Reinventing the porn industry

Last year, OnlyFans announced it would no longer host adult entertainment on the platform due to pressure from payment providers. While the company eventually backtracked, the debacle highlighted how sex work has shifted since going online.
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Unlike typical entrepreneurs, those working in pornography are barred from typical marketing channels, such as social media ads, and struggle to access basic banking services (in October, Mastercard began requiring merchants to have documentation of consent, among other stipulations). That's on top of ever-changing regulation and stigma around working in the sex industry.

At the same time, the audience for adult entertainment is growing and diversifying. Porn viewership was up 22% during the pandemic and, in recent years, women have made up nearly a third of viewers – a number that's steadily increasing. Now, new platforms are hoping to bridge the gap between this demand and the challenges faced by adult entertainment creators.

Flipping the (financial) script

Third-party platforms – such as OnlyFans – can change their terms of service or business models at any time, leaving creators behind. But, what if the creators themselves owned the platform? That's the idea behind, a sex worker-owned platform co-operative currently in development.

On its surface, the platform will operate similarly to OnlyFans, in that sex workers will be able to upload and charge for access to their content, with taking a percentage fee. However, that fee will be used to further develop the platform, with most of any surplus redistributed to the creators. Creator-members will own the majority of the business – with decision-making power eventually weighted toward marginalized members – and be in charge of key elements of the platform, such as feature and product design.

Developing a co-op takes time and a lot of buy-in. will launch next year to onboard members and exit to a co-operative within two to four years. But the drive to find new business models is there: is another online platform in development that is designed and owned by sex workers and will build in extra features that center creator needs, such as in-app editing and the ability to split sales between multiple contributors.

Pay to play

One of the key drivers behind OnlyFans' success was that it offered a sense of authenticity and community, as well as a seamless user experience, that was missing in mainstream porn. After years of ‘-tube’ sites driving down the price by relying on user-generated content – often without guaranteeing consent or the source of the material – there's been an increased willingness to pay for production and creators that keep these elements top of mind. Platforms such as CHEEX and Afterglow have popped up to produce and distribute this sort of content, alongside educational resources, with the aim of chipping away at the stigma around sex.

‘Within the past year, we all started to think: where are my clothes coming from? Where is my food coming from?’ said Pauline Thierry, head of communications at CHEEX. ‘But then, with such an intimate topic as watching people having sex, why wouldn't we question that and ask: where's that coming from?’

The Berlin-based company, which launched in 2020, offers audio stories, tutorials, a magazine and films, both from production companies and creators, for a monthly fee. The company's content team also has a set checklist to ensure ethical production, such as actors' ages, consent and the atmosphere on set. 

Unlike in mainstream porn, diversity – including sexual orientation, race and body type – is central to the content. Pauline believes this has been key to attracting new audiences; based on social media, CHEEX has found the majority of its following is female or non-binary.

A version of this article was published in the Courier Weekly newsletter. For more useful stories, tips, tricks and simply good advice, sign up here.

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