Ohio State University is encouraging college-aged students to pursue a career in sex work. It has been reported that the federally funded university held a panel discussion on February 20th, 2021 to endorse the practice of college students starting OnlyFans accounts. Launched in 2016, OnlyFans is a subscription-based social media platform where users sell and/or purchase original content — typically of the pornographic variety. The panel focused on “destigmatizing” sex work and featured OnlyFans content creators to discuss their experiences on the app. This event took place during The Ohio State University (OSU) “Sex Week”, which was organized by OSU’s Student Advocates for Sexual Health Awareness. The website states that “Sex Week” is “dedicated to creating a judgment-free, inclusive, relatable space for the OSU community to explore sexual health. The week includes presentations and discussions on various topics including sex education, abortion stigma, pleasure, sex work, and more. Other panels included “Kink 101,” “Decolonizing Porn: Why We Need Ethical Production,” “That’s Toxic: A Talk on Healthy vs. Toxic Masculinity” and “They Work Hard for the Money: Sex Work with Dr. Teela Sanders.”
OnlyFans is a digital platform where users can buy and sell pornographic content online. To gain access to the content, an individual must pay a monthly subscription fee that ranges from anywhere between $4.99 and $49.99. Due to the spread of COVID-19 and the global lockdowns, Only Fans reported 3.5 million new signups in March 2020, including 60,000 new creators. As stated by cultural anthropologist Wednesday Martin, the Covid-19 pandemic is to blame for the uptick in users, “people are currently deprived of opportunities to meet new people, date, many of us are deprived of the opportunity of physical touch and other opportunities for physical gratification… people are also deprived of tensional outlets for monogamy like having a happy ending massage, seeing an escort, and other things that may be quasi-acceptable ways to attain variety, novelty, and adventure.” As the pandemic surged, OnlyFans is advertised as a “safe, consequence-free way of selling sex and home-grown porn that empowers women.” The site has become a lucrative platform for porn stars, escorts, and webcam models with varying levels of experience. Additionally, OnlyFans has been promoted throughout the media with the help of celebritiessuch as Beyoncé (singer), Bella Thorne (actor), Blac Chyna (rapper), and The Bachelor’s Chad Johnson (reality television personality). Unfortunately, the rise of OnlyFans has also circulated throughout social media (TikTok and Instagram) and caught the attention of teenagers and young adults who desire to join this “lucrative” venture.
The event held by The Ohio State University is disconcerting as the panel discussion is aimed at young adults and seeks to introduce them to the sex trade without fully addressing the harms that come with this “choice.” As stated by Miss June(OnlyFans creator), “I was worried about money, about paying off my mortgage, bills, and stuff. Before lockdown I was looking after animals – pet dogs, mainly. But because it’s an independent business my boss can’t pay me until she gets her grant from the government … At the minute I’m living off savings. OnlyFans seemed like the easiest option.” While some individuals do view sex work as an occupational option, the reality is that prostitution is not work but rather a “cruel form of exploitation and discrimination.” The well-known euphemism, “sex work is real work” is false and extremely harmful as “women in prostitution do not wake up one day and ‘choose’ to be prostituted.” In fact, these prostituted persons are predominantly bought by individuals with more power and privilege than them, thus causing a power imbalance and inherently contributing to their exploitation. At the CSE Institute, we recognize that the “choice” to enter the sex trade is “often a consequence of other social factors such as poverty, homelessness, drug addiction, domestic or childhood abuse and other traumatic hardships.” Due to these vulnerabilities, the “choice” to enter the life is rare and virtually non-existent as “more often than not, selling sex is the result of having no choice but to survive.”
We urge institutions such as The Ohio State University to refrain from actively supporting sexual exploitation through promoting sites such as OnlyFans which target economically vulnerable young women. OnlyFans is a “sanitized version of prostitution” as this internet platform does not protect its content creators from the physical, emotional, and psychological harms that come with commercial sexual exploitation. We urge institutions to participate in research and seek a greater understanding about the harms of commercial sexual exploitation before supporting a false and dangerous empowerment narrative that only furthers “the historically generated patriarchal power dynamic between the sexes.”