Editor's Note: As we were about to hit publish on this story, OnlyFans announced that they would be walking back their plan to ban sexually explicit content.
We've decided to still publish this article because it's likely that these matters will come up again, as they have on multiple platforms in the past. Consider this a cautionary tale.
OnlyFans hit an all-time high in 2020. After steadily growing in popularity since its official launch in 2016, it exploded thanks to mainstream recognition, celebrity endorsement and in no small part a global pandemic that kept horny people indoors. Even Beyoncé mentioned the website in her verse on Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage” remix. This cocktail of successes resulted in the company raking in a net revenue of $375 million in 2020 and a predicted gross merchandise value of $12.5 billion by 2022, according to Axios. None of this would have been possible without the hundreds of thousands of sex workers who joined the site and permitted OnlyFans to take a generous 20 percent cut of their earnings.
There are approximately a million content creators on OnlyFans and a good percentage of these creators make NSFW content. We’ve seen the platform’s growth make a huge impact on these creators, as the more mainstream it’s become, the more subscribers flock to the site’s creators. According to Axios, roughly 16,000 creators make at least $50,000 annually and approximately 300 creators make at least $1 million annually. Creators earn money through a combination of subscriptions, private chats, tips, streams and paid posts. The company’s growth proved to be a win-win for both OnlyFans and its creators, but that’s all about to change.
On August 19th, Bloomberg announced that OnlyFans would be banning sexually explicit content starting on October 1. OnlyFans alerted its creators via email, stating “The new policy will prohibit the posting of any new content containing sexually-explicit conduct. Content containing nudity will continue to be allowed as long as it is consistent with the policy.”
OnlyFans went on to update their Acceptable Use Policy, specifying the nature of sexually explicit content. OnlyFans states content creators should not upload, post, display, or publish content to OnlyFans that shows, promotes, advertises or refers to: “Actual or simulated sexual intercourse, 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.”
These changes to OnlyFans’ Acceptable Use Policy can largely be attributed to the company’s introduction of a nudity-free app on the iOS and Android stores, a desire to attract new investors and disputes with financial companies. In an interview with the Financial Times, OnlyFans CEO Tim Stokely stated “The change in policy, we had no choice—the short answer is banks.” Stokely goes on to explain that banks, such as Bank of New York Mellon and JP Morgan Chase, forced the hand of OnlyFans by repeatedly flagging and rejecting wire transfers involved in paying sex workers. He denies MasterCard’s new payment processing policy having an impact on this decision. No matter what the primary motivator may be, it leaves a lot up in the air for sex workers who count on the platform to pay the bills.
“Not too long after joining the site, OnlyFans quickly became my main source of income,” Venus Marquez, who joined OnlyFans in 2019 after working as a dancer in NYC, shares. “I’ve made well over half a million dollars and dedicated a great deal of time and energy to the site. For over a year this has been my job and the way that I provide for my family.
“I think I can speak for a large part of the sex work community when I say that we’re tired,” continues Marquez. “We’re tired of being used to popularize platforms such as Tumblr and OnlyFans, then being kicked off and betrayed by the companies. These companies fool us into thinking we have safe spaces, only to rip the rug out from under us and leave us scrambling for our lives.”
While many of OnlyFans’ content creators are new to sex work, a good number of them have been in the industry for years. They’ve dedicated their lives to sex work and have gone through plenty of ups and downs. OnlyFans offered a safe haven from other types of sex work, which not only didn’t offer the same financial security but also hosted real dangers.
“This is going to push people back to escorting and back to the strip clubs where workers are abused, kidnapped, held hostage and killed,” Ana Dee, host of the Slutrepreneur podcast and CEO of The Horny Stoner, says. “I can attest to this because I was harassed, groped and stalked when I was at the strip club. Without safety or necessary resources for sex workers, it’s simply going to take away our human rights and it will unlawfully punish us for speaking up.”
Sex work, in its many different forms, has always and will always be around regardless of how people feel about it. Sex workers have had to adapt when their work is made more difficult and unsafe, such as when Backpage banned vetting sex work clients or when Patreon prohibited NSFW content. Additionally, social media has played a large role in censoring sex workers, who utilize apps like Instagram to promote their OnlyFans pages. “I remember feeling this way when my Instagram accounts would get deleted without warning and my sales would plummet,” Natasha Grey, who joined OnlyFans in 2017 after working as a cam girl, says. “After working so hard towards a certain goal, having it stripped from you is truly devastating.
