After making millions off the backs of sex workers, OnlyFans is getting out of the business.
When OnlyFans began it was marketed as the social media platform you pay for. Quite quickly an opportunity was spotted by content creators: offer sensual, sexy, and often even explicit material and have followers pay a monthly fee. The business exploded, while OnlyFans as a platform was still going back and forth on its acceptance of adult material. And now, they are doing away with much of it.
"In order to ensure the long-term sustainability of our platform, and the continue to host an inclusive community of creators and fans, we must evolve our content guidelines," OnlyFans said in a statement to Bloomberg, announcing that in October they will discontinue the posting of sexually explicit videos. Users will be able to post nude photos and videos provided they are consistent with the new OnlyFans policy.
Bloomberg writes that the changes are due to mounting pressure from banking partners and payment providers. Over the last few years these sources, as well as government and massive tech brands like Apple, Google, and Facebook, have begun an aggressive push against pornography online. Many times this has been under the guise of fighting child trafficking or pornography, though the threat of those things is often miniscule or could be otherwise mitigated.
Over the past few months OnlyFans has continually emphasized the onboarding of creators who do not see adult content as their thrust. The platform has attracted more than 130 million users. In its wake, other sites like JustForFans and 4MyFans have also launched — these sites celebrate their sex workers and see adult content as the bread and butter it is.
In Out's first investigation of fan site platforms for our November 2018 issue, we found that fan sites — a genre launched in its modern iteration by OnlyFans, which started in 2016 — were democratizing the porn industry. They put the power in the hands of performers themselves, and allowed them to create the type of content they wanted, under the terms they wanted, while reaping the lionshare of the profits. At the time, we found that some gay performers were making upwards of $30,000 per month. But as the months ticked on, that skyrocketed.
When the ongoing global pandemic hit, usage of fan site platforms skyrocketed. This followed high profile mentions in the New York Times as well as Saturday Night Live doing a spoof. Then Beyonce mentioned OnlyFans in a song and things really took off. Celebrities began to join the platform and existing performers saw their accounts swell — Reno Gold said he saw upwards of $100,000 a month. But the platform itself used this moment to solidify a pivot.
Since it's early days, OnlyFans has gone back and forth with adult content. Early on, there were times at which pornography was prohibited according to the terms of service. In fact, it was this that caused other platforms like JustForFans, which launched in 2017, to pop up. But, after things initially began to take off OnlyFans took a hands off approach to adult content. With its mainstreaming though, it began to lean into the idea that it was not for adult content, aggressively recruiting and onboarding musicians, artists, drag performers, and other creatives. The platform also began to tighten the leash on adult content, mandating that anyone who appeared in videos posted to the site have an account on it — this put the can on anonymous material which had been popular in terms of gay creators. When Bella Thorne joined the platform she made waves, bagging $1 million in 24 hours, which was historic. But later as people demanded chargebacks as they felt they had been duped, it led OnlyFans to institute to issue a series of new policies that made it harder for other creators
All of this will no doubt seem like deja vu to many as we have steadily seeing the erasure of sex-oriented spaces online. Rentboy's offices were raided which led to the closure of that company. In reaction to SESTA/FOSTA legislation, Craigslist shuttered its famed Personals section. Tumblr famously disallowed adult content in a bid to eradicate child pornography, in a bid that decimated the platform. Next month, even Xtube is shuttering. In December, PornHub purged its platform of all unverified accounts in a move that was seen as also complying with credit card processors. This follows other social media platforms upping their censorship as well.
And while these forces to eradicate sex work from digital spaces, as it is the oldest profession known to man, it's likely to prove sustainable.