Therapists Need to Know What Sex Workers are Dealing With

Jeff Guenther on Aug 26, 2021

TherapyDen supports sex workers. We want sex-worker-positive and knowledgeable therapists to create profiles on the site so that more sex workers can find kind, non-judgmental therapists that understand their profession. We also want to write more articles that help folks learn about how incredibly not-okay it is that sex workers’ livelihood is constantly being threatened. This is one of those articles. Please share this. It’s important.

Disclaimer: Obviously, TherapyDen does not support sex trafficking, non-consensual porn and images of child sexual abuse. We support the people that voluntarily become sex workers. We also know that simply saying “We support people who voluntarily become sex workers” is a very simplified statement and there is a lot of nuance to why a person performs sex work. But this article is not about that nuance.

Sex workers are under attack. They’ve always been. But just a little over a week ago on August 19, OnlyFans, a very popular content subscription platform that hosts thousands of sex workers, essentially banned sex workers from being on the platform. And then, six days later, they reversed their decision. In a tweet on August 25, OnlyFans said, “Thank you to everyone for making your voices heard. We have secured assurances necessary to support our diverse creator community and have suspended the planned October 1 policy change. OnlyFans stands for inclusion and we will continue to provide a home for all creators.”

Okay, let me catch you up...

The ban that was originally put in place by OnlyFans on the 19th affected anything that “shows, promotes, advertises, or refers to” real or simulated sex, masturbation, and sex-related bodily fluids. It will still allow some nudity, but an email to OnlyFans creators made it pretty clear that zooming in too close on a body part will probably violate the rules. Basically, sex workers were told that they couldn’t sell their sex work on the site anymore.

The OnlyFans platform made a name for itself during the pandemic when many sex workers, who couldn’t see their clients in person anymore, flocked to the site to provide an online experience of their services. Sex workers legally posted sexually explicit videos and photos of themselves to paid subscribers. In 2019, OnlyFans had about 120,000 creators on their platform. By the end of 2020, there were 1 million creators and over 90 million users. OnlyFans became a “thing” because of sex workers. The August 19 ban made its future unclear. I would bet the lifting of the ban had a lot to do with how much money they were already losing in a very short amount of time.

Why was OnlyFans banning sex work on their platform in the first place?

Okay, so this is where it gets interesting. OnlyFans CEO Tim Stokely blamed banks for having to make an abrupt change to the platform. The CEO revealed that three major banks have “flagged and rejected” transactions involving OnlyFans. OnlyFans also claims they were being forced to ditch sexually explicit content because they were having trouble attracting investors to their platform. They should have reached out to me. I’d invest! Not sure if I’m buying this excuse, but whatever. Moving on.

It seems like the main culprit is MasterCard. MasterCard has clamped down on the use of their cards to pay for content created by sex workers online. They claim they are doing so in order to stop child sexual abuse material and nonconsensual pornography from being viewed and shared. It goes deeper than that, however. MasterCard has created new rules that will go into effect on October 1, 2021. These rules will require OnlyFans and all other sites that accept MasterCard to fully verify every user and every person who appears in every adult video. They must also review all posted content before it is uploaded to their site. Realistically, OnlyFans (and I would imagine any other website on the internet) is not able to do this. It’s asking way too much and would be incredibly costly. I don’t see a way for sex workers to provide legal online services while accepting payments from credit card companies and banks — although there is an interesting loophole that I’ll get to later.

But what’s really behind this sex work ban?

Oh, it goes so much deeper (that’s what she said). There’s this guy, Nick Kristof, who just absolutely hates porn. He wrote an article in the NY Times called “The Children of PornHub” that accuses the popular porn website of profiting off revenge porn, child porn and sex trafficking. When you read up on the guy, it seems like he’s on a mission to ban all naked bodies everywhere. While it's hard to defend PornHub (that site was horrible at content moderation), Nick's article had dire consequences for consensual sex workers. The article was so influential that Visa and MasterCard cut PornHub off, which is impressive. That’s a lot of power. I gotta imagine that Visa and MasterCard make a lot of money off of people paying for porn with their credit cards.

While Nick Kristof’s story revealed some ugly truths about PornHub, there seems to be a deeper agenda in the works. Nick is buddy-buddy with Traffickinghub founder Laila Mickelwait. Laila works for a Christian group called Exodus Cry. Exodus Cry is anti-sex and anti-homosexuality. Oh, and for good measure, they also hate Jewish people. Nick, Laila and all their prudish Christian friends want to take down the entire sex industry. The majority of the sex industry is perfectly consensual and legal. But they don’t really care about that. Pure and simple, it seems like they just don’t want it to exist.

