OnlyFans can’t just dump us”: Sex workers are finding freedom in cryptocurrency

As OnlyFans creators gear up for the platform’s sexually explicit content ban, the adult industry is looking at blockchain technology. Watch out, tech bros. From CumRocket to Nafty, porn is pioneering real-world crypto use.

I’m struggling to get my head around it,” says 35-year-old Hannah*, an adult performer from London. It’s 20th August, a day after news outlets began reporting that OnlyFans will be banning sexually explicit content from October onwards. “[Adult entertainment] is a massive, massive industry. They’re cutting their nose off to spite their face.” Still, Hannah’s hesitant to lean into the online outrage at the news – after all, at this point, OnlyFans is yet to release an official statement verifying the headlines. Until I hear anything from them directly, I’m taking it with a pinch of salt. It may just be a rumour.”

Not long after Hannah hangs up the phone, an email from OnlyFans lands in THE FACE’s inbox: Effective 1 October, 2021, OnlyFans will prohibit the posting of any content containing sexually explicit conduct.”

Meanwhile, in California, Jeff Dillon is watching as emails from OnlyFans creators flood his inbox. He’s the Chief Communications Officer at Nafty, one of a few emerging cryptocurrencies that are purpose made for the adult industry. They’re looking for alternative solutions,” he says of the creators who may soon be pushed off OnlyFans. They’re looking to diversify their income and put their content in a safer place.”

Nafty launched its crypto token at the beginning of July this year. Already, the company has expanded to include erotic NFT platform NaftyArt, subscription service NaftyTV and payment solution NaftyPay – think PayPal, but for adult purchases made with Nafty tokens. Two weeks ago, they also launched NaftyFans, which is basically a crypto OnlyFans. It was really just perfect timing,” says Dillon. But Nafty’s rise aligning with OnlyFans’ fall wasn’t necessarily just down to luck. “[The OnlyFans ban] was rumoured. If you look at a lot of adult message boards, there were actually betting pools on when OnlyFans would start restricting adult content, because of news articles that started coming out [about underaged creators]. When the media come after a site like that, eventually they’re going to feel the pressure.”

HANNAH, 35

So what was the catalyst for both OnlyFans’ ban and the emergence of adult crypto tokens, such as Nafty and Elon Musk-endorsed CumRocket? Traditional banks.

OnlyFans’ original statement said that the platform’s planned changes are to comply with the requests of our banking partners and payout providers”. Since then, the company’s founder Tim Stokely has directly addressed the issue, telling The Financial Times that we had no choice” when it came to changing OnlyFans’ policy, specifically calling out Bank of New York Mellon as having flagged and rejected” transactions associated with the company, making it difficult to pay our creators”.

This means that the banks that deal with the platform’s finances are unhappy about their services being used for adult entertainment. Considering the fact that content creators have earned more than $5 billion via OnlyFans, this might seem wildly unproductive. Money is money, right? Not if you’re an old school banker with traditional values. In fact, those in the adult industry are more than familiar with the financial hurdles banks put in place to trip sex workers up.

In the years that I’ve been in the industry, I’ve had numerous mainstream bank accounts and two different PayPal accounts closed, because they don’t like sex work,” says Hannah. She’s registered as self-employed, hires an accountant to keep track of her books and pays VAT, but no matter how many hoops she jumps through, she continues to be pushed out by banks because of her profession. The banks’ rules often create a catch-22, declining Hannah’s applications to create a business account because they don’t recognise her job to be a feasible business, but then penalising her for using personal accounts for work transactions after declining previous applications.

It’s incredibly frustrating,” she says. HMRC recognises what I’m doing. They’re quite happy for me to give them money every quarter. Why then, as a bank, are you saying I’m not a viable business?” Even before rumours about OnlyFans’ shake-up began to surface, headaches caused by situations like this had already prompted Hannah to look into moving away from traditional currencies.

