Sexualized self-expression onlineHot Tub Streams and OnlyFans

Women who show themselves scantily clad in paddling pools and are sent money for it. What used to take place in the nighttime programs of TV stations is now available on streaming portals like Twitch. Influencers can also earn money with erotic and pornographic content via the portal OnlyFans. Are these offerings a danger for children and young people?

New opportunities to earn money with erotic or pornographic content are constantly developing on the Internet. The problem is that these offers are also increasingly found on services used by children and young people. There is often no clear separation between content for adults and content for minors. What's more, anyone who wants to earn money with this type of service has to be present on all the popular channels in order to build up a large community. Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and the like are part of the standard repertoire. Even if the content on these platforms adheres to the guidelines that prevail there, they often also promote content on other channels. Thus, users are directed to platforms such as Twitch or OnlyFans, which allow them to earn money with erotic or pornographic content.

Example 1: Hot Tub Streams

In 2021, Twitch announced the launch of a new category called "Pools, Hot Tubs, and Beaches". This announcement was preceded by controversy over a new type of content on the platform. In the "Hot Tub" format, a young woman in swimwear usually appears in front of the camera and interacts with viewers via a chat function. Twitch offers a variety of ways to earn money with a stream. These include the sale of paid subscriptions for exclusive content and income from advertising. Viewers can also send money directly to the streamers. In this way, certain services are often "for sale". These can be harmless things, such as writing the name of the paying person clearly visible on a blackboard. But they can also be more explicit services like changing a bathing suit. Nudity and pornography are prohibited on Twitch, however.

Example 2: OnlyFans

The platform OnlyFans works similar to a social network (for example Facebook). You can create an account and post content without any hurdles. Unlike most well-known social networks, pornographic content is allowed on OnlyFans. It is also possible to hide the posted content behind a paywall. In other words, only those who have paid for content can see it. OnlyFans takes pains to point out that not only pornographic content is available for purchase on the platform, but also fitness workouts, for example. However, this cannot hide the fact that a significant portion of the content is clearly sexualized. OnlyFans has come into the spotlight primarily because a few well-known public figures also use OnlyFans. A related concern is that children and young people could follow their idols from other platforms to OnlyFans and come into contact with problematic content there. So far, however, it cannot be observed that this is the case.

What about the protection of minors?

It is not necessary to register to watch a stream on Twitch. In the test, it was possible to access a hot tub stream via the search function. Only a note that this stream is aimed at adults was displayed. However, this notice can simply be ignored. According to the general terms and conditions, Twitch may not be used at all by persons under 13 and between 13 and 18 only under the supervision of a parent or guardian. This is not controlled by Twitch.

Only persons of legal age are allowed to use OnlyFans. However, you can create an account without any problems and do not even have to enter your age. However, the business model of OnlyFans means that almost no content is visible until you have paid for it. To be able to pay, the account must be linked to a credit card or bank account. If you want to create your own content on OnlyFans, you have to confirm your identity and age with a photo of yourself and an official identification document.

What are the dangers for young people?

Ubiquitous and uncritical portrayals of digital sex work can give minors the impression that sexualized self-expression on the Internet is completely unproblematic. Or even that it can be an easy way to earn money. Lowering the inhibition threshold when it comes to sexualized self-portrayal on the Internet carries the risk that children and young people will not recognize sexual assaults as such. This plays into the hands of perpetrators who try to persuade minors to perform sexual acts in front of a webcam (see the section on cybergrooming).

The self-presentation of the performers is also characterized by a problematic role model. As is known from other areas of "adult entertainment," the only role of women is usually to please men and be available to them.

Tips for guardians

  • Talk to your children about sexualized self-portrayal on the Internet in a way that is appropriate for their age.
  • Regularly ask which celebrities your child fancies and form your own opinion about the content of these celebrities.
  • Agree on clear rules for the amount of money that can be spent on the Internet and what money can be spent on.
  • Agree on clear rules for communication with strangers on the Internet.