Unveiling the liberating effects of virtual platforms in an ever-evolving sexual marketplace

Mikaila Poirier (she/her) // Writer
Jasmin Linton (she/her) // Illustrator

In spite of the endless string of laws and shame-based societal beliefs that have worked against it for centuries, sex work has evolved into one of our generation’s most viable career options. Although the stigma around the profession can still be felt, the cultural perception of sex workers has shifted significantly in the virtual age; what was once considered too taboo to be discussed openly in mainstream media is now a defining part of it.

The relevance of sites like OnlyFans in the cultural zeitgeist is slowly nudging society towards a future where sex work can be spoken about without any harmful preconceptions, thus allowing us to effectively address the safety and accessibility issues in the industry. While we have yet to see any updates in government legislation that reflect the needs of sex workers, the internet has been an essential tool in bridging that gap.

The importance of these advancements has been made especially apparent in the past four years. Lockdowns in 2020 meant in-person sex workers lost their primary income stream without warning, and government support was often difficult to seek out without putting themselves or their clients at risk of facing legal consequences.

Moving their services to a digital space was the only option, but many saw the benefits of remote work quickly and decided to stay there. The beauty of online sex work is that it cuts out the middle-man and puts the power back into the hands of the worker, and flexible labour allows those with disabilities or chronic illnesses to address needs that are often overlooked in the job market. Although profiting in the sex industry takes effort, there are fewer barriers for those in marginalized groups or at a financial disadvantage than in many other lines of work. In a post-pandemic economy, more and more people have turned to online sexual commerce to make ends meet, and for many, it’s working.

Virtual sex work has existed since the inception of the internet, but a wave of modern platforms have transformed it into a flourishing marketplace. The options are seemingly endless, and the variety of semi-regulated sites out there means anyone with the right drive can earn money with minimal risk compared to just a few decades ago. The most infamous of these sites is the aforementioned OnlyFans, a platform that was inherently anti-sex work even before they banned porn. Thankfully, the reinvention of the site only motivated its users to seek out better alternatives, such as ManyVids; a femme-owned Canadian platform favoured by adult entertainers and webcam streamers for its feminist and LGBTQ-inclusive practices.

For a more niche target audience, certain sites allow people to explore kinks like financial domination or pre-worn panties. The former is a relatively exclusive market that can be hard to break into, while the latter is quite easily accessed through websites like Panty Trust. Here, where anonymity is common, success is especially dependent on effective marketing practices.

This process will often surprise many people looking to break into the industry, as this type of work has garnered a false reputation for providing quick cash with minimal effort. This belief, however, is far from accurate. To be a sex worker is to transform yourself into a business, and the knowledge that it takes to do so only further legitimizes sex work as a real and respectable career.

The validity of the sex industry can also be recognized in its longevity. Prostitution is colloquially referred to as ‘the world’s oldest profession’ for a reason. Yet, traditional forms of sex work are far less relevant now that the internet has taken over, and there are arguments to be made for whether or not this is a good thing. The most obvious advantage of working virtually is the improved safety features.

Many sex workers still provide in-person services, of course, but they’re able to thoroughly research their clients ahead of time to ensure that they know who they’re meeting. Removing the internet as a factor in these exchanges can result in working conditions that are unpredictable, unregulated and potentially dangerous. Given that providing sex workers with protected workspaces or forms of security is still illegal in B.C., online spaces often end up being the only option for a safety buffer.

Once a screening process is established, though, traditional sex work certainly has its perks. It’s far easier to build a regular clientele this way, as providing online services can be impersonal. There’s also the element of pleasure, as many sex workers are naturally motivated by things other than just financial gain. For those who prefer physical connection, traditional sex work is more fulfilling. However, this seems to be less of an issue in the modern landscape of the industry. With increased control and accessibility, all from the comfort of your own home, it’s hard to see why virtual sex work wouldn’t be taking over.

The internet has contributed to the boom of the sex work industry in a multitude of ways. Beyond the improved working conditions that it provides for sex workers, the option to remain anonymous online has made sex work seem even more appealing for both parties in the exchange; femmes on Twitch can get paid for streaming themselves in a bikini from the shoulders down, while wealthy, reputable clients can choose to hide their identity behind a screen. The process is well-structured in the pursuit of avoiding shame, but the real objective should be to continue reshaping a culture where sex and the human desire for it isn’t seen as shameful.

It’s refreshing to witness the strides that modern sex work has taken towards achieving this goal. The internet has allowed a subculture of sex work advocates to unify, and as a result, mainstream media has never been more sex-positive. Although Western society should ideally be further ahead by now, at least we can say that we’re moving in the right direction.

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