Crypto, NFTs, and the Future of Sex Work
The appeal of these technologies is obvious, but the risks may outweigh the rewards.
Sex work has always been about money.
But, with the advent of the Information Age, control of that money has largely left those earning it and fallen into the hands of banking corporations. Many of which continue to freeze accounts, block any attempt to create new ones, or otherwise actively prevent sex workers from making or keeping money.
Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin could be a solution. Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) might also be a way to circumvent these socially conservative finance companies.
However, some say these technologies do more harm than good—leaving sex workers with fewer ways to earn a living.
A brief description of cryptocurrencies and NFTs
Cryptocurrencies and NFTs are far too complex to explain in just one article. For the sake of brevity, think of the first as being only occasionally minted by a network of computers. This inherent scarcity, in turn, helps determine their value.
NFTs are blockchain-stored data. The basic nature supposedly limits them to a one-person-owned form of digital property that can be bought, sold, or traded.
Again, these are woefully inadequate descriptions. But what's important to know is why sex workers are considering them to keep their hard-earned dollars safe.
Obvious appeal obscuring significant risk
Speaking to CNBC, sex work advocate Kristen DiAngelo explained why finance companies have been adamantly blocking sex workers.
“The majority of sex work in the [United States] is legal. It's not dealt with fairly, but it's still legal,” she explains.
“Stripping is legal…massage is legal…escorting is legal. The only thing that's really illegal in the [United States] is the honest exchange of sexual activity for remuneration, for money.”
This pressure rolls downhill from finance companies to previously sex work tolerating platforms like OnlyFans.
This perilous situation has led sex workers to try adopting cryptocurrencies. They were even spurring the creation of blockchain-utilizing companies like SpankChain and LiveStars.
The appeal is obvious. Beyond not worrying whether a finance company will suddenly ban you, cryptocurrencies are growing in popularity. So transitioning from dollars to Bitcoin has become easier for sex worker and customers alike.
In the same article, Mike Stabile from the Free Speech Coalition points out that while cryptocurrency often acts and feels like your usual standard-backed money, in reality, it's highly speculative. This volatility means its value swings wildly and unexpectedly.
More troubling, cryptocurrencies may not be as secure as sex workers think. Many documented instances of hacking and theft have led to millions of dollars in losses and digital wallets linked to private individuals’ identities.
Once on the blockchain, always on the blockchain
“NFTs allow me to set the conditions of my work,” multidisciplinary artist PolyAnnie told Motherboard, “and provide me the ability to gamify my entire body of work in ways that one day I can take my hands off the ‘wheel' and let my brand run itself.”
As NFTs and cryptocurrency go hand-in-hand, embracing the first has allowed artists like PolyAnnie to effectively use the second.
This dynamic brought us what Jen Stein, also to Motherboard, dubbed “building the cockchain.” Erotic artists and sex workers use NFTs as a new way to avoid scrutiny while providing them with a secure income stream. But there's an issue with NFTs' considerable newness.
Cryptonatrix lays it out in the same article, saying, “I imagine it will take time for adult content creators and buyers to become familiar with what's going on in this space, just as it will take time for new adult specific NFT platforms to develop and test themselves.”
New or not, tech journalist Eric Ravenscraft has been adamant that NFTs won't help sex workers.
In fact, he says on this Twitter thread, “NFTs/public blockchains are DEVASTATING for porn, sex workers, and pretty much everyone else.”
Evidence for which he starts by calling out NFTs' much-heralded immutability: Once on the blockchain, they can't be easily removed. Unfortunately meaning, the same is equally true for revenge porn.
It gets worse. What you sell or buy with NFTs and cryptocurrencies becomes inescapably part of your digital wallet.
For example, Ravenscraft mentions when Jimmy Fallon flashed an image of an NFT he'd bought. This brief picture was all it took to discover Fallon’s purchasing history, and if anyone wanted to, send him cryptocurrencies or NFTs without his permission.
Sex workers should tread carefully
While some found security and safety in NFTs or cryptocurrency, the concerns Ravenscraft, Mike Stabile, and others are raising are valid—if not alarming.
If NFTs and crypto aren't the answer, then what is? How can we give sex workers a space to do business without fear of governmental or financial reprisal?
The answer begins with sex workers, their clients, and everyone who feels there's no shame in giving people what they want, raising their voices in favor of decriminalizing sex work.
Technology can certainly help. Particularly if leveraged by the sex industry and their supporters—and companies who finally see profit where banks dare to tread.
In the meantime, sex workers should tread carefully, not pin their hopes on a single digital solution.
Image Sources: Moose Photos