Visa’s Pornhub Cancelation Is Yet Another Blow to Adult Content Creators and Online Porn

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Nearly a year after OnlyFans announced its intent to prohibit adult content from its platform citing concerns from payment processors, a new threat to the industry’s financial systems is here. On August 4, Visa announced that it would be suspending payments for advertisements on websites run by Mindgeek, the company that operates some of the biggest porn websites in the world, including Pornhub. (MindGeek owns several other tube websites such as Xtube, Redtube and YouPorn as well as the adult production company Brazzers.)

The decision comes after a federal judge in California denied Visa’s requests to dismiss a lawsuit against them by a woman accusing the processor of facilitating in the monetization of illegal content on Pornhub, particularly child pornography. While the suspension only impacts advertising through Mindgeek’s ad arm, TrafficJunky, many adult creators fear the move signals a return to efforts to demonetize and censor porn writ large.

Studies have consistently shown that a majority of men ages 18-34 watch pornography, and Pornhub is one of the most visited websites in the world, according to Similar Web. One study found that fully 98% of men reported viewing pornography online in the past six months, and 73% of women said the same. That makes porn more popular than sports, yet for all the interest, it’s a topic that’s rarely discussed or treated like a legitimate enterprise.

So what does Visa’s decision mean for the future of pornography?

First, adult content creators’ concerns have nothing to do with Visa’s refusal to monetarily support illegal content — a practice that would itself be illegal. Rather, they’re concerned about Visa’s apparently conservative approach toward legal adult content, and it’s murky plans for handling such transactions in the future. Adult industry insiders are worried this decision is part of a larger trend toward demonetizing pornography.

Gustavo Turner, News Editor for adult industry site XBiz, says it’s part of a broader “secularwashing” effort by Evangelical opponents of pornography like the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE). Using accusations of extreme issues like child pornography or sex trafficking, they’re hoping to pressure major financial institutions to divest from sites like Pornhub entirely.

“The anti-porn lobby’s endgame,” says Turner, is to functionally shut down MindGeek, OnlyFans and other platforms through which adult sex workers legally earn an income.

Daisy Does Taxes, a sex worker-friendly tax expert, financial coach and semi-retired sex worker, agrees with Turner’s hypothesis that this isn’t just a one-off change. When the decision was released, Daisy took to both TikTok and Twitter to help spread the word. “This decision came about because of pressure put on Visa by anti-porn, religious organizations like NCOSE and Laila Mickelwait [an anti-porn activist],” she says. “These organizations often operate under the pretense of protecting women and children, when in reality these policies do nothing to prevent sex trafficking and child porn, but do harm consensual sex workers.”

The suspension of Visa payments on advertisements on Pornhub isn’t a death blow for the porn industry, but it brings Evangelical anti-porn crusaders one step closer to an important long-term goal: cutting off adult entertainment from legitimate credit card processors and financial institutions. In the worst-case scenario for porn, financial processors will leave the adult industry entirely. That would put even the most ethical porn websites out of business.

“The larger concern here is that Visa and Mastercard will pull out of the adult industry altogether, as NCOSE and other anti-porn groups won’t stop putting pressure on them until they do,” says Daisy. “If they did, no buyer could use a Visa or a Mastercard to pay for content on adult sites, which has the potential to bankrupt the industry.”

This also isn’t the first instance of companies like Visa inhibiting the adult industry. Pornhub has been unable to accept credit card payments for features like Pornhub Premium since December 2020, and credit card companies were thought to be a significant motivation behind OnlyFans’ announcement in August 2021 that it would be banning adult content. Though OnlyFans reversed this decision, many believe the reversal was only temporary.

“OnlyFans has already been looking for an ‘out’ in order to launch an IPO — they can’t find any investors as a porn site, so there is a strong possibility they will ban porn from their site,” says Daisy. “Almost every online creator has an OnlyFans and it’s a significant source of income in the industry, so that decision would be devastating.”

This income issue was a major source of outcry against OnlyFans last year, and continues to cause anxiety for sex workers today.

“Visa not wanting to work with Pornhub will hurt models and content creators who rely on this income to live,” says Luxxx The Fox, an adult model who shares her work through OnlyFans, Chaturbate and elsewhere. “Will this cause other credit card companies to stop working with erotic sites? I’m sure this is every sex worker’s biggest fear. Credit card companies making the decision for us on what we should spend our money on isn’t fair or ethical.”

Per a statement released from Visa’s CEO Alfred F. Kelly, Jr. about the decision, it is not Visa’s intention to arbitrate what consumers should legally spend their money on.

“It is Visa’s policy to follow the law of every country in which we do business,” Kelly, Jr.’s letter reads. “We do not make moral judgments on legal purchases made by consumers, and we respect the rightful role of lawmakers to make decisions about what is legal and what is not. Accordingly, Visa can be used only at MindGeek studio sites that feature adult professional actors in legal adult entertainment.”

It is possible, however, that this suspension is temporary. “We will suspend TrafficJunky’s Visa acceptance privileges based on the court’s decision until further notice,” Kelly, Jr. states in his explanation. Nevertheless, concern that this may be just one step in a greater sweep of financial processors in the adult industry lingers.

With that in mind, advocates like Daisy are making sure sex worker voices are heard. “Because we are so heavily censored on social media, the first step is to boost our own voices. People need to know what is going on in order to be prepared, so we need to share information within our community.”

It’s part of a long, continuous struggle sex workers have experienced for decades, most prominently in recent years with controversial major legislation like FOSTA, or the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act. But Daisy is sure that she and others won’t be giving up.

“I know all of us in the sex work community are exhausted, burnt out, and sick of having to fight every day just to stay visible and earn a living,” Daisy said. “However, this community is incredibly resilient. I’ve never witnessed another community of people who care about one another so deeply. While I don’t have faith in elected officials or corporations doing anything to combat this, I firmly believe that the sex work community can overcome anything. We are not going anywhere.”

  

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