OnlyFans Flip-Flops: Sex is Selling More Than It Bargained For

Jeopardizing the financial stream of pornography platforms and banks is the fastest way to enact change—it's all about the money through use of the public strong-arm

UPDATE: Onlyfans has backtracked their initial decision to remove all sexually explicit content. Read below for more information on the chronology of events.

Things aren’t as simple as sex selling anymore.

In a recent move that shocked creators and viewers alike, OnlyFans has chosen to ban all sexually explicit content. Their controversial decision comes after rounds of fund raising have proven difficult, and payment processors look to distance themselves from vice-driven content.

OnlyFans is an application that has rocketed to stardom, with particular help from the pandemic, as many strip club-esque venues have closed and people are barricaded indoors, looking for new ways to make money. Currently, the platform boasts a user base of 130 million—a figure that seems to climb a bit higher every week.

“In order to ensure the long-term sustainability of our platform, and continue to host an inclusive community of creators and fans, we must evolve our content guidelines.” —OnlyFans

In a recent interview NPR’s Michel Martin conducted with New York Times reporter Taylor Lorenz, the crux of why this change has arrived was discussed. It may seem like a moral case, where OnlyFans might be leaning towards a Patreon-style avenue of business. Paying creators for their content, allowing viewers and community to subscribe on the basis that what they are consuming is something artistic, informative, or helpful—not a motivator of vice.

While this morality blurb may end up being a side-effect of the decision to remove sexually explicit content from the platform, the move comes as a result of banking and payment processing pressure. While OnlyFans hopes to secure additional funding, investors and payment processors find it difficult to risk their money when the likelihood of child pornography and sexual exploitation is ever present. While OnlyFans claims to police their creators content with an attentive hand, it’s impossible for every video or picture to be cleared. Where pornography is present, as is the risk for sexual abuse, be it a minor or not. Therein lies the mounting pressure for OnlyFans to adjust it’s guidelines.

“It's like Burger King saying they're not selling burgers anymore.”
—Anonymous OnlyFans Content Creator

OnlyFans still plans to allow nude photos and videos, only banning content that is explicitly sexual in nature. Problem is, pornography is what the platform has gained it’s name for. As one creator has been quoted, “It's like Burger King saying they're not selling burgers anymore.” Those who’ve only heard of the app aren’t hearing about how a new up-and-coming musician was discovered, or how an artist or podcaster is making their mark. More often than not, the context of OnlyFans is discussed as a creator-friendly way to easily hop online and generate a financial stream through the performance of their naked body.

Earlier this month, on August 10th, 2021, over 100 Republican and Democrat congress members submitted a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, calling for an investigation into OnlyFans. In a bipartisan effort, they requested the Department of Justice examine “The prevalence of CSAM (Child Sexual Abuse Material) on OnlyFans, and what measures, or lack thereof, OnlyFans employs to prevent, reduce, and respond to CSAM on its platform.” Additionally, they make a particular point in requesting an investigation into how missing children are linked to content on OnlyFans, and how the use of direct messaging on the platform has lead to sexual exploitation through prostitution.

As their case is made, they establish a damning history of the platform—one that is clearly worth looking into, especially when there are 130 million active users, with more siphoning in all the time. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) states that in 2021, there were at least 80 cases where a missing child was linked directly with OnlyFans content. In one case, the arrest of two adults who were trafficking a minor was only possible when a healthcare worker saw the OnlyFans videos and reported it to police.

The fact of the matter is that when you view content on OnlyFans, it’s difficult to decipher what is happening on the other side of the camera. Often enough, viewers of this content are not so concerned with anything other than their own sexual desires and fetishes. That is what brought them to the platform in the first place. You don’t go to Burger King for the colorful bag or cheap plastic toy—you’re there for the meat.

This isn’t to condemn all of our humanistic drives toward sex—as if you were sinful for being horny. That’s natural, those urges aren’t going anywhere. But clearly, unequivocally, those drives have driven us to a place that is hurting our kids. Teaching our youth, and even us adults, that capitalizing on vice is an astonishingly lucrative business. Our fetishes and carnal hopes and dreams must be met with raw photos and video. In all that desire diluting our logic, what do we know about what goes on beyond the camera lens?

OnlyFans has long been lauded as a better alternative to traditional sex work. The metaphorical vape to the cigarette. There’s no denying when compared under that light, OnlyFans would be safer—where the performer is able to have a clear-cut boundary between the tipper/viewer and themselves. The risk of being groped on the dance floor, or sexually assaulted in the parking lot after a show evaporates when the stage is your bedroom, and you’re the only one in there. For the majority of OnlyFans performers, that is their reality—a one-person appearance controlled, earned, and dictated by them.

As the evidence is showing us, that experience isn’t the one that everyone’s having beyond the camera.

“The alarming increase of child sexual abuse material and human trafficking being promoted on the platform requires immediate attention by the U.S. Department of Justice, state and local law enforcement, and payment providers whose products are being used to purchase troubling content on this platform.”
—Lena Walther, Co-Founder of Awareness is Prevention

It isn’t so cut and dry as we like to think it should be. Minors aren’t just nine-year-old kids, where it’s abundantly clear they are a child. The words “child pornography” elicit retching reactions, and often enough our minds think of little kids that look like little kids. While that vein of disgusting, pernicious pornography sadly exists, the kind pedaled on OnlyFans is harder to determine. Sixteen-year-old kids look older than they used too, and traffickers are doing everything they can to secretly bridge that gap—or else risk being caught.

