Two things are true about sex work: it’s popular, and the people who power the industry are still stigmatized, just like the work itself. While more than half the population of the United States says they’ve watched porn, for example, and traffic to websites like PornHub tally more than 40 billion visitors annually (with the U.S. firmly leading the pack), 56 percent of Americans think that porn is “morally wrong.” Sentiments regarding off-camera sex work are similarly divided, though recent years have seen increasing support for the idea of decriminalizing it.
The idea of regulating sex work leads to messy conversations that hit on several societal pressure points, depending on personal ethics and morality. And no, lawmakers are not exempt from this. Granted, ensuring that people who voluntarily engage in sex work as a career can live dignified lives while recognizing the moral imperative to combat sex trafficking is not easy to execute in practice. But at times, it can seem like lawmakers use this complexity as a shroud to make the lives of sex workers who’ve chosen to be in the industry of their own accord more difficult.
How sex-trafficking laws can backfire
In 2018, federal authorities seized and shut down the classified advertising website Backpage, accusing the page and its founders of enabling prostitution and facilitating sex trafficking. The site claimed it was protected under the Communications Decency Act, a federal statute that says internet platform providers can’t be held legally accountable for the content its users upload. That statute weakened when former President Donald Trump signed the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) into law in April of that same year.
FOSTA-SESTA has always been a controversial pair of laws. On top of taking the wind out of the Communications Decency Act, it’s made it harder for sex workers to earn money and screen clients to keep themselves safe. In the aftermath of Backpage’s federal seizure, sex worker rights advocates Danielle Blunt and Ariel Wolf published a study in the Anti-Trafficking Review, revealing that most of the sex-worker respondents to the study’s survey said the laws were “overbearing” and “paternalistic,” doing little to actually combat sex trafficking.
One survey respondent went so far as to say that the laws were “written to remind whores that our lives are dispensable, we are not protected, our work is unseen and irrelevant, to destabilize our ability to live with any degree of agency, to flaunt the murders and negligent deaths of our loved ones as a daily reminder that the world does not mind at all watching us die and forgetting our names.”
Porn NFTs: A potential solution
As an industry, porn has always helped develop and diffuse new tech, from the VCR to online payment systems to haptic feedback. Web3 continues that tradition, and could prove capable of playing a role in providing greater economic independence and safety to sex workers.
Proof of Peach, a new platform built on the Solana blockchain and marketed as a network built “by sex workers for sex workers,” is one encouraging example of this. Founded by Crass Kitty, a cam-girl-turned-tech-lover who has since worked at NEAR Protocol as a product manager and co-founded the successful Solana NFT project Degenerate Ape Academy, Proof of Peach aims to launch a more ethical and sophisticated model for adult entertainment.
The company model is inventive. Proof of Peach customers use their Phantom wallet to mint a “creator token” for free. This gives them access to a particular creator’s page, where users can purchase individual photos and videos at a price point decided by the sex workers.
“Let’s say someone gets my token,” explained an anonymous Proof of Peach content creator in an interview with nft now. “They have access to my page where I will be posting free stuff, and they can buy NFTs that attach themselves onto that token. So, someone can flip the token that they got from me and say, look, it has all of these videos that I bought from her.”
This is meant to create a porn-NFT economy, as each user’s NFT collection will be unique to them, even if they’ve collected NFTs from the same content creator. And while the company stresses it doesn’t rely on royalties as a pillar of its business model, it does offer them to both fans and creators. If a fan resells their membership token (with all of its attached content NFTs), they receive the bulk of that sale. The creator gets 6.9 percent of that, and Proof of Peach gets 10 percent of the 6.9. Creators set the original price of the content NFTs they’re selling, of which the platform takes a 10 percent cut.
Subscription-based platforms like OnlyFans, which grew immensely in popularity during the pandemic, take a 20 percent cut from user transactions, something that the anonymous creator says is another reason she migrated to Proof of Peach.
“It’s kind of a hefty little bag [OnlyFans] has there,” the content creator continued. “One of the other problems with OnlyFans is that it takes several days for your money to clear. Proof of Peach is super user-friendly. You get paid in minutes.”
To ensure minors aren’t accessing adult content, the company uses Civic, a Web3 identity management tool, to age-verify their customers and content creators.
Using Web3 to break down sex stereotypes
The sex worker who spoke with nft now hopes that a healthy ecosystem of adult content thriving in the NFT space can help advance society’s slow but steady progress toward normalizing sex work (and even sex itself.)
“I think that sex workers aren’t fully supported in Web2,” the source underscored. “We face a lot of discrimination and it’s hard for us to fit into the real world. But I feel like the more we show people that we’re here and we’re not bad people, the more we’re accepted. We’re not Satan. Everyone watches porn. Everyone has sex. it’s not that weird.”
The sex worker we spoke to also likened Proof of Peach’s ability to help normalize sex work to the increase in mainstream acceptance that came with OnlyFan’s rise during the pandemic. On top of that, she’s excited for the platform to help onboard adult content fans to the Web3 space.
But the most significant advantage Proof of Peach offers creators, she explained, is the freedom and independence it gives them. “We give creators freedom and power over their own content and bodies,” she said. “That’s pretty amazing. Our community is made by sex workers, so we know what sex workers need and want.”