What does the OnlyFans debate tell us about Christianity?

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What does the OnlyFans debate tell us about Christianity?

What does homemade pornography tells us about Christians, how they relate to society and one another? The recent OnlyFans controversy has brought some surprising alliances and divisions to the surface.

On the 19th of August 2021, OnlyFans, the online platform which rose to fame for hosting homemade pornography, announced that they would be banning ‘sexually-explicit’ content.[1] Less than a week later, they reversed their decision.[2]

Reaction to this surprising turn of events was intense. People from across political and social spectrums voiced their disappointment or elation, their criticisms and praise. The news highlighted unlikely connections between traditional opponents, and disagreements between long-standing allies.[3] [4]

So what did Christian voices add to this conversation? What has OnlyFans taught us about modern Christianity and its believers?

Christians CARE about social justice

The UK-based campaign group CARE (Christian Action, Research and Education) has been particularly vocal about OnlyFans’ behaviour. CARE welcomed OnlyFans’ restrictions on pornography. They stated that they supported it because it minimised exploitation of vulnerable people.[5] They supported the banks and finance partners who put pressure on OnlyFans to limit explicit content, and to take their ethical responsibilities seriously. They also highlighted concerns around children being able to create explicit content, raised in a BBC investigation.[6] [7] Lauren Agnew, Human Trafficking Officer at CARE, conceded that, while pornography will continue to exist, more rigorous safeguarding should be in place to reduce exploitation.[8] Their argument was not on the basis of the explicit morality or immorality of pornography, but on the basis of social justice.[9]

After OnlyFans U-turned on the decision, Christians were again swift to condemn. CARE again spoke about the unchecked exploitation of vulnerable people and ‘corporate greed’.[10] This time, CARE gave more details about the type of exploitation they were concerned about. Their primary worry was about women being ‘coerced’ into creating pornographic or explicit content. On OnlyFans, it is difficult (or impossible) to tell whether someone is being coerced or is creating content of their own free will.[11] This is a specific argument about a specific group of exploited people (e.g. victims of trafficking, or other forms of obligation). It is important to note that Christians are not the only voices condemning the platform as an arena of social exploitation and inequality – many secular feminist and modern slavery campaigners have as well.[12] [13] [14] [15]

Indeed, it has been suggested that Christians are disingenuous in condemning porn on the basis of women’s freedom from oppression, when they are in fact thinly-veiled attempts to build a totalitarian theocratic society.[16] Christians may find this to be a particularly cynical reading. Of course, Christians should be able to advocate for minorities and vulnerable people without being accused of planning a theocracy.

Pornography itself problematic

But CARE also voiced their concern about pornography more generally. Pornography is an evil because it reinforces harmful narratives about women (as objects rather than people, as means to men’s sexual gratification rather than ends in themselves). CARE claimed that ‘[t]here is a correlation between pornography consumption and sexual violence in society’.[17] [18] This is a far more general claim, appearing to argue that pornography should be outlawed altogether (not only by those ‘coerced’ to create it) because of its harmful influence on society.

CARE did not cite sources for its claim, but a research paper published in the journal Trauma, Violence and Abuse in 2020 found ‘no connection between pornography consumption and sexual violence’.[19] Research can be found to support both sides of this argument, some finding pornography to cause substantial harm, some none at all.[20] [21] Again, there are non-religious voices who also believe in the harm that porn causes to individuals and society.[22] [23] [24]

Polarising pornography

CARE might be seen as taking a middle path between Christian attitudes to pornography. On one extreme, some Christians believe creating pornographic content on OnlyFans is consistent with their faith. Some even claim that God has told them to continue to strip, and that their work frees the gospel of love from the shackles of patriarchy.[25] [26]

On the other extreme, some Christians condemn any form of pornography as a corruption of God’s creation, destructive of family values,[27] and even the work of Satan.[28]

It is no surprise that Christians cannot agree on this issue. Even feminists are bitterly divided over whether pornography liberates women or further reinforces patriarchal norms.[29] Pornography continues to polarise.

The crux of the matter

At its heart lies the issue of freedom and how it is exercised. Liberal Christians tend to argue from the importance of people’s freedom to do things: freedom to create pornography, leads to freedom to earn money, which grants them control over their lives. This freedom allows them to escape the patterns of societal bondage that the patriarchy has established, like prostitution or debt.[30]

Conservative Christians tend to argue from the importance of people’s freedom from being harmed: pornography harms both creators and consumers, spiritually, psychologically, and often physically. The more widely available pornography is, the more vulnerable people are harmed. A ban on pornography is the best way to set people free to lead godly and fulfilling lives, not weighed down by the burden of sin and guilt.

As an advocacy and lobbying group that seeks to bring a Christian perspective to ‘policies and laws’ in the UK, CARE is performing a delicate balancing act.[31] They are trying to reach as wide a range of UK lawmakers and society as possible, by appealing to principles of social justice that are current in mainstream secular conversations. At the same time, they are bringing a ‘uniquely Christian insight’,[32] preaching gospel truths that some people will reject outright.

In order not to alienate their audience, to some degree, they must assimilate.

Frazer MacDiarmid

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[1] OnlyFans to ban adult material after pressure from payment processors

[2] OnlyFans scraps plans to ban sexually explicit material

[3] The strange alliance between #MeToo and the anti-porn movement

[4] There’s a conservative civil war raging — over porn

[5] OnlyFans ban on sexually explicit content welcomed

[6] OnlyFans: How it handles illegal sex videos – BBC investigation

[7] The children selling explicit videos on OnlyFans

[8] OnlyFans ban on sexually explicit content welcomed

[9] OnlyFans porn ban a ‘kick in the teeth’ for creators

[10] Christians condemn OnlyFans U-turn on explicit content

[11] ‘Shameful OnlyFans u-turn is corporate greed trumping corporate responsibility’ – CARE

[12] There’s nothing ‘empowering’ about the sex work on OnlyFans

[13] Why is anyone still defending OnlyFans?

[14] A Look Into OnlyFans: Child Sexual Abuse Material and Trafficking

[15] Allies against porn

[16] Beware the evangelical groups trying to build Gilead under the guise of women’s lib

[17] Christians condemn OnlyFans U-turn on explicit content

[18] ‘Shameful OnlyFans u-turn is corporate greed trumping corporate responsibility’ – CARE

[19] Study: Pornography does not cause violent sex crimes

[20] PDF: The relationship between pornography use and harmful sexual attitudes and behaviours

[21] How Porn Can Fuel Sex Trafficking

[22] Fight the New Drug

[23] The strange alliance between #MeToo and the anti-porn movement

[24] Secular Society Increasingly Admits Risks of Porn

[25] Christian OnlyFans star blasted for saying “Jesus would have loved sex workers”

[26] Christian OnlyFans model who earns $1.8 million a year stripping online says GOD has told her to keep it up because she’s helping people ‘have healthy relationships’ with sexuality

[27] Pope denounces porn and corruption of kids’ minds, bodies

[28] Is Watching Porn the Devil’s Work? Exorcism Course Will Study Role of Demonic Influence

[29] Feminist views on pornography

[30] OnlyFans porn ban a ‘kick in the teeth’ for creators

[31] CARE: About

[32] CARE: About