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Opinion: ‘OnlyFans’ ended its porn ban when it was shamed into staying shameless

It is increasingly obvious to those who reject free sexual license that we are fighting on unremittingly hostile terrain

Illustration by Michelle Budge

For those naïve to the ways of the world in 2021, it looked like for once, the good guys might win.

OnlyFans is an infamous website that makes its money essentially selling homemade subscription pornography. Technically one can subscribe to a variety of content creators, but so-called “adult” content makes up the overwhelming majority of its revenue. In a remarkable turn of events, however, OnlyFans recently announced that it would stop selling adult content. It cited alleged pressure from its banks and payment processors as the critical factor in the decision.

Anyone who thought this victory would be sustained soon learned differently.

Launched just five years ago, OnlyFans has become one of the 200 most-visited sites in America with more than 130 million users. Recently, various groups, such as the National Center on Sexual Exploitation and the conservative Christian organization Exodus Cry, have attempted to put pressure on banks not to do business with OnlyFans, and for a brief moment, it appeared their campaigns had been successful.

Predictably, there was an outcry from the so-called “creators” (essentially homemade pornography providers) who complained their money spigot had been turned off. And the media was only too happy to boost their cause. A Yahoo Finance article decried “banking censorship,” a term I never saw the mainstream media use when numerous actual political figures and groups were deplatformed from various payment systems over the past few years. The same article suggested that planned sex worker protests over such censorship could “continue and could be hugely embarrassing for banks and financial services,” a strange inversion of the notion of embarrassment in our current political climate.

The media, of course, has been happily taking the side of pornographers: The spokesman for the pornography industry’s absurdly named the “Free Speech Coalition” decried the initial ban in a Twitter thread, noting that “95% of coverage about OnlyFans supports SWers (Sex workers).”

Invariably those who criticize services such as OnlyFans are considered “prudes” or worse. And discussions of hypocrisy may ensue, given that large numbers of men and women access pornography at least occasionally. “Sex work” professions are among the oldest professions out there, some point out. But the question is not the existence of pornography, but the ethics and wisdom of legal and cultural frameworks that have made it destigmatized, instantly available, ubiquitous, and even celebrated in some circles.

The villains of OxyContin aren’t those who became addicted, but those that pushed it, knowing the dangers.

“Who, cares,” some might counter, “it’s their body and their choice.” But this flies in the face of increasingly overwhelming evidence that our culture of ubiquitous pornography is profoundly damaging in a number of respects, not just to the creators and their inherent worth and dignity, but to those who consume it. It is not a coincidence that as the market for simulated sex expands, the thing itself declines. Every U.S. state now has below replacement fertility. Sexual intercourse in general is down considerably. Many factors may be at play here, but unfettered access to prurient content certainly doesn’t contribute to stable and lasting relationships.

Further, some online porn platforms promote endlessly bizarre forms of kink that warp the sexual scripts young people mimic. One can’t help but wonder whether this too is one factor in the growing sexual fluidity reported by so many of today’s youths. A recent and comprehensive Gallup Poll showed that while just 1.3% of those born before 1946 identify as LGBT, rising to 2.0% among baby boomers and 3.8% among Gen X, it soared to 9.1% among millennials and a staggering 15.9% among Gen Z (not even including the 5%-8% who declined to state a sexual preference). While some would argue that this is a positive result, allowing those in younger generations to embrace their own sexual identity, dismissing the idea that social contagion may play some part — including the sexual scripts learned via an endless array of pornography — ignores an important variable worthy of investigation. Certainly the long-term effects on family formation of this explosion in nontraditional sexual identification are likely to be profound.

It is also an interesting comment on our contemporary politics that OnlyFans uses the language of “diversity, inclusion and equity” to justify its existence. In announcing the overturn of their planned sexually explicit content ban, OnlyFans tweeted that “We have secured assurances necessary to support our diverse creator community. ... OnlyFans stands for inclusion and we will continue to provide a home for all creators.”

OnlyFans reversing its ban on porn isn’t a win. However, there are some small practical consolations. For example, with payment processors now backing down from requiring OnlyFans to ditch the pornography, it will be increasingly difficult for them to allow X-rated material while simultaneously attempting to police and deplatform actual political or religious speech, as they have in the past.

The second advantage of OnlyFans’ walkback is that it is now obvious to all social traditionalists and even moderates that we are fighting on unremittingly hostile terrain. Let’s be clear: Every institution in society is increasingly against us — Hollywood, the media, academia, government and elite corporate America. With rare exceptions, these institutions are not amenable to reform, which means we must begin anew.

We have been fighting the corruption of our existing institutions at the Claremont Institute, where I am privileged to work. A new startup, New Founding, is also devoted to building these new media, finance and entertainment vehicles, filled by top-drawer talent from existing industries who are leaving in disgust at what those industries are becoming. These, and other similar efforts, offer glimmers of hope for the future.

“Modern man defends nothing energetically except his right to debauchery,” wrote the Colombian philosopher Nicolás Gómez Dávila. The coming years will see whether Dávila is in fact correct, or whether a critical mass of citizens can be mobilized to reject our current celebration of ubiquitous public sexual license and reach for something higher.

Jeremy Carl is a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute. His political writing and commentary has been featured in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, National Review, Politico and The Economist.

Correction: A previous version misidentified the National Center on Sexual Exploitation as a conservative Christian group. The organization is nonpartisan and nonsectarian.