'It's Been Hell': What The OnlyFans Porn U-Turn Has Cost Sex Workers

OnlyFans said it would be banning pornographic content. Then it changed its mind. Creators have been left with serious whiplash.

It’s been quite the turbulent few days for OnlyFans – but even more so for its creators.

Just over a week ago, the content-sharing site best known for hosting adult entertainment announced that it would be banning sexually explicit content, including pornography, from its website from October.

According to its new terms of service, content creators would be able to send nude images and video, but sexually-explicit content would not be allowed.

But after a global backlash, particularly on social media, OnlyFans made a very public u-turn, suspending its decision to ban sexually-explicit content with a tweet that also thanked people for making their “voices heard”.

But content creators say the back and forth has left them reeling, after several days of their work and income hanging in the balance, and many remain apprehensive about how quickly the rug could be pulled out from under them.

One sex worker, Violet Besant from London, says the past week has been “hell” for her and other creators, as they attempted to pivot to other platforms.

Since the news broke, many people who rely on OnlyFans for their income began planning an exodus from the site.

Besant, an OnlyFans creator who also moonlights as a cam girl on other sites, was one of them.

Violet Besant: 'It’s impossible to know what happens next.'
Violet Besant: 'It’s impossible to know what happens next.'

Set up in 2016, OnlyFans is a platform that allows content creators to earn money from users who subscribe to their content – the “fans”.

Creators can receive funding directly from their subscribers on a monthly basis as well as one-time tips and pay-per-views. The site has boomed in recent years, particularly during the pandemic, when its creator base grew to 1.6 million – it now has 50 million registered users worldwide.

Celebrities ranging from Cardi B and Tyga to Bella Thorne and Megan Barton Hanson of Love Island fame have all joined in the fun with their accounts.

Content that’s nude or sexual in nature still accounts for the lion’s share of material shared on site – making its recent announcement and u-turn all the more destabilising for the creators the site depends upon.

Bessant, who turned to online sex work after seeing other friends make good money, gets 60% of her income from OnlyFans and the rest from cam sites.

“The past five days have been hell from a creator point of view!” Besant tells HuffPost UK. “Firstly, pretty much nobody has been able to make any new content as they’ve spent all their time transferring old content to new sites.

“That’s a very slow and labour intensive process. Some of these creators have thousands of videos that need uploading. So everyone is now behind with content creating. The content industry is very fast moving and to survive in it you need to be pushing out good high-quality content almost daily.”

Besant’s main income from the platform is from sexually explicit content, which would have been removed had OnlyFans had gone ahead with the ban. But she says she has already paid a considerable financial cost for the site’s U-turn.

“It’s been financially catastrophic,” she says. “No new content and having to spend all my time on admin means no income from anything other than previous subscriptions. Normally there’s custom videos to record and live streaming but I can’t do any of that because I was having to focus on securing a new base.

“So many people turned off their subscriptions when the first announcement came so that amount is significantly lower than usual,” she says, adding that some, though not all, clients have already moved to alternative sex sites – “so it’s very hard to get a picture of the true damage this has all done”, she says.

In the past week, Besant says she has only been able to make £30 while she focused on migrating to other platforms, uploading content and convincing subscribers to jump ship – although 80% of them have remained on OnlyFans.

“It’s impossible to know what happens next, all we can do is wait it out,” says Besant. “It’ll take a month before we truly know how badly this has affected the platform from our side. I think I speak for all creators when I say we are all emotionally and physically drained. Nobody has slept, everyone is scared for the future and the whole situation has made us all feel incredibly vulnerable.”

Another UK creator who offers explicit content, Gracey Kay, 32, one of the top earners on the site with takings of £1m in the past year alone, said she has been left confused and distressed about her future and the options available to her.

When early reports of the proposed changes to the terms of service began to circulate in June, Kay sent a direct Instagram message to Tim Stokely, OnlyFans’s British CEO and creator, to ask him if they would go ahead.

Stokely replied to Gracey’s Instagram message on 29 June (screenshots of their exchange were shared with HuffPost UK), saying: “No, no truth, OnlyFans was set up for all content creators and will always be for all content creators.”

Gracey Kay: 'I'm still in shock'
Gracey Kay: 'I'm still in shock'

While the u-turn has left Kay relieved, the mental harm has been done. The past week has left the mum-of-two, whose entire income depends on her OnlyFans work, completely anguished.

“I’m still in shock about what’s happened,” she tells HuffPost UK. “I was so worried. I really have put so much time effort and money into my OnlyFans. If this ban happened, I would lose all my hard work and income. Me, and other creators, would have literally zero income.”

Kay, one of the rare OnlyFans creators to make more than a million pounds during the pandemic, was left dumbfounded as to how she was going to get her more than 150,000 subscribers to move platforms with her.

While she hadn’t started migrating her account before the u-turn came, she says the situation is still “just a huge mess”.

OnlyFans suggested the change in terms was to ensure the longevity of the site. In its initial statement on August 19, it said: “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.”

Other suggested the move was designed to appease investors, including venture capitalists who might have clauses in their contracts which prevent them funding adult content such as OnlyFans, Axios reported.

As Kay sees it, “OnlyFans realised how much money they were going to lose so changed their mind.” She adds: “They should have just found a solution first.”

HuffPost UK has contacted OnlyFans for further comment – and will update this article with any response.

In the meantime, Kay – and other creators – say they are still dealing with the fallout. “It’s been so emotional,” she says, “and caused us all so much stress and lost us a lot of money as we haven’t been able to create content. A lot of creators have moved platform and are staying on the other platforms.

“I’m happy I’ve built up a huge following on OnlyFans so I will be staying, but I was so upset with the ban.”

Violet Besant echoes this. “The u-turn leaves many of us with complicated feelings,” she says.

“There’s some relief we aren’t all about to lose everything. There’s a lot of anger that they were so willing to drop their biggest client base so easily and without a second thought. There’s fears that they’ll do it again. But we will probably all continue to use OnlyFans as we can’t afford to leave and I think as a company they know that.

“We do feel somewhat guilty for staying because as a community this sort of treatment of sex workers is something we fight against. But they’ve got us in a corner and activism, such as boycotting OnlyFans, won’t feed our children.”