In the spring of 2016, The Tool Shed hosted adult performer and creator Jiz Lee for an event that included a public Q&A. During that event, an audience member stood and asked why certain types of pornography were hard to find. This person wanted access to more porn that included period sex. Mx. Lee calmly explained that many of the rules about what gets shown in porn, and what does not, are made by the credit card processing companies. If the credit card processors don’t want to move a payment from the customers to the intended recipients, that business grinds to a halt. This gives the processors unchecked power over the free market. In America, the morality buck stops with Visa and Mastercard. Isn’t capitalism grand?
This situation was once again an issue last week when the popular website OnlyFans announced that it would ban pornography on its site due to pressure from payment processors. OnlyFans (founded in 2016) serves as a platform for all sorts of creators, like fashion designers, musicians, chefs, fitness instructors, and yes, a lot of sex workers. Tens of thousands of sex workers use the site to distribute their content and interact with their audiences. This has allowed a lot of folks to sustain their livelihood during the pandemic. And it hasn’t hurt OnlyFans either. They take a cool 20 percent of their creators’ earnings right off the top and are on track to rake in $12.5 billion in sales next year.
OnlyFans quickly reversed its position after a huge public outcry, and released a statement that the ban was no longer needed “due to banking partners’ assurances that OnlyFans can support all genres of creators.” While this feels like a moment to celebrate (all us little guys getting our way against the giants), we need to pause and look both ways before we get too excited.
First, we’ll look back at the not-so-distant past. Financial institutions have been wreaking havoc on the lives and livelihoods of sex workers for a long time. PayPal (and its subsidiary Venmo) have a long history of freezing and seizing the accounts of sex workers (and suspected sex workers), often refusing to return any money in those accounts, effectively stealing their earnings. CashApp has been accused of doing the same. When questioned about these practices, big businesses claim they’re just upholding the law. Prostitution, also known as full service sex work, is illegal in most of the United States. But there are many forms of sex work that are legal including cam work, adult film, and exotic dancing, to name just a few. Still, these folks’ money can be seized just the same.
Sex workers are not the only ones in the industry who are targeted by these practices. Businesses like ours at The Tool Shed have also felt the heavy-handedness of the big financial institution and credit card processors. Sex toy stores are very familiar with searching for a new bank or card processor with very little notice. It’s also very difficult to get a business loan if your work includes anything that can be deemed sexually explicit, even though it violates no laws, statutes, or regulations.
Now, let’s look forward. Clearly the issue isn’t legality. The issue is that the (typically conservative) businesses who control the financial industry want to perpetuate a culture where sexual pleasure remains shameful, hidden, and hard to access. When OnlyFans decided not to proceed with the ban, it felt like a happy surprise. However, sex workers and other people working in the sex industry are still hesitant to exhale. All of us know that this reprieve is likely temporary and it’s time, once again, to get our house in order and be ready to move quickly the next time one of the giants decides to separate us from our careers and our money.
Curious about cunnilingus? Anxious about anal? Do you have questions about queefs or problems with your prostate? Lucky Tomaszek is the education coordinator at The Tool Shed: An Erotic Boutique, Milwaukee’s only mission-driven, education-focused sex toy store. Send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and she’ll get back to you with an answer.