This week former Disney Channel star Bella Thorne made her controversial OnlyFans debut. In a record-making two-day run, Thorne made over $2 million on the platform.

In response, OnlyFans made changes to its policy, making it harder to make profits, drawing criticism from sex workers who rely on the site as a primary source of income. If there's one thing we can learn from Thorne's overnight OnlyFans success, it's that "sex sells" unless your lifeline is sex work.

According to multiple content creators, following Thorne's brief stint on the platform, OnlyFans quietly issued a $50 cap on pay-per-view messages (essentially, exclusive content sent to paying subscribers), a $100 cap on tips, and upped the payment period from seven to 30 days. Many saw the new transaction limits as a direct response to Thorne's million-dollar payday and took to Twitter to complain.

Bella Thorne responded to the backlash today, apologizing and explaining that she had intended to “advocate for something bigger than [herself]” by removing “the stigma behind sex, sex work, and the negativity that surrounds the word SEX itself by bringing a mainstream face to it,” as well as to “help bring more faces to the site to create more revenue for content creators on the site.” Thorne continued, “Again in this process I hurt you and for that I’m truly sorry.”

The actress allegedly joined OnlyFans as research for an upcoming film role and made off with millions. In the process, the platform became much less financially viable for its real content creators. Since coronavirus hit the sex industry, workers have turned to OnlyFans to make money in lockdown. 

Thorne’s actions, while well-meaning, made her millions while simultaneously economically excluding sex workers who need the platform to survive. It’s a very common trope in the mainstream, which lauds the glamorized depiction of sex work while simultaneously excluding real sex workers from the narrative – just look at the countless songs, music videos, and films which use sex work-themed imagery. 

Although sex workers helped build the platform, OnlyFans’ policy changes and lack of communication display a plain disregard for their welfare. Even if the changes in policy were not prompted by Thorne, her brief OnlyFans stint highlights just how much we commodify sex in the mainstream but stigmatize sex work. 

Rather than centering herself in the conversation about sex work, Thorne could have used her platform or her wealth to support any number of organizations that support sex workers as they experience cancellations, job loss, and lost income, and the risk of infection — either via clients or through the prison system. Here are some ways you can help.

Donate to organizations like Decriminalize Sex WorkThe Audre Lorde Project, and Collective Action for Safe Spaces. There are a number of other great resources listed here and a comprehensive list of emergency relief fundraisers here.

Don’t stream free porn. Pay for subscriptions through providers’ channels. 

Demand the release of incarcerated sex workers. Learn more via the DECRIM Now campaign. 

Demand Congress pass The Equality Act. You can find letter templates here.  

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