Content sharing platform OnlyFans has made the shock decision to ban users from posting images and videos featuring "sexually explicit conduct", citing pressure from financial partners.

OnlyFans has been known as a safe haven for sex workers and other content creators who wish to share consenually sexualised content, often to subscribers who use the platform to access pornographic material and interact with performers.

But starting on the first of October, OnlyFans's dominance as the platform of choice for independent creators looks set to end, thanks to banking and payment services which apparently asked it to stop allowing sexually-explicit content.

"In order to ensure the long-term sustainability of the platform, and to continue to host an inclusive community of creators and fans, we must evolve our content guidelines," OnlyFans said in an emailed statement to Information Age.

"Creators will continue to be allowed to post content containing nudity as long as it is consistent with our Acceptable Use Policy.

"These changes are to comply with the requests of our banking partners and payout providers."

OnlyFans updated that policy over the weekend to include a definitions of “sexually explicit conduct” which includes “actual or simulated” sex and masturbation, and the “exhibition of the anus of the anus or genitals or any person which is extreme or offensive”.

Bowing to pressure

OnlyFans said the decision was made to “comply with the requests of our banking partners and payout providers” which has been linked to a new set of requirements Mastercard has created for adult content providers.

In April, the payments giant announced a new set of rules for merchants using its systems to sell adult content.

Those new rules, effective mid-October, require platforms like OnlyFans to obtain and store records of consent between performers of sexually-explicit content, age and identity verification processes for performers and uploaders of content, and reviews of all content prior to publication – including real-time review of livestreams.

The changes were sparked by a New York Times exposé about lax verification on PornHub which allegedly left room for the platform to feature child exploitation material and rape videos.

Within days of the Times story, both Visa and Mastercard said they were looking into their financial relationship with PornHub – and the popular pornography site quickly stopped allowing unverified users to upload to its site, and updated its terms of service.

Appealing to investors

OnlyFans made a name for itself by allowing for the type of amateur pornographic content it has now banned, which has raised questions about why it wouldn’t take on the expense and effort required by payment plans to keep business running.

According to Axios, which reviewed OnlyFans's pitch deck, the company has struggled to entice investors despite the kind of revenue growth that might typically attract droves of venture capitalists.

OnlyFans's net revenue has reportedly gone from $375 million in 2020, to an $1.2 billion in 2021 based on early figures, with projections it could hit $2.5 billion in 2022.

Most of that money comes from paid subscriptions and money spent for in-chat features with streamers – especially adult entertainers.

Yet because of its reliance on pornography, investors have typically steered clear of OnlyFans, with Axios noting that some investment firms have prohibitions from putting cash into adult content.

But if the platform differentiates itself from the plethora of content sharing and social media platforms with adult content, wondered much of the internet when the news dropped early on Friday morning, how can it expect such fanciful growth?

"What I can’t wrap my mind around is that in order to make themselves a better investment, they destroyed the part of their business that makes them profitable in the first place," wrote one user in the comment section of an AVClub article about the move.

Technology journalist Chris Morris noted the uncertainty surrounding OnlyFans as it distances itself from pornography in a Twitter thread explaining the company's history and majority owner Leo Radvinsky's ties with the porn industry.

"It's not hard to see why OnlyFans did what it did," he said.

"The question is, will that decision doom it? Sex workers are furious and (rightfully) feel betrayed.

"And fans who spend on the site aren't happy either."

Monday 23 August: This story has been updated to include OnlyFans's new terms of service and provide context about Mastercard.