (especially those who are young and female) into positions of almost complete powerlessness.
Talent scouts seek out girls who’ve just reached the age of consent and reel them in with promises of fame and fortune and an easygoing, even fun work environment. But with the exception of a handful of elite performers, most porn stars find a starker and more grueling reality as they continue into their new careers. Many live from shoot to shoot, have little control over the content of their work, and as their careers progress, find that the performance requirements become more and more extreme (read: unwanted, degrading, and even violent). After all that, most porn careers only last a year or two, with very little to show for it.
Erotica in the Light of Day
Contrast this with the freedom to do whatever one wants on camera and get paid for it. The difference is obviously night and day. Any argument over the moral correctness of the concept of porn itself is irrelevant. The staying power and pervasiveness of porn as a medium has proven itself time and time again. The notion that it can be banned outright is as naive as it is absurd. The question becomes what do we want the industry to look like. Do we want to hold it in the shadows and pretend like it doesn’t exist to make people feel comfortable? Or do we want to allow it into the light of day, where we can see that those involved are being treated well.
OnlyFans has apparently made its choice. It has decided to reject the model that made it so successful in the first place. What’s more, in making a play for the moral high ground in an attempt to appease its financial partners, it has actually given up any claim to that ground.
The Wrong Direction
OnlyFans built a thriving business on the backs of its creators. These creators flocked to the platform for the promise of autonomy and agency over their lives and bodies. These creators also did the marketing and sales to build up their own bases of followers. These followers were then exposed to the platform as a whole. Many creators were able to thrive on OnlyFans, collectively earning $4.5 billion over half a decade.
Not everyone was able to make it as an OnlyFans performer. But as a criticism of the concept itself, this falls short. In both mainstream porn and on OnlyFans, there are varying levels of success. For some, the business doesn’t work out in the end. But only in the OnlyFans model do all the performers maintain control of their very selves. If there is any moral argument to be made about porn, this is it.