Are we more free to sell porn than to speak the truth?

Announcing its delay, and apparent reversal of its ban on sexually explicit content ban, OnlyFans this week said it “stands for inclusion and will continue to provide a home for all creators”.

For ‘all creators’, read pornographers.

It’s all about the money

Through the pandemic, OnlyFans became synonymous with porn, with many women stuck at home selling homemade pornography to equally stuck-at-home men. When the site announced an end to sexually explicit content, many wondered how a porn site would make money without selling porn.

There were rumblings that OnlyFans wanted to find more money from investors and needed to clean up their act. More likely was pressure from banks and financial services, saying they would stop the site from being able to process payments, which seems to have been confirmed in subsequent statements by OnlyFans.

Either way, it’s about money. OnlyFans exists to make money, not to help creators forge “authentic relationships with their fanbase”. And it does so by exploiting the bodies of (mostly) women and the lusts of (mostly) men.

Other sites like Patreon and Substack allow creators to sell exclusive content to fans and take a smaller percentage of the fee. OnlyFans is able to charge a higher fee – make more money – because it sells pornography.

Pornography exploits everyone

In the 21st century, anyone who opposes pornography is viewed by some as a swivel-eyed relic of 1950s’ family values. Liberalism in its left- or right-wing forms is laissez faire about pornography, treating it as a private matter that no one may interfere with. Pornography is seen as harmless fun, opposed only by uptight, strait-laced, moral busybodies who hate the idea that other people are enjoying themselves.

But porn isn’t harmless. It harms just about everyone it touches.

Porn exploits its viewers. It makes money off people’s loneliness and frustration. It addictively feeds desires that don’t ultimately satisfy – as shown by the regret many feel after masturbation. It leads people towards fantasies and fetishes that their real-world spouse – now or in the future – cannot or will not be able or willing to satisfy. It therefore harms relationships, fuelling dissatisfaction and unfaithfulness. All of which leads towards breakup and divorce – good for no one, particularly children.

Porn hurts its creators. They are incentivised to sell their bodies and pressured directly or indirectly to push their boundaries and subject themselves to increasingly degraded acts. Even where there is no financial incentive, the dopamine rush of attention, desirability and approval can lead to addiction and dissatisfaction.

Porn hurts children. It’s easier to tell most porn sites that you’re over 18 years old than to reject cookies on many GDPR-compliant websites. Pornography is routinely viewed by under-18s and is closely linked to aggressive and abusive behaviour among school pupils. Boys and girls going through the confusing feelings of puberty can easily find hardcore content for every conceivable taste or kink and find themselves aroused by any number of unhelpful or abusive ideas.

Porn hurts abuse victims. Porn sites, including giants PornHub and OnlyFans have been found to host explicit content featuring underage or trafficked people, or content shared without consent (e.g. revenge porn). Both sites claim to be attempting to tackle the problem, but even if they did, countless other lesser-known sites would be ready to host such content without proper checks.

This problem won’t go away without clear law-making and effective enforcement. Sites hosting illegal content should simply be fined and blocked. Although technology will always provide ways for such blocks to be sidestepped, any serious effort could do a lot of good.

Is porn more free than speech?

Nevertheless, governments and businesses are more reluctant to put meaningful barriers on porn access than on many other problems or questionable activities.

‘Fake news’ and sceptical views relating to Covid are routinely blocked, banned or shown with warnings from social media sites in an attempt to curb the spread of perceived or actual falsehoods. Why are there no warnings appearing next to links to pornography?

Gambling, investment and cryptocurrencies require identity verification. Why should porn be any different? A scheme to do just this was drawn up but never implemented.

The financial services industry can be applauded for putting pressure on pornography sites like OnlyFans to take serious steps to eliminate abuse. But many of these organisations are willing to shut down accounts with little or no warning even for law-abiding groups, because they go against their ideology.

If only we gave such attention to tackling the porn problem.

Andrea Williams is CEO of Christian Concern and the Christian Legal Centre.



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