The rise of social media has changed the way in which we live our lives, creating a whole new way of communicating, marketing, and carving career paths. While the vast majority of companies have used social media sites like Twitter and Instagram to boost engagement, drive sales, and keep up with the times, there remains a dark cloud hanging over one particular sector – sex work.
Despite the modern times in which we live, the term ‘sex work’ still has a number of damaging and archaic stereotypes attached. Many still instantly associate the label of ‘sex worker’ with prostitution, despite there being a vast array of different types of sex workers out there. In fact, prostitution itself is not illegal in many countries across the globe, including the United Kingdom, as long as certain guidelines are followed.
In recent years, there has been an attempt to regulate sex work, with soliciting in a public place, kerb crawling, pimping, pandering, and owning brothels still being illegal. However, the exchange of sex for money is perfectly acceptable.
Modern-day sex work can come in all shapes and sizes – a lot of which do not even involve the act of sex at all. The exchange of chat, phone calls, images, and videos online without two parties ever meeting can constitute sex work. In-person visits involving the exchange of sexually gratifying activities can also fall within the umbrella term, as well as the well-known sex for money transaction.
In short, there are more ways than ever to make money as a sex worker in the modern world – but we are still a long way from it being a widely socially acceptable line of work.
Social media has arguably presented the best avenue for sex workers to legitimately and legally conduct their business, building respectful brands and making an honest living. You may have heard the term ‘sex work is work’, advertising the fact that sex work should be treated with the same level of respect as any other industry. After all, if a transaction of a sexual nature takes place between two consenting adults in their right minds, what is the problem?
Over the past few years, we have entered a new era of sex work, in which social media marketing is overtaking traditional pornography. Big-name porn actors and actresses have long since made the big bucks in Hollywood, but many have made the switch to OnlyFans in recent years, giving them more control over their own brand, and even more lucrative opportunities.
In 2022, Blac Chyna is currently leading the way in terms of monthly earnings on the subscription-based platform – raking in a whopping $20.12 million per month. Former porn star, Mia Khalifa, who has often spoken out about the exploitative nature of the industry, is also in the top five earners – scooping $6.42 million per month by controlling her own output.
OnlyFans has well and truly put the X-rated entertainment industry in the hands of the entertainers rather than companies or moguls. This allows performers to feel self-empowered, controlling what they create, when they create it, and how much they charge for it. The porn industry has been littered with cases of malpractice and mistreatment for decades, but social media has given the power to the performers for the first time in history.
However, not all social media platforms are on board with the movement – including Facebook-owned Instagram. In December 2020, Instagram updated its terms of service to ban any porn or OnlyFans advertisements. The new terms stated that users could not offer or ask for pornographic materials ‘including, but not limited to, sharing of links to external pornographic websites.’
A Facebook spokesperson commented: “We want Instagram to be a safe environment for everyone, and have strict rules against nudity, sexual activity, and sexual solicitation. Under these rules, we don’t allow people to share links to porn websites on Instagram. While OnlyFans isn’t a porn website, we know it can be used in that way, so we take action on accounts that share OnlyFans links when paired with other sexually suggestive content.”
While OnlyFans creators had previously been able to advertise their profiles on Instagram and link to their subscription profiles, that would no longer be allowed. Moreover, anyone who broke those new terms of service could have their Instagram accounts locked or deleted altogether. When it comes to profiles with tens of thousands of followers that sex workers rely on for marketing, that becomes a very drastic change to the social media platform.
Of course, Instagram has the legal right to control what can and cannot be posted on their site, especially since anyone above the age of 13 is welcome to create their own profile. However, it creates a clear problem for the sex work industry while highlighting a key question – why is sex work still seen as taboo?
Megan, who currently boasts over 50,000 followers on Instagram, has opened up on the restrictive new terms and conditions: “I’ve had to find ways to indirectly advertise my OnlyFans on Instagram. I’ve jokingly changed the term to ‘only flans’ and post photos of the dessert flan when advertising. I also have nicknamed OnlyFans ‘Voldemort’ because it’s the place that cannot be named for fear of being deleted.”
Many like Megan have been forced to shift their marketing campaigns to more open-minded platforms like Twitter and Reddit. The problem extends beyond sex workers too, with sexual health companies and organizations designed to help victims of revenge porn also running into Instagram blockades.
In conclusion, the emergence and development of platforms like OnlyFans, have arguably allowed the sex work industry to reach its healthiest point in history. However, while creators and performers have been handed an avenue of control over their bodies and content, they continue to be restricted by Instagram conditions and social stereotypes.
Perhaps in the future, a healthy middle-ground can be found in which sites like Instagram find a way to allow sex workers to advertise without exposing it to underage users. But until then, the sex work industry will continue to be held to different standards than any other professional sector. Sex work may be work – but it isn’t always treated as such.