Eckburg: Gen Z legitimizes sex work, so what gives, OnlyFans?

Bella Eckburg

Graphic illustration of four quadrants of the same graphic depicting abstract bodies being held by hands in pastel colors (pink, blue, green, orange, purple)
(Graphic Illustration by Rachel Macias | The Collegian)

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

On Aug. 19, OnlyFans, a content subscription service, announced that it would ban sexually explicit content across its main platform. A Twitter storm ensued. 

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OnlyFans has become synonymous with explicit content and sex workers who rely on the platform for their income while also supporting more mainstream subscription content like fitness tips. 

OnlyFans’ dip into the world of sex work came after Leonid Radvinsky, the founder of pornographic cam site MyFreeCams, bought a majority share of the company two years after it launched in 2016.

Generation Z is integral to the movement to legitimize sex work, and for many, OnlyFans’ announcement felt like a slap in the face. It’s important to examine why this decision was made, and, more importantly, why it was reversed after only six days.

First, let’s try to understand why OnlyFans made plans to ban explicit content in the first place. OnlyFans is a subscription-based service where users can purchase access to a creator’s content within the platform, and while some are looking to see exclusive workout routines by their favorite fitness guru, a majority are looking for porn. 

The porn industry is continually growing, but that doesn’t mean that the banking industry is on board. Porn is profitable, no doubt, but it comes with strings attached. 

It’s important to recognize the power in the ability to affect corporate decisions, and it says something that OnlyFans listened to us.”

Last year, a lawsuit was filed against MindGeek, Pornhub’s parent company, alleging negligence in curating the content posted and promoting and profiting from sex trafficking and nonconsensual sexual encounters. 

The lawsuit alleged that MindGeek was aware of the unethical and dangerous actions of the GirlsDoPorn company and ignored the situation to continue profiting from the partnership, thus allowing GirlsDoPorn videos to circulate on Pornhub. GirlsDoPorn employees and owners were charged with sex trafficking crimes in 2019.

As a result of this lawsuit, huge companies like Visa and Mastercard pulled their support and announced they would no longer process payments to Pornhub through their cards. In short, banks don’t want to risk being liable for potentially illicit activities. 

OnlyFans hosts a plethora of unique content creators, and a lot of the company’s fortune is a result of their support of sex workers; however, they still need to be mindful about what the most profitable move for the company is and if that move includes explicit content.

A laptop
A laptop sits with the OnlyFans logo open Aug. 30. (Michael Marquardt | The Collegian)

OnlyFans supports sex workers, but sex work is hard to regulate, and ethical issues can arise, which is a concern to investors and banks. Tim Stokely, the CEO of OnlyFans, recognized this.

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Despite this valid concern, many feel that OnlyFans was quick to sell out their most loyal users for profit, forgetting that sex work is what put them on the map. 

Gen Z is hugely responsible for challenging the stigma surrounding sex work, and the internet has played a role in facilitating this move into normalcy. OnlyFans, naturally, was a key component in the movement to legitimize sex work due to its recognition and acceptance of all creators, regardless of content. 

Despite rescinding its ban on sexual content, many users voiced their newfound distrust for OnlyFans and its exploitation of sex workers to gain profit and popularity before discarding them and their loyalty. 

The damage is done, and the sex work community is still grappling with uncertainty.

There is something to be said, however, about the community’s impact on the final decision following OnlyFans’ announcement. Gen Z is not only legitimizing and respecting sex work but is asserting control over the market and demanding the same respect be upheld within corporations. 

Gen Z hosts a group of powerful voices that are more than capable of creating and advocating for change, … and we should be proud of this ability.”

It’s important to recognize the power in the ability to affect corporate decisions, and it says something that OnlyFans listened to us, but it could be argued that the decision’s reversal was purely to save face and profit. Either way, OnlyFans listened, and sex workers can continue creating content on the site. 

Decriminalizing sex work would assure the rights of sex workers are protected and allow them to maintain control over their content as intellectual property. Additionally, it would mean that sex workers would potentially be protected from human trafficking. 

Gen Z hosts a group of powerful voices that are more than capable of creating and advocating for change, as seen in this case, and we should be proud of this ability.

Bella Eckburg can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @yaycolor.