An easy pathway into career pornography will always be an even easier pathway for human trafficking. Whether we want to believe it or not, we have a critical responsibility to our children, our future, and our communities. Our inaction has just as big an effect on those functions as our action does. What we consume, what we search for, what we allow—it’s not just playing a role into the building of our society, it is our society.

Maybe to get substantial change enacted we have to suspend a platform’s financial stream. We have to maintain our principles that sexual abuse and child exploitation are illegal, and money shouldn’t be invested into something that could topple with a couple well-orchestrated law suits. While money seems to be the driving force behind the whole ordeal, at least somewhere up the line—whether it be a bipartisan letter written by 100 congress members or the fiscal decision not to invest—at least somewhere in all that, we’re holding onto those laws, holding onto the future of our children.

UPDATE: OnlyFans retracts their decision to remove sexually explicit content from their platform after intense backlash from the userbase.

In yet another stunning move, OnlyFans has chosen to suspend the decision to remove sexually explicit content from their platform. This comes after intense outcry from users, viewers, and sex workers who have been benefiting from the platform’s subscription-based distribution services.

In their announcement Tweet, OnlyFans states, “We have secured assurances necessary to support our diverse creator community.” As was clear from the outset, their decision to remove sexually explicit content was never formulated around the enforcement of content guidelines, but instead the ability to secure present and future funding. Tim Stokely, founder and CEO of OnlyFans, has previously claimed that the initial removal decision was a result of the Bank of New York Mellon, Metro Bank and JPMorgan Chase’s concern for “reputational risk”.

Worthy of note, is OnlyFans current refusal to indicate which banks have signed on and provided these “assurances” for the platform. While news outlets indicate the Bank of New York Mellon, Metro Bank and JPMorgan Chase as being weary, and even aggressive in their hesitation to support the platform, there is no present information on which bank (or banks) are putting their eggs in the OnlyFans basket. Or what Terms of Use will need to change in the future for continued financial support.

This public flip-flop has been criticized by some as being a form of strong-arming these mysterious bank investors into deciding what matters most—their reputation or their dollars. Taking their slice of a multi-billion dollar pie can’t be turned away so easily, particularly when the platform continues to grow, rising from a net revenue of $375 million last year, to a whopping $1.2 billion predicted this year.

Even still, there are some OnlyFans creators who have cut ties with the platform all together, viewing this backpedal as proof of unreliability. Some creators had even begun the process of scrubbing their OnlyFans feeds of all sexually explicit content, in order to comply with the redacted October 1st ban date. The United Sex Workers Twitter account had statements of their own on the public turnaround act.

It seems that everyone is a pawn in a game of chess being played by OnlyFans and bank executives. Whether you are a sex worker, a child being sexually exploited, or a news outlet reporting free OnlyFans publicity—the goals of substantial fund raising move forward. OnlyFans has their “assurances” and the banks will continue to horde their slice of the pie.

“The proposed October 1, 2021 changes are no longer required due to banking partners’ assurances that OnlyFans can support all genres of creators.”
—OnlyFans Spokesperson in an email to TechCrunch

Meanwhile, what changes? The platform may have lost a few creators, maybe even took a bit of a credibility hit in the process. But now they have public record of financial commitment, and are able to forever state, “OnlyFans can support all genres of creators.”

It’s difficult to tell if this was a pre-conceived plot to force banks into committing to an investment, or if it was a public relational flub that just happened to result in OnlyFans getting what it wants. On the other hand, does it even matter? The pathway into easy pornography will continue as it has been.

We still have the calling for federal investigation into OnlyFans. Just as the United Sex Workers Tweet states, “Suspended is not canceled.” While OnlyFans may have some place in society, how do we stop the advent of child pornography and sexual exploitation on the platform?

Positing a guess, the Terms of Use and OnlyFans guidelines will most likely field some revision. Additional checks will probably be enforced as the platform continues to ramp-up. It’s not enough to have single creators provide in-depth information on themselves to the platform, then feature other sexual actors in their content. Perhaps background checks should be completed, or further oversight by OnlyFans should be legally required and conducted as overtly sexual content is posted.

We seek to enforce in-depth background checks on those who purchase guns. We’re agonized when mass-shootings occur. The big difference between these two subjects is the shootings are more visceral, the carnage is a lot more visible. Sexual exploitation and child pornography happens on the other side of that camera, and it’s not just impacting the victim. Owning a gun comes with an integral responsibility—for yourself and for those around you. You have to understand how it’s used, how to disassemble it, how lethal it can be. You don’t go around waving it in everyone’s face.

Shooting pornography comes with a similar responsibility. You have to understand the psychological risk you are taking on, the impact your content can have if seen by the wrong eyes, and the reinforcement you’re solidifying within your mind and the minds of your viewers. It shouldn’t be taken lightly. Sex and emotion is incredibly powerful, and wielding it with a careless attitude allows for massive gaps. Gaps that get filled with child pornography and sexual exploitation.