OnlyFans sex workers like me deserve respect – not appropriation and exploitation

·4-min read
‘OnlyFans is not the only platform designed to mediate digital sex work – but it was the best’ (Shutterstock / Postmodern Studio)
‘OnlyFans is not the only platform designed to mediate digital sex work – but it was the best’ (Shutterstock / Postmodern Studio)

Last week, on 20 August, all OnlyFans content creators received an email notifying us of changes to the site’s “acceptable use” policy, prohibiting the posting of any new content containing “sexually explicit conduct”. In doing so, OnlyFans is officially shutting its doors to the sex workers who made it the $1bn site it is today.

This will affect not only the income of people like me who have created content for OnlyFans, but will also likely result in riskier business models. It’s a lose-lose situation.

OnlyFans is not the only platform designed to mediate digital sex work – AdmireMe and Adult Work are among others – but OnlyFans was arguably the best.

It has a user-friendly site, has historically handed the majority of profits back to its creators and allowed sex workers a safe platform for doing business. Unlike its competitors, since its creation OnlyFans has gained mainstream popularity and name recognition as it trended across social media sites. The subsequent fame allowed many safe entry into sex work. Until now.

Those of us who had not previously chosen sex work or the pornography industry now find ourselves effectively upstream without a paddle. It is not only income we will lose from OnlyFans change in policy – but security that kept our content and our bodies safe.

In the last year, with the world locked up, many have turned to online sex work – whether seasoned sex workers looking for Covid-safe ways to maintain their income, or (like myself) completely new to the industry. Our reasons for going into sex work don’t matter; like any work, there should be no need to justify trying to pay rent or make a living. Other jobs don’t demand an explanation to society, or to those trolling Twitter telling OnlyFans creators to get a “proper job” come October.

Although judged differently, sex work is in many ways no different from any other job, it is often equally demeaning, exploitative and can be boring. I quickly realised it contained a lot of mind-numbing self-promotion and admin, just like any other freelance gig. I see the tips I’ve made on OnlyFans as no different from those I have received on a bar shift if I wear a low-cut top and screw on a smile.

All work sells the body for capital in its own way. But no other role experiences the glamourisation and discrimination that sex workers have to endure. OnlyFans is not the first company to profit off those who chose “alternative” methods to make a living. Tumblr, Instagram and Twitter have all garnered social media users thanks to explicit content, only to ban, block and shadow ban those creating it, upon reaching the mainstream.

It did not come as a shock that OnlyFans has turned its back on a community of content creators to appease its banking investors. It is one in a long line of businesses guilty of hustling the platform – and I’m not just talking about digital media.

Hollywood often appears to profit off the stories of sex workers, amid accusations of disrespecting their work and halting their income. The blockbuster stripper hit, Hustlers, starring Jennifer Lopez, although based on a true story, was criticised for failing to respect the people involved. The production team was even accused of failing to compensate some of the dancers it fictionalised, or of reimbursing the time of dancers put out of work while filming took place.

Few films do more than glamorise the sex industry, showing gorgeous women with designer purchases – and using the dangerous aspects as thrilling plot devices. Which is what makes current release, Zola, a rarity; as its raw, problematic and vulnerable characters refuse to glamorise or demonise sex work.

Zola is tragically unique in its unflinching depiction, which recognises that sex work is not an aesthetic for businesses to pick up, profit off and then discard. Like any job, it is a role worthy of respect. And while there are many that profit off the lives of those in the sex industry, very few of them respect the work they glamorise.

The culture of sex work is constantly appropriated, repackaged and branded as a fantasy lifestyle, while society deems the “sex” part immoral.

The most fashionable thing to do is buy Perspex platforms and enrol in a pole dancing classes, but you can still turn your nose up to those whose work uniform this is. Everything about sex work is appropriated for mainstream consumerism and yet sex workers are still perceived as living on the edge of society.

The clothes are desirable, the stories should be made into movies, but the people – according to companies like OnlyFans – are disposable; when we have every right to be respected, appreciated and our bodies and livelihoods protected.

In a world of precarious work, why should sex work be treated any different?

*The author is writing under a pseudonym

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