Last week's decision by OnlyFans to ban "sexually explicit" content not only raised questions about the platform's future, but also sparked panic among the sex workers who made it so popular in the first place.
Why it matters: OnlyFans has been a safe space for sex workers, allowing them to make a living without in-person interactions.
What they're saying: "This is something the anti-porn and anti-trafficking organizations have been pushing for, but I think it's going to create more trafficking situations," says Alana Evans, a veteran adult movie actress and president of the Adult Performers Actors Guild.
- "I have models telling me they think they have no choice but to move into full-service sex work."
Creator view: Erin Ashford is a top OnlyFans model, amassing thousands of paying subscribers since first joining the site two years ago. She calls the decision "Earth-shattering."
- Ashford had been a student and working various jobs in Arizona, and began posting adult content to platforms like Snapchat and Twitter. Some of it went viral, and she began treating her hobby more like a business. Joining OnnlyFans enabled her to pursue a "100% sustainable life" in Costa Rica, where she's built a home, a greenhouse, planted over 500 trees and has livestock.
- "I’m not the only one who will be affected by a change in my income. There are six families depending on the paycheck I give them every other week," she said. "It seems so easy for OnlyFans to turn their back on me and other adult content creators with such little thought as to the thousands of families that will be affected by this."
Backstory: OnlyFans said it imposed the ban at the request of its "banking and payout partners," but declined to answer further questions.
- Some believe the move was spurred by MasterCard's new rules on adult content, although Alana Evans says OnlyFans could have continued allowing sexually explicit content without falling afoul of the credit card giant.
- "I've met with MasterCard and they told us that their only intention was to remove illegal adult content," she says. "OnlyFans just had to do the tech work to comply, like other sites have done."
- Many sex workers initially refused to believe media reports about the change, because OnlyFans didn't post the statement on its website, and OnlyFans customer service replied to creator inquiries by saying "not to believe untrustworthy sources of information." The company formally informed creators via email on Friday afternoon, saying it would go into effect in October and that existing, noncompliant material must be removed by the end of November.
What's next: Some sex workers tell Axios they made long-term financial commitments, including mortgages, based on the presumption that they'd continue being able to post via OnlyFans.
- Most say they'll maintain their OnlyFans pages as a way to preserve contact with their subscribers, some of whom pay for private chats. But they're also searching out backup sites, many of which are actively recruiting OnlyFans models.
- Both Evans and Ashford have already created alternative accounts, but acknowledge it will take time for new platforms to earn user trust when it comes to things like privacy.
The bottom line: There is always a material risk of basing one's business on someone else's platform. Sex workers just learned that the hard way.