If you managed to get through 2020 without hearing the name OnlyFans – the subscribers-only website which hosts adult content (among other, less well known, content) – then I’m impressed. The platform was already on its way to becoming a global phenomenon (thanks, in part, to a number of celebrity endorsements from the likes of Beyoncé, Bella Thorne and Cardi B), before the first wave of the pandemic dramatically bolstered its success as millions of new subscribers (both seeking and offering sexually explicit content), suddenly confined at home, signed up to the site. For many sex workers, OnlyFans has been a lifesaver, allowing them to earn an income while other job opportunities in the regular economy simply disappeared overnight.
As a sex worker of 15 years myself, I am utterly incensed by the recent announcement that OnlyFans will be bowing to pressure from payment processing companies by banning all pornographic content. Starting in October, the site will (presumably) start deleting accounts that offer sexually explicit material – no prizes for guessing who will be most severely impacted by this. Sex workers, once again, will feel the squeeze of the age-old historical social stigma, which sends out the message that their existence is not permitted.
I’ve been a stripper since 2006 and sex workers’ rights activist since 2014; this announcement is just the latest in a long line of political and legislative actions that continually seek ways to restrict, undermine and censor my right to earn an income. From the FOSTA/SESTA laws in the US, to the Marriot hotel policy on sex work, Instagram changing its community standards, UK politicians pushing forth a Sexual Exploitation Bill, Visa and Mastercard pulling out of Pornhub, raids on strip clubs and campaigns to shut them down, it’s hard not to feel like there is an all out war going on.
Stacey Clare is a stripper, performance artist, writer, activist, Buddhist, care worker, and co-founding member of the East London Strippers Collective.
Many of these policy changes are motivated by an ever growing anti-trafficking movement, and an increasing awareness of violence against women and girls. As an activist, my motivations align perfectly with these essential feminist aims. I am part of a growing movement among sex workers to stand up to violence, exploitation and abuse within the sex industry.
It may be hard to understand why someone like me, who has experienced exploitation first hand as an adult entertainer, may want to campaign for sex workers’ ability to continue earning a living from sex work. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no apologist for sex industry abusers who exploit the labour of workers who drive the traffic and bring in the income. From strip clubs to Pornhub, Babestation to escort agencies, I’ve heard every horror story you can think of from friends and colleagues who work in all corners of the sex industry.
The answer lies squarely in the two-word phrase – harm reduction. While on face value it might make sense to try and end abuses by abolishing the sex industry, the reality for us is that the opposite is true. Efforts to curb sex work make it more precarious and sex workers are denied basic rights such as access to justice. Workers cannot access their rights when their jobs are criminalised; stigma, social isolation, vulnerability and criminalisation create a perfect storm, ideal conditions for violence and coercion.
Banning and criminalising sex work only leaves us more vulnerable to the next form of exploitation that comes along. What will happen now for the countless sex workers who helped build the platform, and whose 20 per cent of all their earnings contributed to its astonishing growth? Where do they go next? Are sex workers going to be driven further towards the murky, unregulated world of crypto currency, where just about anything goes for now? And in this so-called new era of sex-positivity, why are sex workers being continuously let down at every turn?
The recent decision by OnlyFans is yet another step towards a world in which sex workers are silenced, censored, and rendered invisible to mainstream society. And while the sex working community is united in anger and outrage over the latest development, I can’t say many of us are that surprised. The writing was on the wall; OnlyFans has already revealed its true colours when it comes to sex work, and it became clear long ago that its loyalties did not lie with us.
The announcement leaves me wondering what OnlyFans is going to be without sexually explicit content – can it survive financially without the income brought by sex workers? I know one thing for sure – the sex working community will survive. Our jobs are based on survival. If only we could be allowed fair access to the economy we work so hard to sustain, then perhaps we might be able to thrive.
‘The Ethical Stripper’ by Stacey Clare, published by Unbound, is out in March 2022
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