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The porn industry of the 1970s, headquartered in the San Fernando Valley in California, was a lucrative business for its performers. Adult film stars could make upwards of US$5,000 per scene and shoot a couple scenes each week. Porn was a feasible path to becoming a multi-millionaire for its most established performers, who had long-term contracts with big production studios.
Then the internet happened.
To these independent production studios, the biggest threat was YouTube-like video sites. They published stolen videos for the public to view for free — dealing a sharp blow to the demand for the studios’ content — and generated their own profit from banner advertisement. (Thus Pornhub was born.)
From the 1990s to the 2000s, tube streaming sites grew in popularity, swallowed up some of the studios (like Brazzers.com and Vixen) for in-house production and squashed others. Many scene performers, underpaid and less frequently hired, turned to escorting and camming, which supplemented the incomes of wider-known performers with an established fanbase.
The 2010s has seen sex work take a turn for the casual. Influencer culture, premium Snapchat accounts and OnlyFans have made it possible for anyone to turn a profit from adult entertainment, no experience or fanbase necessary (though having a fanbase that you can direct to your R-rated feed certainly helps).
I could do it. You could do it. In the case of OnlyFans, all it would require is connecting a bank account and uploading a picture. That picture wouldn’t necessarily even need to be nude. Risque selfies and too-racy-for-even-Instagram content are common, but so are conversations and face-to-face videos. Sex sells but, in the current distanced state of the world, so does intimacy.
You can determine your own prices, it’s as anonymous as you please and everyone seems to be someone’s type in the world of adult entertainment. This, coupled with the fact that being young in a city is often unaffordable, has driven many first-time users all over the world to experiment with adult content creation.
But however the nature of sex work transforms, society’s attitudes towards it never do. It’s an age-old tale: wherever sex work happens, the moralising masses follow. One of Ireland’s most prominent OnlyFans users experienced online harassment after sharing her profits on Twitter, and a woman who criticised slut-shaming, despite not having an OnlyFans account herself, received messages like “every girl has a price tag and I can just purchase her like it’s Amazon” and the less eloquent “off yourself whore.”
It’s easy to spot the men who are misogynists. Their Reddit rampages conveniently gloss over the fact that many male influencers also create content on OnlyFans — and that, unless they’ve never viewed adult entertainment in their life, they are quite hypocritically condemning the creators of a product they consume.
It’s also easy to spot the women who’ve internalised misogyny, though it’s harder to come to terms with. Their rhetoric often conveys disappointment towards women who choose sex work over a ‘respectable’ career, similar to performers who adopt a sex work aesthetic without actually respecting sex workers.
“Sure, do it, create an OnlyFans, start camming — but that means you have to support sex workers all year round now,” says Valentine, a sex worker from Oregon. “You can’t just dip in and out of it because you think it’s easy and then trash us in the end.”
The discussion is rooted in women’s rights and classism. “[It's] a job that often suits people who are living in poverty, who are single mothers, students struggling to pay tuition, people living with disabilities,” Kate McGrew of the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland says. “It is often a good option for working class people and the silencing of their voices is part of a larger problem of not acknowledging and addressing the realities of their lives.”
Sex work will always be the most viable means of income for some. And as long as we live under patriarchy, female and non-binary sex workers will be the most vulnerable ones in the industry. Passing legislation trying to ban sex work and branding it as immoral only drives the industry underground, which does a disservice to the health and safety of its professionals.
The nature of sex work is more diverse than ever, but in other areas we have a lot of catching up to do.Support Villainesse