Despite reversal, the OnlyFans explicit content ban further stigmatizes sex work

The emotional and physical labour of OnlyFans creators should not be disregarded.

A person looking at the OnlyFans homepage on a laptop. They look disappointed and worried.
Sex workers are not disposable — they deserve to be treated with respect. PHOTO: Gudrun Wai-Gunnarsson / The Peak

By Victoria Lopatka, Staff Writer

OnlyFans is a subscription-based platform with “130 million registered users and over 2 million creators.” Users pay for subscriptions that give them access to creators’ photos and videos. Though OnlyFans is not explicitly for sexual content, the platform has become synonymous with such content in the public eye. On August 17, OnlyFans shocked users and creators by announcing it would ban “sexually explicit content,” but after a few days of backlash, they reversed the ban. The ban and unban was not only a slap in the face to individual adult content creators who built OnlyFans up to what it is today, but it strengthened stigma around sex work.

When asked about the reason behind the initial ban, Tim Stokely, CEO of OnlyFans, told the Financial Times, “Banks have refused to work with the company due to ‘reputational risk,’ alluding to [ . . . ] users who sell explicit content.” This refusal manifested in transactions being flagged and rejected by banks. Stokely framed the ban as protecting creators from not getting paid properly — but if they’re banned, they’re not getting paid at all, Mr. Stokely.

Adult content creators put OnlyFans on the map next to other big players in the porn industry like Pornhub, making it a household name for anyone looking to make or purchase adult content. 

But OnlyFans repaid such creators by introducing guidelines that would drastically affect their income. These guidelines stem from concerns about profit and the stigma around sex work  —  the tired, old argument that sex work is “immoral,” “dirty,” and “not real work.”  Sex work isn’t dirty because sex itself isn’t “dirty,” and it is definitely real work as it involves both emotional and physical labour, just like other professions

For those who have their own negative beliefs on sex work, we get it: you watch adult content, but for some reason, still hate adult content creators, and were jumping up and down in excitement about the idea of hundreds of thousands of creators being laid off. 

If you think “selling your body” is an “immoral” concept found only on OnlyFans, I hate to be the one to unpack what athletes, firefighters, military personnel, and personal trainers do with their bodies for their paychecks. Put simply, people have a right to bodily autonomy, and they should be able to exercise this right in all careers.

How much collateral damage is acceptable in such a rebrand before consumers and viewers begin asking some hard questions? OnlyFans is important, both as a means of income for creators, and a place of rebellion against stigma and anti-sex-work sentiments. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many have turned to the site to keep afloat financially. Sites like OnlyFans can also push back against a society that stigmatizes and excludes sex workers, normalizing sex work as a real job option. 

We cannot pretend things are fine just because the ban was reversed. Creators lost subscribers, income, and peace of mind. Imagine if your boss told you that you were going to be laid off then a few days later said, “Never mind, you can still work here for now.” You would likely feel unappreciated, insecure, and disposable.

If OnlyFans cared about its adult content creators and saw them as a valuable asset, this flip-flopping wouldn’t have occurred. Adult content creators on OnlyFans deserve respect, and they should be seriously considered during major decisions.