LACEY LONDON, 26

California-based Lacey London, 26, has been producing content for OnlyFans since 2017 and decided to make the jump to crypto after a few friends signed up to Nafty earlier this year. Like Hannah, she’s well-versed in the ways that traditional banks can make life difficult for adult entertainers. What people don’t actually understand about payment processors like Visa and MasterCard is that they don’t just take your account down, they tell us what we can and can’t post,” she says. According to London, Dillon and Hannah, if these banks and services object to certain words or types of content on creators’ platforms, they’ll simply refuse to process the payments. With Nafty, our fans can pay us on a payment processor that we know is stable and legit, and we don’t have to worry about having to censor ourselves as much.”

For Dillon, this was the main impetus behind Nafty’s creation. The biggest issue that we’re trying to solve is that of credit card companies unfairly putting rules in place for legitimate businesses, constantly adjusting these rules and shutting people down arbitrarily,” he says. This decentralised finance solution means you’re not really beholden to the rules of credit card companies. You can release whatever kind of content your audience really wants. Because even if you do all these things [that traditional banks request], they might change those rules in two seconds, and then you wake up one day and they’ll shut you down. Your business is dead overnight.”

OnlyFans already appears to be backpedalling from last week’s announcement, assuring sex workers on the platform that they are working around the clock to come up with solutions” and pointing fingers at banks. But it might be too little too late. Both content creators and their fans are already investigating crypto alternatives, tired of operating on platforms that put profits above the needs of those actually generating them.

Our fans want to know we’re getting our money, they want to know we’re happy with the companies we’re working with,” says London, whose customers have happily followed her from OnlyFans to Nafty. If companies aren’t going to respect or value us, then we should be able to tell our fans, Hey, we don’t like this company, come to one we do like.’ I’ve got so many of my fans that are like, Don’t worry, I’m going to sign up. You haven’t lost me,’ and that’s extremely comforting.” Not only could OnlyFans lose creators from its change of policy; customers are likely to move too. Within 24 hours of the sexually explicit content ban announcement, sign ups to Nafty had increased by 500 per cent.

LACEY LONDON, 26

In a more savvy move, NaftyFans has built migration tools that allow creators to transfer their content from OnlyFans to the platform with a couple of clicks. It costs creators nothing to put their content on another platform and diversify those revenue streams,” says Dillon. While both Hannah and Lacey London make money from various adult platforms, many OnlyFans creators who might have joined as it became mainstream and, to some extent, normalised sex work over the past few years, are yet to explore other options.

I think now they realise that it’s not the time to have all their eggs in one basket, because that leaves them extremely vulnerable,” continues Dillon. Will they completely leave OnlyFans? Probably not. But you can’t rely on just one of these platforms. You need to have your own website, you need to have various forms of payment on your site and you need to be involved with various platforms.”

It makes sense that the adult industry would be one of the first to adopt cryptocurrency for real-world use. As Dillon notes, many of the online services we take for granted today were pioneered by porn. Adult video streaming services paved the way for sites like YouTube, instant messaging was born out of consumers’ desire to interact with performers, the first real-time credit card verification software was used to sell Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee’s sex tape. Before iPhones, people thought we were crazy, trying to sell videos on people’s phones,” says Dillon, who has worked in adult entertainment for two decades. Now, up to 75 per cent of videos are consumed on mobile phones.

It’s a very exciting time,” concludes Dillon, citing the pandemic and the subsequent surge in the popularity of OnlyFans as the fuel that accelerated the adoption of cryptocurrencies in the adult industry. The momentum has shifted and this is just another step in the advancement of technology, in which the adult industry is currently leading the way.”

For creators like Hannah and Lacey London, a move to crypto is an opportunity to have more autonomy over both their careers and finances. We always get the rug pulled from underneath us. When platforms make the money and are ready to go mainstream, they dump us.” says London. We need to move people to decentralise. We have to show [platforms like OnlyFans] that they cannot just make money off us, while we don’t get anything at the end of it. And it’s imperative that we do this quickly.”

*Name has been changed to protect their identity.

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