The Online Sex Work Revolution
Despite being around since only 2006, content subscription-based service OnlyFans has witnessed a recent spike in popularity and growth. Since the beginning of lockdown, the NSFW website has grown from 350,000 content creators to over a million, with an additional three thousand new creators joining the platform each week, according to data by Influencer Marketing Hub.
Established in 2016, the site was created for all types of content, including cooking and exercising. Five years later, sex work has become the dominant content offered on OnlyFans and what it’s most associated with too. Content creators charge viewers a subscription fee to consume their work as well as receive additional complimentary tips during live streams. Although OnlyFans takes a whopping 20% of a content creator’s earnings as per its revenue model, many have taken to the site to solve their financial troubles during the global lockdown, choosing to reclaim their autonomy in hardship and simultaneously destigmatising the taboos around sex work.
Although precise numbers are unavailable on income generated by OnlyFans creators, a Jubilee Media experiment found out the figures hit six digits. “I’ve made six figures, a lot of six figures. And I don’t know any other field of work that would pay me this type of money,” shares Zamara, an OnlyFans creator and ex-Trader Joe’s employee.
Sex work is among the oldest professions that exist across the globe. Yet, the stigma is still there. It’s worth noting that while many have found a way to turn OnlyFans into a sustainable stream of income, plenty others haven’t met with the same level of success. As a result, the attempt has led some to experience adverse effects in their personal lives, such as unemployment, court custody cases, or even housing discrimination. According to Dr. Lauren Rosewarne, a Social and Political Science Professor at the University of Melbourne, society still has a long way to embrace and normalise sex work fully and may never reach that point.
A Guardian article visits how the adult entertainment industry has reshaped and evolved due to coronavirus-induced global lockdowns and how most have turned to the internet to make money.
But what are the disadvantages of this line of work?
Testimonials by creators have revealed that although the platform is excellent for those trying out sex work, it is not friendly to individuals who have worked in the industry professionally. One recurring theme is how OnlyFans keeps from having in-person work, such as flagging the word ‘meet’ in conversations. While this is definitely helpful to protect some users, it can hurt those making a living off their careers.
Unsurprisingly, OnlyFans is not the only site that has had a growth spurt during the past year. Forbes highlighted that many cam sites reported a boom in traffic since the lockdown was introduced, including Stripchat, which has seen a 25% growth in the US and Italy, 20% growth in Germany, and 15% growth in the UK, Spain, Russia, and France. Another site, ManyVids, reported a daily video sale increase by 7.5%.
So why is it stigmatised when there is such high demand? In many parts of the world, sex work remains illegal and criminalized. While places such as Amsterdam, New Zealand, Australia, Canada have legalized sex work, it is still looked down upon in many other regions. Currently, it is illegal to work in the sector across the US, except for Nevada and hopefully New York soon.
Given the minimal societal acceptance and absence of law reform in sex work, individuals in sex work – either for survival or mere pleasure – are inherently categorised at the lower end of the societal structure. Historically, migrant sex workers were excluded from migration statistics until the early 2000s.
Terms in the media such as ‘prostitute,’ ‘whore’, or ‘hookers’ are also degrading and can paint a horrid picture of sex workers.
Ultimately, this criminalisation can create health and safety problems for those in the industry. The law barrier can make it hard for sex workers to report violations that can perpetuate incarceration, physical or sexual abuse, and endanger their health and safety. This stigma prevents sex workers from having fundamental human rights and being able to feel safe in their careers.
The stigma also makes sure to hide the grievances that come from the adult entertainment community’s deaths from the acts of violence they constantly deal with. Social isolation is another gravely missed consequence of such societal exclusion. Meanwhile, perceived attitudes towards male sex workers are a whole other non-existent dialogue. Findings from a study by the BMJ last year highlighted the lack of resources and aid programmers available to support male sex workers and the need for targeted education on the matter and effective risk reduction strategies.
Sex work and sex trafficking – is there a difference?
Although stereotypically sex work has often been confused for sex trafficking organizations, there is an unmistakable demarcation. As defined by the Open Society Foundation, trafficking is the encroachment of basic human rights by using tactics such as abduction, coercion, deception, exploitation, and threats to force someone into situations or a lifestyle they do not want to be in. On the other hand, sex work is an agreed-upon transaction between adults on the act of buying or selling a service that does not violate their human rights. Essentially, consent, or lack thereof, is the difference.
For any level of progression with societal acceptance, it’s essential to start with this fundamental distinction to advocate for better protection of sex workers and normalize alternative livelihood sources. Following the recent male violence against women here in the UK and the US, it’s crucial now more than ever to converse on consent and victim-blaming for not only womxn that are visible but also the unseen individuals – sex workers.