I think we all know that trying to ban PornHub or take down OnlyFans does nothing to stop sex trafficking. Sex workers, who are supporting themselves and their families, are the ones that are under attack here. It’s sex workers’ lives that are being put in danger by being forced back on the streets instead of the safety of their homes where they can create online content. I was excited about OnlyFans because a ton of sex workers were making a lot of money on that platform without having to see their clients in person.

Nick and Laila are savvy enough to scare payment processors like Visa and MasterCard into believing that they are supporting illegal sex trafficking, revenge porn and child porn. Or if the banks and payment processors don’t believe it (come on, they are probably smart enough to not fall for this propaganda), they at least think it’s a bad enough look and not worth the money to provide payment transactions for sex work.

And honestly, it’s such a smart move for anti-sex Christians to cry “sex-trafficking” to get liberal support. What liberal democrat wouldn’t support putting an end to sex trafficking? Remember when Backpage and Craigslist allowed ads for sex workers? That ended because of trafficking scares as well. Both of those online forums were a lot safer than sex workers meeting clients on the street. It’s infuriating.

These “anti-trafficking” groups have shut down AIDS programs that worked with sex workers. They’ve influenced police to perform “trafficking raids” that basically seek out consensual sex work so they can send more sex workers to jail. These tactics that are used by these Christian groups are meant to attack all sex workers. It’s not okay.

But OnlyFans is cool with sex workers now?

I mean, I guess? On the morning of August 25, OnlyFans reversed their ban and tweeted, "We have secured assurances necessary to support our diverse creator community and have suspended the planned October 1 policy change. OnlyFans stands for inclusion and we will continue to provide a home for all creators."

It’s interesting that they stated they have “suspended” the policy change. Why not cancel it? And does this mean MasterCard is totally cool with everything now? I highly doubt it. What’s going to happen on October 1 when MasterCard cuts them off? This story is developing quickly, so who knows how it’s going to shake out. In an OnlyFans tweet, they didn’t make an apology to all the sex workers that use their site, and that really bothers me too. 

Where can sex workers go if they leave OnlyFans?

I wouldn’t be surprised if sex workers who were planning to leave the site leave it anyway. Honestly, I hope they do. Where will they land? Well, that’s to be determined. There are other online platforms that cater to sex workers such as Fansly and JustForFans. And there are many more popping up in response to the OnlyFans debacle. Many of them have seen a huge uptick in new accounts. Here at TherapyDen, we hope sex workers find a platform that caters to their needs and creates an even better experience for everyone involved. I can’t help but wonder, however, if one of these new sites starts to become the new popular place to host sex workers, what’s stopping the banks and payment processors from shutting down all transactions?

I’ve gotta imagine that the next best thing for an online platform supporting sex workers is a platform that embraces crypto payments. Cryptocurrency is not kept in a bank. It’s held in a private online wallet fully controlled by the wallet holder. Visa and MasterCard don’t facilitate crypto payments either. Crypto is sent from one person to another without a middleman like a bank or card processor. It seems like the perfect setup. Something to note, however, is that crypto culture on the whole doesn’t feel very inclusive when it comes to sex workers. Crypto culture can oftentimes give off a real sexist vibe. So it doesn’t feel like a very safe space for sexually progressive people. Here’s hoping it will quickly evolve.

What does all this have to do with TherapyDen?

Like I said at the top, TherapyDen supports sex workers and wants badly for them to feel safe in this world. Anti-sex Christian groups are not good for this space. I feel like more therapists need to understand the constant attacks that sex workers have to face and the mental health issues that it can cause. It’s truly an uphill battle that feels like it will never end. I could not imagine what it’s like working in a profession that is constantly misunderstood and looked down upon. Therapists need to create more positive spaces that are knowledgable and uplifting to sex workers. Sex workers are able to filter for therapists on TherapyDen that are sex-worker-positive under the Specialized Experience filter and I hope they utilize our directory for their counseling needs.

If you’re a therapist that is sex-worker-positive and knowledgable, I urge you to create a free therapist profile on TherapyDen. We want more inclusive therapists to sign up and help move our industry forward.

Additional resources used for this article.

Jeff Guenther, LPC, is a therapist in Portland, OR. He has been in private practice since 2005. Jeff is the creator and owner of Portland Therapy Center, a highly ranked therapist directory. Jeff, and his team, have launched a new progressive therapist directory, TherapyDen.

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