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The problem with OnlyFans’ mainstream dream | News


This episode includes discussion of sex and pornography.

OnlyFans bills itself as a wide-ranging ‘subscription social network’ where content creators of any kind can charge their followers to view their output – but in reality its hugely successful business is largely based around sex. That emphasis only grew during the pandemic, with more and more users spending their free time online – and more people wondering about a new source of income. With the company valued at about $1bn (£720m), and celebrities like Cardi B and Bella Thorne signing up, it was hard to see it doing anything other than more of the same.

Then OnlyFans dropped a bombshell: it announced it would be barring sexually explicit content. Some observers accepted its claim that the move was forced by banks that were refusing to work with the platform in its current form, while others wondered if it was driven by a longer-term gamble that there was more money and security to be found in the mainstream. Either way, the sex workers who have built a following on the site and rely on it for income were up in arms.

Then the second bombshell came. OnlyFans announced that after securing assurances from its banking partners that it would be able to continue to operate, it had suspended its decision and would “continue to provide a home for all creators”. But many of those who use the site are suspicious that it still intends to pivot away from sexual content in the future. Meanwhile, there are many who have a more fundamental objection – claiming the website has inadequate safeguards for its users or to stop the publication of illegal content, and is part of a system that commodifies women’s bodies and plays a part in misogyny in online and offline spaces alike.

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To unpick all of this, Nosheen Iqbal speaks to the Guardian’s UK technology editor, Alex Hern, who sets out the possible reasons for OnlyFans’ initial decision and subsequent reversal, as well as reflecting on what its success tells us about the future of internet business. We also hear from Bea Dux, a content creator on OnlyFans who is leaving the platform as a result of the saga. “We are constantly exploited for what we are able to bring to companies,” she says. “Time and time again sex workers will build a platform, and as soon as it’s big enough to bring in other people and celebrities, sex workers get kicked off.”

OnlyFans did not respond to a request for comment.

Read more from Alex Hern on OnlyFans here and here.



The OnlyFans website on a mobile phone.

Photograph: True Images/Alamy

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