“I’ve always been into exhibitionism,” says Matt, a gay 26-year-old London resident and OnlyFans performer who goes by the handle @teninchlondon.
The exhibitionist trait started once he realized he was better endowed than the average man, and began receiving positive feedback from others.
“I’ve always been into showing off because of my size, pulling it out and watching all the guys stare in wonder,” he says. “OnlyFans took that into a league of its own, allowing me to share my exhibitionist adventures with the world.”
In November 2019, Matt joined OnlyFans — a popular subscription website, particularly with people in the adult film business — as a content creator, although he didn’t take it as seriously at first.
“I started it as a hobby,” he says. “Obviously with COVID and going into lockdown in March 2020, it became a bigger focus when there wasn’t so much other stuff to do.”
As governments across the globe began issuing social distancing orders and imposing lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19, Matt found that he had more time on his hands to post photos or videos of himself engaging in sexual acts on OnlyFans — always with his face hidden, to protect his privacy.
He began amassing thousands of followers and the trend continued even as the United Kingdom began loosening its COVID-related restrictions.
Matt estimates the money he brought in from subscriptions to his channel was about $15,000 to $16,000 over a year, although the amount he earns varies month to month based on his fan’s payment plans and how frequently they renew their subscriptions. He noticed a heavy influx of subscribers as the pandemic raged on.
“It felt like the user base…completely exploded as a result of the pandemic,” he says.
Two weeks ago, OnlyFans upended the online sex industry with the announcement that it would begin prohibiting creators from posting content showing sexually explicit conduct on the site, beginning in October. Nudity would still be allowed, but videos or pictures showing sex acts would not.
At the time, the London-based company said it decided to ban sexually explicit content in response to pressure from banking partners and payment providers, who became concerned after a BBC News investigation found that moderators were more lenient and gave multiple warnings before trying to shut down channels that were more popular among subscribers.
The investigation also revealed that some people under the age of 18 had manipulated age verification procedures in order to post explicit videos and sell them, a violation of the site’s policy prohibiting content involving minors.
From Matt’s perspective, the site’s age verification process seemed reasonable and sufficient to filter out underage users. He had to submit a copy of his passport to launch the account and was required to reupload it earlier this year. The site also required him to work with a facial recognition tool that was supposed to be able to verify a person’s age and match their face to the information contained on their official government ID.
OnlyFans’ announcement of the ban on sexually explicit content created a backlash, especially on Twitter from sex worker advocates and various content creators, who felt they were effectively being pushed off the platform. Some promised to remove their content and post it elsewhere before deleting their accounts.
“There was so much outrage,” says Matt. “I personally was very angry, and a lot of people I know who also use the platform were incredibly angry, too. It seemed like there were different routes they could have gone down. I’m not sure why the process that they established at the start of the year in terms of age verification and the facial recognition tool wasn’t enough.”
OnlyFans backtracked on their decision last week, abandoning the plan to scrap sexually explicit content. Yet, says Matt, “the trust is broken,” perhaps irrevocably.
“Even though the decision has been reversed now, I don’t think the trust will be restored, especially when other platforms like JustForFans have stepped up their commitment to performers in the past few days. They’ve come out and said that they will never discriminate against sex workers. At the end of the day, performers’ trust will remain with other platforms.”
Matt believes it was “heavy-handed” for OnlyFans to ban all sexually explicit content, particularly given that some users have been utilizing the site as a primary source of income due to the uncertainty around COVID-related social distancing restrictions. For those performers, the uncertainty over OnlyFans’ commitment to sex workers, and fears that the website might one day renew its ban on adult content, simply add to their stress.
“I think these companies should have a duty of care to performers and not be able to just cancel at a moment’s notice,” he says.
Additionally, creating online content, rather than meeting in person, provides a safe space for sex workers, in terms of their health, their physical safety, and their psychological well-being. That’s why he believes OnlyFans should have been more careful and deliberate in determining how to address the site’s security issues while allowing performers to continue creating pay-for-play content.
“I think it was just panic,” Matt says of the site’s knee-jerk response. “That’s the best word to describe it, because people were risking putting sex workers in a potentially dangerous situation when other options could have been explored. I read the issue was with the banks themselves, stepping out on their principles and being stricter about how they process money.
“Of course, if there’s child images on there, that’s absolutely terrible. But they need other ways to vet and remove that content from online. Shutting the platform down completely for sex workers is not the answer, because it does force people back into potentially dangerous situations. It’s almost like you’re helping one cause, but at the same time, you’re really worsening the cause for another demographic.”
He believes part of the reason why OnlyFans didn’t foresee the backlash against them was because their decision played into the existing stigma against adult performers and sex workers in the larger society and the belief that sex work is something of which to be ashamed.
“I think there is a deep-rooted stigma against people who are in the industry,” Matt says. “But sex is a valid form of work. It’s one of the oldest forms of work in the world. And there seems to be such a stigma and hatred towards the industry and the performers within it that’s driving these decisions. It’s a real shame, because with all of the rising performers on the platform, I thought there was actually more of a positive perception [of sex work] and an understanding and acceptance of the community.”
Although he plans to keep his OnlyFans account for the time being, Matt has already migrated some of his content over to JustForFans, and will run the two accounts side by side. He says the controversy has taught him the importance of utilizing multiple platforms, rather than being subjected to the whims of one site alone. He says his fans and subscribers have been overwhelmingly supportive of his decision, with some even messaging him to inquire about his well-being.
Matt’s online experience creating adult content has largely been positive, and he wouldn’t shy away from recommending it to others.
“I honestly think anyone could do it if you were interested,” he says. “I don’t think you need to be a specific type of person necessarily, apart from being resilient about what some people might say online or the kind of comments you might receive. Broadly speaking, I would encourage anyone who has an interest in the area to explore it.”
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