In an age of increasing digital connectivity, the intersection between personal choice and professional careers has become more intricate than ever before. One such collision, surrounded by controversy and stigma, involves individuals who engage in content creation on platforms like OnlyFans while holding traditional employment, particularly in sensitive professions like teaching.
I recently represented a client whose employment was terminated solely based on her involvement with the platform, notwithstanding the fact that she used it primarily as a way of selling tasteful partially-nude photographs of herself, and of promoting and uplifting her own wellbeing. When she approached me, she expressed that there was a lack of readily available information about the legal rights and protections for individuals in her circumstances.
Therefore, and with her consent, this blog post aims to shed light on the subject, by providing some legal considerations for those navigating the delicate balance between their OnlyFans and their professional careers. I hope that by disseminating this information, I can assist in empowering individuals who are facing similar dilemmas, enabling them to approach the situation with a well-rounded argument and the knowledge (and encouragement) to seek appropriate legal advice.
Peering behind the curtain: Unraveling the enigma of OnlyFans
OnlyFans is an online peer-to-peer platform, which allows for content creators to connect with service users. OnlyFans is primarily used for adult content, and as a result, the website is only accessible by members who have provided a valid credit card. Access to individual member’s content is often only available to those who pay the subscription fee. There are currently more than 2 million content creators, and more than 190 million users.
OnlyFans hosts a variety of adult content, some of which may be considered pornographic, and some of which is not considered pornographic. For example, New Zealand dual-Olympian rower Robbie Manson uses his OnlyFans account to sell tasteful photos where he embraces nudity. In an article on NZ Herald, he claims he “strives to maintain a balance between artistry and professionalism”, and that:
I’m on a mission to promote healthy masculinity, to challenge homophobia in sports and raise awareness about mental health, both within the elite athlete community and the LGBTQ+ community.
This is significantly different from traditional “social media” like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn, where the purpose is to allow users to openly and publicly connect with friends, family, and others in their network. These types of websites are inherently “social” and encourage social interaction through a more electronic means.
They are completely different from OnlyFans.
Beyond taboos: Unmasking OnlyFans as legitimate work
It is important to enter this article with an understanding that most of the content creators on OnlyFans are "sex workers", in the sense that they are providing sexual services (including sexually suggestive content) in exchange for money, and the starting point is that, in New Zealand, sex work is legitimate work with legal status. Someone’s decision to engage in sex work does not make them any less ethical, moral, professional or any less virtuous. Just like any form of work, it deserves recognition and protection. It requires skill, effort, and dedication, and it can provide a valuable source of income for those who choose to engage in it.
It is a service which was created to meet a specific need in the market, and many of the people who are accessing those services are ethical, moral, professional and virtuous people.
We are all human beings, and most people have sexual needs.
In my view, this means that the first consideration for employees in this position is whether there are any clauses in their employment agreement which limit their ability to engage in secondary employment. It would be worthwhile also reviewing other provisions relating to "conflict of interest" and "internet and social media use," to understand whether the ability to engage in secondary work could otherwise be limited.
We know that in accordance with section 67H of the Employment Relations Act 2000, a secondary employment provision must not be included in an employee’s employment agreement unless the employer has genuine reasons based on reasonable grounds for including the provision, and the reasons are stated in the employee’s employment agreement. This means we must first consider whether there are "reasonable grounds" for preventing a person from engaging in sex work.
Challenging stereotypes: Battling gender bias in the face of sex work
There may be legitimate reasons why a person would not be able to engage in sex work while employed for their employer, however, the traditional blanket approach which deems sex workers unworthy of certain employment is (in my view) inherently discriminatory (on the basis of gender). I could understand there being an issue if a person were wearing their work uniform in their OnlyFans content, were otherwise promoting their OnlyFans account alongside their employment, or if their content was accessible to the tamariki they teach (for example, High School teachers), however, the type of case we more commonly see is where an employer has a blanket "No OnlyFans" rule, and fails to consider the specific circumstances.
In my opinion, in most cases, complaints about an employee's OnlyFans account usually stem from sexist and unfair beliefs, and companies often make decisions based on wrong assumptions about how women should behave. In sensitive areas, like teaching, there's a mistaken belief that women who engage in sex work are bad or don't deserve to work in their chosen profession.
This stigma against sex workers is rooted in patriarchal attitudes that women are morally inferior to men. It is a view that defines women by their sexual purity, and we often see this when employer's make their arguments that (for some reason) a person who engages in sex work isn't professional or honest, or that there is otherwise some other breach of "ethics" or misalignment of "values."
