‘A slap in the face’: Sex workers condemn OnlyFans ban on sexually explicit conduct

Sex worker Lucie Bell Source: Supplied

Sex workers who make their livelihoods online are in despair and disbelief after subscription service OnlyFans announced it would ban sexually explicit conduct on its platform.

Sex worker Lucie Bee had just announced to her subscribers that she was pregnant when she got the news that OnlyFans would be banning “sexually explicit conduct” from October 1st.

OnlyFans is a subscription-based website that has more than 130 million users and is largely known for hosting sexually explicit material and pornography.

The announcement was a major shock to the system for Lucie who, during the pandemic, has completely relied on online work to make her living.  

Being self-employed, Lucie is unable to take paid maternity leave. 

Before the announcement, she had been frantically planning all the content she needed to get done before her baby arrives.

“I had a plan going forward. Having kids is not cheap by any means and I am getting older,” Lucie told The Feed.

“I've worked really hard to build what I have. I want to believe that it still could be, but I really don't know. And that's scary.”

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Lucie told The Feed she's been the subject of intense trolling after OnlyFans' announcement.
Supplied

Like Lucie, Katie* -- a sex worker who requested to remain anonymous -- said she’s absolutely “devastated” by the decision from OnlyFans.

She said the policy change could mean many sex workers will have to “start from scratch” and build up their followings all over again on different sites.

“In the context of COVID, the varying levels of criminalisation globally have meant many sex workers are cut off from government relief,” Katie said.

“Having the option to work online through an established site like OnlyFans meant we could pay our rent and feed our kids regardless of whether the government deems us as worthy of financial support.”

Why did OnlyFans make this decision?

In a statement to The Feed, an OnlyFans spokesperson said creators would be allowed to post content containing nudity, “as long as it is consistent with our Acceptable Use Policy” (AUP).

According to the AUP, examples of “sexually explicit conduct” that would be banned include actual or simulated sexual intercourse and masturbation, or any exhibition of the anus or genitals “which is extreme and offensive.” 

In other words, a nude selfie may pass the platform’s moderation tests but more graphic pornographic material is likely to be removed.

The OnlyFans spokesperson said the updated policy would “ensure the long-term sustainability of the platform”. 

They added, “these changes are to comply with the requests of our banking partners and payout providers."

OnlyFans isn't the only platform to come under scrutiny. Pornhub, the world's leading porn site, has also faced backlash.

Last December, Discover, Mastercard and Visa all announced they’d suspend payments to Pornhub, following allegations that the site had hosted child sexual abuse material.

In April, Mastercard released a new policy requiring “clear, unambiguous and documented consent” for any platform hosting pornography.

Seth Eisen, a spokesman for Mastercard, told CNN Business it was not involved in OnlyFans' decision to restrict the content it would allow on the platform.

"It's a decision they came to themselves," Mr Eisen said.

The deplatforming of sex workers

Like many other sex workers, Lucie’s now trying to piece together what this change will mean for her business and her subscribers, some of whom have already paid for 12-month subscriptions.

Following OnlyFans’ announcement, she said she’s been subjected to the most online abuse she’s ever received.

“It’s just a big joke to some people, I can't tell you how many times I've been told to get a real job.

“I've been sent McDonald's and Hungry Jack's applications.

“I should have the right to work, I should have the right to exist, I should have the right to be safe.”

But OnlyFans’ policy change has been welcomed by some. Anti-pornography groups, Exodus Cry and the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), have for years advocated for Pornhub and Mastercard to change their policies. 

In a statement on its website, NCOSE said, “the announcement made by OnlyFans that it will prohibit creators from posting material with sexually explicit conduct on its website comes after much advocacy from NCOSE, survivors and allies.”

While on Facebook, Exodus Cry claimed the “drastic move” was “a step in the right direction”, adding, “underage teens have been caught selling illegal porn of themselves on the site.”

In July, OnlyFan’s first monthly transparency report said that it deactivated 15 OnlyFans accounts after finding indecent images of children on those accounts. 

However, the company stressed the reason for banning sexually explicit conduct was due to the requests of our banking partners and payout providers.

OnlyFans did not respond to The Feed’s questions regarding the claims by Exodus Cry and NCOSE.

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OnlyFans says creators will be "allowed to post content containing nudity as long as it is consistent with our Acceptable Use Policy."
Getty

As both a sex worker and a survivor of child abuse, Lucie described “the conflation” of pornography and sexual exploitation as “deplorable”.

Pornhub and OnlyFans aren’t the first sites to spark debate over the conflation of legitimate and legal sex work with allegations of child sex trafficking. 

In 2018, the US Department of Justice seized Backpage.com for prostitution ads, including ads depicting the prostitution of children.

And in the same year, Craigslist shut down personals after an anti-sex trafficking bill passed through US Congress.

Katie said she believes the de-platforming of sex workers from sites like Backpage and CraigsList pushed many into “exploitative situations”. 

She fears this could happen again with OnlyFans’ policy change.

“Once again, I am seeing screenshots of men reaching out to sex workers offering to get them clients for a cut of the earnings or pushing boundaries,” she said.

“It's really scary to have to work in this environment.”

*Name changed to protect individual's privacy

The Feed contacted NCOSE and Exodus Cry for comment but they did not respond by deadline. 

If you or someone you know requires assistance with issues of mental health, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636