“When I lost my Instagram for the fourth time, I chose to pursue a new career that I had more control over,” Grey continues. “That was two years ago, and now I have a cosmetic tattoo studio providing a somewhat stable income during this ‘OnlyFans Apocalypse.’ Sadly, no matter how hard I pushed myself in my tattoo career, OnlyFans was always the breadwinner, paying the bills and taking care of my extended family. If we fail to adapt, we fail to move forward, so I really hope this transition isn’t [economically] fatal for any of the NSFW creators out there.”
What remains a question is what exactly these new community guidelines will entail. There was a lot of ambiguity in OnlyFans’ initial email, leaving plenty up to interpretation. “Talk about a gray area,” Dee says. “I feel like there are certain models who just look more explicit than others. For example, if you have an average white girl with no tattoos who’s regular bodied, I feel like the guidelines are going to favor her more than the fetish girls who look more explicit. I’m not exactly sure how that will work, but they may say that a girl dressed in full latex is too stimulating for their users.”
While Ana Dee suspects OnlyFans will favor tamer content over that depicting bondage, fetishes or even heavily tattooed creators, they give most of their consideration to celebrities. Over the last year, many mainstream actors, musicians and content creators made OnlyFans accounts, with several breaking records by earning millions in mere hours. Many of these celebrities have also allegedly stirred up trouble for sex workers who rely on the platform as their primary source of income.
“When you think about it, all the celebrities who’ve signed up for OnlyFans, whether it’s Bhad Bhabie, Rubi Rose, Tana Mongeau or Bella Thorne, none of them are doing hardcore porn on there,” Adam Grandmaison, a.k.a Adam22, host of the No Jumper podcast and longtime ally of the sex work industry, says. “They’re maybe showing a nipple or sticking out their butt a little bit. I don’t think these changes really mean anything to them and realistically, they won’t be in a hurry to leave the platform.
“With that being said, I feel like they sort of stepped up some of the sex worker clout, for lack of a better term, when they went to OnlyFans,” Grandmaison continues. “We’ll have to see how cool OnlyFans seems to people given the new guidelines.”
While this change in OnlyFans’ community guidelines will lead many of its creators to pursue other careers, others will look ahead and move forward with sex work through other means. Their only choice is to adapt and persevere, which will be challenging but possible. “There are many plans to move forward with or without OnlyFans, what’s most important is you do it safely,” Dee says. “If you’re funneling customers off the platform to your new ones, you want to do it by the guidelines. I’ve already claimed my username on many new websites and I’m going to spend the next week creating profiles. Try webcamming, try texting profiles, try selling your dirty panties. There are some weeks where I make more bank with panty and sock sales than I do selling content.
“Diversify your funds; all your eggs need to be in multiple baskets,” Dee continues. “You need safety nets on safety nets. This is going to fire you up if you are an entrepreneur. So find the silver lining and get moving—time is money.”
OnlyFans’ pivot may be one of the most drastic hits to the digital sex industry thus far, but history has a habit of repeating itself. In the past, platforms such as Craigslist, Backpage, Patreon, Tumblr and even Pornhub have put devasting restrictions onto independent sex work creators. Going forward, sex workers will need to think three steps ahead and protect their bag if, or more likely when, the next platform decides to leave them high and dry.
“All of this is just a hold over until Bitcoin enables people to do what they really want in this regard,” Grandmaison says. “Once people are making these transactions through Bitcoin, it’s going to be even harder for the traditional financial companies like MasterCard to put pressure on platforms like OnlyFans. You see that transformation taking place in a lot of different businesses where Bitcoin and cryptocurrency in general are going to be part of the solution. This will prevent corporations from making moral decisions about the kind of content we consume.”
Many rival platforms to OnlyFans have already begun hopping on the Bitcoin bandwagon and even more will follow suit. If sex work content creators are safe, entrepreneurial and work hard, they’ll come out on top once again. The same, however, cannot necessarily be said for OnlyFans— whose fate is in the balance following the monumental alteration of their core brand. “We’re about to find out what happens to OnlyFans,” laughs Dee. “I think what happened with Tumblr, Backpage and Patreon, it’s a pattern. I wish them the best of luck... not really.”