Conventional payment methods have never been friendly to sex work. PayPal and Venmo regularly shut down sex workers’ accounts due to “suspicious” activity, porn giant MindGeek was recently incapacitated by credit card companies pulling from the platform and major banks like Chase have even made keeping cash a challenge for those it believes engage in the profession.
Now, OnlyFans has become the next adult platform to announce that it’s turning away from sexually explicit content in the hopes of appeasing banks and investors (though according to Bloomberg, creators will still be able to post nudes). OnlyFans has yet to confirm the announcement as the sort of porno purge it seems like, but no matter — sex workers and adult industry professionals have always feared this day would come.
“Not to be constantly right, but we KNEW that this OnlyFans apocalypse was coming,” adult content creator and sex worker Lydia Caradonna tweeted the afternoon of the announcement. “This is history repeating itself. The platform was not intended to be explicitly sexual — the creators were simply happy to let sex workers do all the work of making it relevant.” That last part couldn’t be better said — though sex workers have made OnlyFans the $1 billion platform it’s becoming, they’re more than happy to leave the millions of creators who rely on them in the dust (in a pandemic, no less).
Cryptocurrency, with its decentralized structure and ethos, could be a more welcoming solution. Over the last year, several smaller cryptocurrencies have emerged with this exact thinking in mind: Sex workers need a new, safe way to store their earnings, and customers need a private way of purchasing their services. It’s not an entirely new concept — sex workers have accepted crypto since its beginning — but still, the fact that it offers independence from traditional banking bears repeating. The only question is whether the adult industry is ready to take it on.
As it stands, it does seem to be trying. NaftyToken and xxxNifty, two separate currencies with the shared goals of solving the adult industry’s payment issues and combating piracy, have recently launched to serve the porn and sex work communities. Both are purchasable tokens on PancakeSwap, the largest decentralized exchange marketplace, and each offer a platform for adult models to sell content as Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs).
“How it works for our creators is that basically, they get the same cut as with OnlyFans — they get 80 percent of the profits, and we take 20 percent,” explains Ben Fraden, the Chief Marketing Officer of xxxNifty. “So it’s lucrative for them to just throw up a couple of images or videos on the platform and see if it sells… our model is, we put up one image, you can sell it once and it’s gonna sell for $400 or something.”
NaftyToken’s NFT market, NaftyArt, functions similarly. Both are also expanding in other ways, too, with Nafty offering their own OnlyFans-esque content subscription service, and both currencies launching adult-friendly social media platforms late last year.
Despite the news about OnlyFans, Dillon and Fraden feel optimistic for the opportunities that will emerge in its absence. “This is one of the big driving forces behind the Nafty ecosystem,” Dillon tells me. “OnlyFans and other platforms are at the mercy of the credit card companies, which are increasingly moving the goalpost of what is allowed and what isn’t. Credit card companies can shut a site down without reason, and the site’s business is dead overnight. With crypto payments, this isn’t an issue. They aren’t owned by a bank. It’s decentralized. The power is going back to the people and not these major financial institutions.”
xxxNifty hopes to offer a similar space for adult content creators. “We’ve actually been building an OnlyFans-type platform we want to roll out around when OnlyFans bans explicit content,” Fraden explains. “I would say this is a really good time for adult content creators to try out the crypto-powered adult sites because the main reason why sites like OnlyFans are removing adult content is due to credit card vendor regulations.”
To wit, many sex workers who’ve familiarized themselves with crypto and sex-work friendly platforms have found themselves better prepared for OnlyFans-style content sweeps. Polyannie, an online adult content creator, says she’s been using OnlyFans for two-and-a-half years, and that it’s her main source of income. But while having her content scrubbed will have a “huge impact” on her life, she’s been diversifying her income streams since last year.
“I’ve been making NFT’s (Non-Fungible Tokens) since September 2020 and exploring cryptocurrency,” she tells me, explaining that she sells them on xxxNifty. Some months, she says, she’s made more money selling NFTs through xxxNifty than she does on OnlyFans. “I feel like the future of adult platforms are going to be a mix of NFT marketplace, crypto-enabled, as well as subscription sites,” she tells me.
Similarly, some creators may soon be turning to adult subscription sites like JustforFans (which was created by sex workers) and ManyVids, both of which accept Bitcoin and other forms of crypto. Meanwhile, Pornhub now accepts 16 different kinds of cryptocurrencies as payment, though none are adult-centered. Because of the December 2020 crackdown on Pornhub by Visa, Mastercard and American Express, it remains unable to accept credit card payments of any kind; yet, even with its full crypto pivot, it’s still one of the most popular porn sites on the internet. Theoretically, OnlyFans could do the same, but right now, they exclusively require credit card payments.
After all, as Fraden points out, OnlyFans doesn’t have a viable market without porn. “It would be like how Tumblr is now where they took off all the adult content, and now no one’s really that excited about it anymore,” says Fraden.
Still, that hasn’t been enough of a reason for OnlyFans to move into the crypto space, or apparently even stay in the adult industry. Fraden and Dillon have both been awaiting a major disruption in the current payment system of OnlyFans, like the one MindGeek experienced last year, but until the platform experiences a similar disruption in credit card payments, it’s unlikely they’ll be quick to join the crypto boom. Presumably this kind of disruption is precisely what OnlyFans is trying to avoid by seeking mainstream financial backing in the first place.
As creators figure out where to host their content next and sites work to attract them, cryptocurrency is undoubtedly part — though certainly not all — of the picture. As Caradonna pointed out on Twitter, a more enduring and significant solution would be to fight the stigma and misinformation that allows sex work to be criminalized. But until then, crypto could be a small, difficult-to-trace soldier in a much larger war.