An old adage used to hold that pornography was “recession-proof” and immune from the economic struggles that other industries face when markets went south. This started to change in the early 2000s, with the rise of the internet. One year before the recession that took hold in 2001—a combination of the dot com bubble and 9/11—pornographers started feeling an economic squeeze.
“I personally am finding that to make the same money, I am having to work harder on my marketing and site interactions to get people to spend.”
FriendFinder Network filed for bankruptcy in 2013. But it didn’t cite the recession as the reason. Membership to its sites was down, but a spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal that specifically, credit card companies were "denying transactions and refusing to process transactions” for its sites. Banking discrimination killed it, not the economy. For independent sex workers online, this story hasn’t changed. Several told Motherboard that they’re seeing slower business this year compared to years’ past, because of a variety of factors. Censorship and discrimination top the list, as this has been the most turbulent time in online sex work in years: people are still feeling the effects of FOSTA/SESTA, legislation signed in 2018 that caused numerous adult sites to shutter and was devestating for workers’ livelihoods. In 2020, following pressure from anti-porn groups, Visa and Mastercard pulled service from Pornhub, and in 2021, Onlyfans announced it would boot sex off the platform, then changed its mind. Mastercard changed its rules in late 2021 to make it even harder to sell adult content on sites that already had strict safety rules. “Censorship is definitely a huge factor in our income,” Mai said. “Every time we find a platform and start to thrive, we constantly get shut down and need to find ways around the ambiguous rules.” At the same time as the economy has flagged, online censorship and deplatforming of anything sexual has gotten worse. It’s difficult, then, to separate the economy’s impacts on sex work from the general clusterfuck of censorship. Sex workers keep adapting and innovating in the middle of depressions, recessions, and stagflations.“From my experience, there’s always going to be an unpredictable amount of highs and lows throughout the year but it definitely depends on the state of sex work in society as a whole,” Nightwood said. “For instance, when Onlyfans tried to pull the plug on sex workers in 2021 it was largely due to the bank’s attitudes toward adult content. Even though the ban was lifted so much damage was already done. I suppose in a way, sex work has its own economy.”
“Every time we find a platform and start to thrive, we constantly get shut down and need to find ways around the ambiguous rules.”