OnlyFans has announced that it will ban sexually explicit content starting in October. The platform was not built specifically for porn but that has grown to be its most popular and visible use case, but pressure from "banking partners and payout providers" means the company will have to leave the adult content world behind and focus solely on SFW material going forward.
The news, first reported by Bloomberg, was confirmed by the company in a statement:
Effective 1 October, 2021, OnlyFans will prohibit the posting of any content containing sexually-explicit conduct. In order to ensure the long-term sustainability of the platform, and to continue to host an inclusive community of creators and fans, we must evolve our content guidelines. Creators will continue to be allowed to post content containing nudity as long as it is consistent with our Acceptable Use Policy.
These changes are to comply with the requests of our banking partners and payout providers.
We will be sharing more details in the coming days and we will actively support and guide our creators through this change in content guidelines.
OnlyFans did not respond to TechCrunch's inquiries as to its definition of sexually explicit content or how it expected this would impact the company's bottom line.
The OnlyFans platform has become the de facto standard for independent creators doing adult content. Over the pandemic it grew increasingly popular as the adult industry, like others, had its normal operations interrupted. It has proved an invaluable asset for many creators, professional and aspiring, who used the platform to directly monetize fans without interacting with notoriously predatory established adult industry companies.
But sex work has always been risky in online operations. The practical risk of hosting illegal content means platforms must exert constant vigilance for things like child sex abuse material, malicious content like revenge porn and unwanted leaks, and everyday internet threats like piracy.
At the organizational level, however, the companies may find it difficult to scale due to the trepidation of investors and banks, both of which tend to avoid the industry in general as a "vice," much the way cannabis and sex toy startups have faced challenges. Pushback from financial backers and payment processors can effectively sink an entire business model.
OnlyFans in this case says openly that it is abandoning adult content due to exactly this type of pressure. While the company has recently debuted and promoted its OFTV app, a SFW alternative to the main OnlyFans site, and of course there are many creators on the platform who do not produce sexually explicit content, this will be an enormous blow to both the sex work industry and to the company itself. Affected creators were not notified ahead of time.
"This is going to shatter a lot of people's main source of income, the foundation of their entire business," said Tristan West, who as dreamboytristan is a top creator of adult content on OnlyFans. "Me and a lot of people have got to do a lot of work to secure our business, move our assets, move our content to another platform. It's not the end of the world, but this is a huge setback."
West noted that other platforms are finding ways to monetize adult content as well, such as Twitter adding its paid follows and sites like PornHub building out direct monetization opportunities as well. But OnlyFans holds all the cards and will need to make that transition possible.
"I'd like to see them do what's needed — it's weird that they haven't come to us and talked to us in any way," said West. "Offer a quick option to download all your content on OnlyFans — that's your asset, that's your business. That's the bare minimum that they can do for creators."
It's a serious question whether OnlyFans will be able to survive this transition in any recognizable form. The choice to abandon their most lucrative and loyal segment of customers and creators may poison the well, with others declining to rely on a platform that failed to support others. Investors, once wary of the risk of putting money into a sex-adjacent product, may now be wary of paying to board a sinking ship. That $1 billion valuation may be farther away than ever.
The obvious and immediate answer from the tech community is to operate OnlyFans or something like it using cryptocurrencies, which are generally speaking not subject to these limitations. This may represent a way forward for the next platform, but for OnlyFans it may be too late to adapt.
"Thankfully, we have a couple months," West said. "OnlyFans was the top platform in this market but they're not the only one. It's an opportunity for someone else to come around and do better for sex workers and online creators."
This story is developing and may be updated in the near future with more information.