Chaturbate executive Shirely Lara is a sex industry veteran who sees bitcoin as a crucial part of her business. The bitcoin-friendly porn executive talks with CoinDesk reporter Leigh Cuen about bitcoin, sex and feminism.
“We accept 20 different cryptocurrencies for token purchases. The most popular ones are bitcoin, ethereum and litecoin,” Lara said.
Experts, including Lara, estimate there “thousands and thousands” of cam girls working across platforms like OnlyFan and Chaturbate at any given time. That dwarfs the incumbent porn industry. Today, OnlyFans alone is estimated to have 60,000 content creator accounts and millions of registered viewers, despite some criticism from sex workers on Twitter.
Many of the leading sex industry corporations, like OnlyFans, Chaturbate and MindGeek, appear to be owned by (relatively secretive) men, who are far removed from the public performers. Lara, who joined Chaturbate in 2011, is one of the rare examples of a woman who worked her way up to the executive level without first creating a personal porn star brand. Her work is primarily technical and operational.
“I don’t think crypto is a trend. I think it’s definitely here to stay,” Lara said, noting the steady incline of bitcoin usage among performers in Colombia and Romania. “They’ll use cryptocurrency as a way to jump on [Chaturbate] and get started while they figure out the banking stuff.”
Meanwhile, her global operations allow performers like Honey Li, in Europe, to stack sats through Chaturbate. Li said a little bit of her earnings, in addition to whatever she needs to pay bills, is set aside as bitcoin savings. For Lara, having this choice was crucial to the platform’s crypto integrations.
“You asked if we hold on to bitcoin? We don’t. We cash out. But our broadcasters do (hodl), and I think that is so smart,” Lara said.
With porn production stalled or canceled in hubs like Miami, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, the entire sex industry is shifting geographies.
More performers are relying on social media to broadcast from home. Bitcoin may now offer a different use case for platform performers versus high-end escorts, for example. The sex industry is hardly a monolith.
While social porn platforms inspire more mainstream content creators to dabble in adult themes, this further divides in-person service providers and filmmakers.
One such provider, Nina Mona, has been using bitcoin in the sex industry for two years. For her, she emphasizes bitcoin privacy tech, which would be irrelevant for users who already submit know-your-customer information to a central platform. She uses bitcoin to accept payments and also to pay advertisers without sharing her credit card information.
“I noticed a wave of OnlyFans signups when in-person work became less viable. I considered it, but don’t think the return is worth the workload or risk of exposure for me,” Mona said. “It seems safer to limit myself to a small set of screened clients than to share compromising material with a broader and less invested audience. Every set of eyeballs is an additional threat.”
In the United States, Mona said most clients who booked sessions with bitcoin resided in the Bay Area, Los Angeles or New York. Now that COVID-19 sparked some domestic migration, it’s unclear how this will impact sex workers who focused on urban hubs. For some, this means more travel and extremely selective bookings.
Performers and escorts may both operate their own wallets, even if they use platforms like OnlyFans or Chaturbate, especially to receive gifts and tributes from afar. Plus, Lara said the teledildonics trend, where internet-connected sex toys can be set to vibrate when their accounts receive payments, create new opportunities for clients to incorporate money into their fantasies.
“There’s this whole teledildonics spectrum that is growing in popularity,” she said. Li agreed with Lara, especially because there are toys for both genders that can be used in synchronized ways.
“I use teledildonic toys for work, basically every shift!” Li said. “They're tip-activated when I work. ... You can also sync the vibrations up to a Spotify account or a voice note sent by your partner.”
Mainstream platforms like Chaturbate and competitor FanCentro already accept cryptocurrency and have been working with it for years. Usage is niche, yet steady.
Many sex workers say a direct transaction and relationship is more profitable than payment facilitated by a platform. Chaturbate, for example, charges nearly half of the performer’s earnings. It provides a valuable service, but clients will need to be willing to pay in bitcoin if the performer aims to graduate to her own independent site.
“If we’re headed that way, it’s going to be a long time before we hit that milestone, because of the different governance in each country,” Lara said.
One FanCentro user and crypto owner, who goes by the alias WesMan83, said he would be happy to pay a sex worker directly in crypto if she preferred. He finds erotic service-providers that suit him using mainstream platforms like Twitter and OnlyFans, as well as personal recommendations from other clients and providers.
“I think it's important for people to understand that sex workers deserve to be paid for what they do and there is nothing wrong with what they do,” WesMan83 said. “They provide an entertainment service and work very hard for what they create. I think it's important that those of us who are proud to pay, help remove the stigma surrounding it.”
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