In the specific context of teaching, there is an inherently discriminatory message: that sex workers are unable to care for, and educate, young tamariki in a way which is professional and respectful. This assumption that sex work is immoral or less worthy of respect is based only on societal stigma and cultural biases, rather than any actual evidence of harm to the tamariki they teach.
Employers might argue that the employee's sex work has the potential to bring their business into disrepute, however, by assuming that the service users will automatically make negative connections between an employee's sex work and their employment, companies are perpetuating the idea that women who engage in sex work are inherently shameful and immoral, and that their presence in certain professions or industries (such as teaching) is damaging.
This is especially the case when we consider that it is always the sex workers who is blamed and punished for engaging in sex work, while their clients, who are predominately men, are not held accountable for their actions. This deep-seated disparity is typically because societies have viewed men's sexual desires as natural and inevitable, while women are considered sexual deviants. Make it make sense.
It is important to recognise that the discrimination and stigma faced by sex workers disproportionately affects women, especially those who belong to marginalised communities, such as trans women, women of colour, and low-income women. By failing to acknowledge and address this systemic discrimination, companies are contributing to a culture that perpetuates violence, harassment, and exploitation against sex workers.
Challenging the dichotomy: Sex work and teaching
Within the teaching profession, a prevailing dichotomy persists between sex work and the teacher's role. However, I could argue that "Our Code, Our Standards," the code which sets out the high standards for ethical behaviour that is expected of every teacher, supports a person's ability to engage in some forms of sex work as a means of secondary employment:
Whakamana recognises a teacher's individual autonomy and agency. It acknowledges their right to engage in lawful work that aligns with their personal choices, including sex work. By upholding the principle of whakamana, individuals have the freedom to make decisions about their own bodies without being subjected to judgment or discrimination.
Manaakitanga emphasises the need to treat all individuals with care and respect, regardless of what they choose to do in their personal lives. By practicing manaakitanga, we promote an inclusive and supportive environment where individuals are valued for their inherent worth and dignity. It is essential to extend manaakitanga to all members of the teaching profession, including teachers who are engaged in tasteful sex work, recognising that everyone deserves respect and fair treatment. The teacher's decision to engage in tasteful sex work does not make them any less worthy of respect as a teacher.
Pono highlights the importance of integrity, and recognising that sex work, when conducted consensually and lawfully, is a valid occupation deserving of respect. Upholding the principle of pono requires us to challenge stigmatising attitudes and biases. It is crucial to approach this situation with fairness and honesty, acknowledging that sex work, like any other form of work, can be a legitimate choice and should not be used as a basis for discrimination or judgment.
Whanaugatanga emphasises the need to build relationships and foster a sense of community that embraces and promotes diversity within the teaching profession. It is through cultivating whanaungatanga that we create an inclusive and supportive environment for all educators. Recognising and accepting diverse backgrounds, experiences, and choices, including engagement in sex work, contributes to a profession that values and celebrates the richness of its members.
We must remember that young tamariki look to their teachers as role models and sources of guidance. By maintaining a profession that embraces diversity, inclusivity, and acceptance of individual choices, teachers have the opportunity to shape the mindset of future generations. However, if we continue to exclude individuals based on stigmatised characteristics, we risk fostering a cycle of discrimination, reinforcing harmful beliefs, and perpetuating societal biases.
In my view, it would be inherently discriminatory to claim that engaging in sex work will always be a breach of the Teaching Council’s codes, standards and/or principles. There will always need to be an analysis of the circumstances, and in circumstances where an OnlyFans account is used to promote tasteful content, it is private and behind a ‘paywall’ (and cannot be accessed by tamariki), and it is not promoted publicly in the community, then I can't see how it can be found to interfere with a person's ability to be a teacher.
Conclusion: Forging a stronger future
In my view, employers who take a "one size fits all" approach to employees who have OnlyFans accounts are often those same people and companies that hold conservative ethics and morals. However, it is essential to highlight that these views are not always representative of the majority of the public of Aotearoa New Zealand. In my view, in allowing employers to dictate how employees spend their personal time, whether it involves engaging in sex work, performing in drag shows, or being involved in polyamorous relationships (as some examples), would set a dangerous precedent. It would undermine the principles of personal autonomy and diversity that are integral to a progressive and inclusive society.
By challenging the discriminatory attitudes of these companies, we take a stand against the stigmatisation of sex workers and other individuals who deviate from traditional norms. It is crucial to recognise that one’s personal life choices should not infringe upon their professional capacities or opportunities. Upholding a more inclusive and accepting workforce requires us to confront and dismantle these outdated moral judgments that hinder the rights and dignity of sex workers.