The internet never forgets, especially when it comes to women.
Last week, media portal OnlyFans announced it would ban all “sexually explicit” content from its platform starting October. Largely known for its pornographic content, the announcement shocked the website’s 130 million subscribers. Two days later, it retracted the ban after mass protest from its patrons and subscribers. Many took to social media to point out that OnlyFans empowers women and provides them with a safer alternative to pornography. But is that all there is to OnlyFans? Is it truly a safe space?
The porn industry, led by the largest free streaming site Pornhub, has long been known for its oppressive, exploitative and often non-consensual nature, with multiple reports revealing the prevalence of child abuse, rape, misogynistic and sadistic content.
OnlyFans arrived on the scene in 2016 as a fresh alternative to exploitative adult platforms, allowing creators to be in control of their own content, and directly receive money from subscribers, with the website taking a 20% commission.
OnlyFans is not a risk-free alternative to pornography — it functions under the same oppressive and exploitative norms.
However, a recent report by BBC News has burst that bubble. Their investigation found that OnlyFans was letting through illegal sexual content including non-consensual acts and videos that featured minors.
Additionally, there have also been reports of its content creators being harassed, stalked and abused by their subscribers. Some of these creators have spoken out about their experience with the platform which includes dealing with rape threats and having their accounts hacked, with little to no action from the website. Unlike what many believe, OnlyFans is not a risk-free alternative to pornography — it functions under the same oppressive, misogynistic and exploitative norms of the porn industry.
Why then do so many people, even feminists, continue to defend OnlyFans?
The liberal feminist justification of OnlyFans comes largely from the concept of ‘choice’ — women who consent to work as porn artists and sex workers of their own free will are not exploited by the industry and therefore their choices must be respected and even protected. The concept is correct, the freedom to choose is a fundamental pillar of feminism and all women deserve it.
However, exploitation of bodies seems inherent to a lot of the content produced by the porn industry, and the culture that develops around it.
In her book “Down The Rabbit Hole,” Holly Madison, a porn artist who resided in the Playboy Mansion with Hugh Hefner, recalls her experience of abuse and exploitation in the porn industry that she had joined as an 18-year-old.
OnlyFans provides a platform where young women are exploited for their naivety.
It was an insight into the blurred line of consent when it came to sex work — in intimate and compromised positions, Madison was often forced to perform sexual acts with people she had not consented to be with.
Studies have found that overt sexualization of women’s bodies in porn normalizes that behaviour in real life and is closely linked to dating violence among young people. It also contributes to an unhealthy perception of sex and consent in young consumers, who are seen as being more aggressive and having lower relationship satisfaction when they consume porn independent of their partner.
Exactly. My issue with "OF culture" is how many men are now emboldened to think any and every woman is for sale at the right price. Can't tell you how many times I've been solicited on social media for sexual content or suggested I make an OF https://t.co/QsvO89alW9
— Lex ✡️IT'S ELUL📯 (@labratlex) August 26, 2021
Reports of young teenage girls joining OnlyFans through fake ID’s is a terrifying reminder of the sexual exploitation young teenagers are subject to. OnlyFans provides a platform where young women are exploited for their naivety. One 16-year-old told the BBC how she started her OnlyFans account with a fake ID after she was harassed by her classmates and forced to drop out of school. Its creator-centric algorithm has made sex work accessible to a generation of young girls who might be socially conditioned into thinking sex work is ‘easy money,’ not realizing the traumatic consequences it can have on their perception of sex and their own bodies.
This willing sexualization of and by young girls does not contribute to female empowerment — rather it plays into the patriarchal trope of female sexuality being meaningful only when it exists for a man’s viewing and pleasure.
While sex positivity is important for female empowerment, it should mean a healthy understanding of one’s own sexuality, free of the outsider’s gaze and sexual expectations that are inherent in the current porn industry.