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Siri Dahl was in a hair appointment on Aug. 19 when she found out the news: OnlyFans, the platform that she relies on for 90 percent of her income, would be banning sexually explicit photos and videos beginning in October.
But Dahl, a creator and adult film star, didn’t find out from OnlyFans. Instead, she got a text from another journalist she hadn’t spoken to in several months, asking, Have you heard?
“Without even having any context, I instantly, absolutely knew,” Dahl says. “OnlyFans had made an announcement. I just knew it.”
She quickly went to Twitter, refreshing her feed to look for articles and any more information on what OnlyFans was doing. She also received a screenshot of the emailed announcement OnlyFans had sent out to media, which stated that “sexually explicit conduct” would be barred from the platform, but nudity — so long as it complied with OnlyFans’ acceptable use policy — would be allowed.
“It doesn’t surprise me that they would rather just blindside all of us simultaneously,” Dahl says. “It has this effect of making us frozen and unable to really make any decisions about anything because of the vagueness that they’re approaching it [with].”
By Aug. 20, OnlyFans updated its acceptable use policy to clarify “sexually explicit conduct” as actual or simulated intercourse, including “genital-genital, oral-genital, anal-genital or oral-anal, between persons of any sex”; masturbation, “material depicting bodily fluids commonly secreted during sexual conduct” and “any exhibition of the anus or genitals of any person which is extreme or offensive.” Content that falls under OnlyFans’ definition of sexually explicit conduct must be removed by Dec. 1 “or by any other date” communicated to users by the company, according to the policy.
But regardless of how OnlyFans decides to enforce these new rules, sex workers who spoke with The Hollywood Reporter say it’s a cycle they’re all too familiar with: a platform gets popular and makes money off the backs of sex workers, only to seemingly abandon those creators later when they get too closely associated or feel pressure from outside business partners.
It’s a similar situation to when Tumblr banned porn and the crowdfunding site Patreon started suspending the pages of adult content creators in 2018, citing pressure from payment processors. MasterCard, Visa and PayPal have also cut ties with PornHub, forcing performers to find alternative payment options for their work.
When OnlyFans first arrived on the scene in 2016, the platform was praised for being a safe haven for adult content creators — especially those from underrepresented backgrounds who may have struggled to get work in the traditional adult film industry — to monetize their work, even though they had to give up a 20 percent cut to the platform.
But with Thursday’s announcement, OnlyFans pointed to requests from banking partners and payment providers as the reason for the upcoming rule changes around sexually explicit content. The company has been struggling to find outside investors at a $1 billion valuation, as Axios reported, and upcoming changes from MasterCard, which said it would implement stricter rules around porn and require performers to verify their identity, among other changes, have only added further complications to OnlyFans’ ability to seek investors.
“Banks and other financial partners are introducing more controls. We want to ensure the sustainability to our business and the move we are making makes us more acceptable to these people,” Guy Stokely, OnlyFans’ head of finance, told the Financial Times.
In a statement sent to THR, a spokesperson for MasterCard said the company only found out about OnlyFans’ decision through news reports on Thursday. “It’s a decision they came to themselves,” the spokesperson said.
But by catering to the requests of financial partners, sex workers who spoke with THR say OnlyFans is placing many sex workers back in a financially precarious position that they had previously gotten out of because of the platform.
“There is a power dynamic that’s not often talked about. It’s almost like OnlyFans created some amazing things and we’re partners and making it great. But the reality is, we can’t create the same structure when they pull the rug from underneath us,” Jet Setting Jasmine, a psychotherapist, sex worker and content creator who runs a production company with her partner King Noire, says. “We can’t approach a bank as a sex worker and create this structure for ourselves.”
Creators and policy experts say evangelical and lobbyist groups have long pressured banking institutions to penalize adult entertainment creators, even though the work they are doing is legal, under the banner of trying to end human trafficking or child exploitation.
“Pornography has been declared separate from prostitution since the People v. Freeman in 1988,” Sinnamon Love, a veteran sex worker, Black feminist pornographer and founder of the BIPOC Adult Industry Collective, says. “This is a legal industry. The ways in which these anti-porn lobbyists are trying to equate pornography with prostitution and pornography with exploitation is really trying to roll back a federal [ruling].”
Mike Stabile, a spokesperson for the Free Speech Coalition, says that banks and credit card companies are “uniquely positioned to be vulnerable” to influence from anti-porn lobbyists and evangelical groups because they are conservative and “risk averse” institutions.
“It’s already a sector of the economy that is very wary of being associated with sex work at all, and so if these groups can come in and add in some language about trafficking, if they can add in some language about illegal content, it doesn’t take much to move that needle,” Stabile says.
If anything, having fewer options to make income may push sex workers into riskier situations, according to the Adult Industry Laborers & Artists Association.
“Those who are safely making an income online through OnlyFans now may be forced into riskier street-based sex work or even pushed into sex trafficking all because of MasterCard’s anti-sex work policies,” Mary Moody, the co-chair of AILAA, says in an email.
Some sex workers have turned to cryptocurrency as they find themselves shunned by traditional banking institutions. But without traditional payment options to help show proof of income, sex workers find themselves at a disadvantage when applying for government assistance or housing.
“Even if you are only making $140 a month on OnlyFans, being able to prove that gives you the access to other resources that you might need,” Love says.
And when it comes to day-to-day income, creators who have come to rely on OnlyFans to pay for housing find themselves in limbo as they wait for OnlyFans to provide more clarity on their upcoming policy changes.
“It’s pretty terrifying,” Dahl says. “I bought a house [earlier this year]. So I’m sitting here going, Cool. Am I going to lose my house?“
Billy Procida, a comedian and host of The Manwhore Podcast, says OnlyFans used to cover his rent in New York City. “If they say we can’t do any sex acts, I don’t know if I should keep doing my OnlyFans or not,” he says. “I don’t know what kind of income I will make.”
In the meantime, there is one thing creators can do as they wait for the OnlyFans saga to resolve: diversify their following and online presence. It’s the exact same refrain TikTok users repeated when the threat of a TikTok ban in the U.S. appeared imminent.
“It’s not smart as an entrepreneur to have all of your eggs in one singular basket,” Amberly Rothfield, a model marketing consultant who has been in the adult industry for more than 16 years, says.
Love has recommended other creators make SFW websites so that clients and fans can sign up for mailing lists and continue to seek them out elsewhere if they eventually must leave OnlyFans because of the explicit content ban. Advocacy groups like the BIPOC Collective are also having educational programs in September that will help creators navigate the changes and expand their presence elsewhere.
“The adult industry will figure it out. That is what we’re good at doing,” Rothfield says. “We have to be because we keep getting persecuted.”
As for the viewers?
“People will follow the porn. They always do,” Jasmine says. “That’s how we got here, right?”
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