I walked the glittering red carpet at the XBIZ Awards to find out what the future holds for a post OnlyFans industry.
“I’m here to celebrate and show off my cleavage,” one woman confides to me as she raises her voice to cover the noise from the audience. The location is full of eyes – the unexpected rain in LA has also brought the red carpet indoors – and everywhere people shine in rain and sweat, bright makeup and tight clothes.
Sometimes compared to the “Golden Globes of Porn“, the XBIZ Awards are the adult entertainment industry’s awards. Filmmakers, directors, actors, production companies and hosting sites have been attending XBIZ since 2003 for networking, to collect their golden trophies and – more than anything – to have fun and exposure. I was invited to this year’s ceremony by Erika Lust , adult indie filmmaker and founder of Lust Cinema, Else Cinema, XConfessions and The Store.
As a sex writer , it’s part of my job to keep abreast of the world of sex and how we talk about it. Lust is more vocal than most. I watched his TED Talk on Big Porn (Which Lust compared to Big Pharma, for all the problems it causes), I listened to his treatise on “female gas” (a ubiquitous and often defining response to bad gas for the industry) and saw the Netflix documentary Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On , which went behind the scenes of Lust’s studio in Barcelona.
Although I already knew about Lust, I wasn’t sure what to expect from a star-studded night in Hollywood. However, I knew what I wanted to know. With the COVID crisis, the Trump-era passage of FOSTA-SESTA , the success of OnlyFans , and a growing demand for ethical, queer-centric erotic content, I had to ask: What is the future of pornography?
“I can see how the industry is transforming, to be honest, because of OnlyFans,” says Tomie Tang , an independent queer creator who started her career in the industry during the pandemic. Tang came to XBIZ with her real-life best friend and on-screen co-star, Ivy , and the two make up what they call “farm-to-table porn” with real queer people and their organic connections.
Sites like OnlyFans have given creators the freedom to make the porn they want and connect directly with fans – instead of going through an agency or production company. For most people I spoke to at XBIZ, power over content means more power over your own life, more behind-the-scenes rights, and more money. As one performer said: Why spend 13 hours on set when I can make just as much money at home with half the effort?
Tang hopes creators will continue to move toward creating indie content. “It’s better for us, especially as women, to be able to own and produce our own content. We are less likely to be exploited and make more money that way.”
Both claim that their success has to do with connecting directly with their fans and making porn films that show authentic queer sex—which means they don’t include many mainstream porn gold standards for the male gaze, such as frames with sperm ejaculations (and sometimes even orgasm altogether).
“People are actually looking in porn for a connection,” says Ivy. “Not always, but especially with a lot of independent creators. We communicate with customers. People tell me about their lives. More than anything, I play the empty therapist.”
I met Romeo later that night. He was hard to miss as he was dressed in a patterned jacket with gold stripes. We went to a corner to talk and he left a trail of glitter in his wake. She told me she broke into the feminist adult film industry six years ago in Berlin and says the scene is only now starting to get the attention it deserves. “The feminist scene is now coming out and finally being put in the same award categories as these mainstream studios and brands that have been pushing hard for years.” He says viewers can relate more to this kind of porn because it shows people from different backgrounds, with different tastes and bodies doing things that are “actually very common in people’s sex lives”.
“I can see myself 20 years from now and say, wow, I’m happy I did this,” says Romeo. “I didn’t do it for the money. I did it because I wanted to create something beautiful.”
All in all, they saw a world where pornography is no longer shameful, but an ode to the spectrum of human sexuality and intimacy, rather than a cis man’s wet dream. It was a dizzying image, one that makes me, a feminist and a lesbian, deeply hopeful. I started writing this article in my head with a title that sounded something like: “Pornography will be normalized, totally ethical and somehow communist!”
Then I sat down for the awards ceremony
The hall was filled with dozens of round tables, with screens around the stage on which you could see golden statuettes. The statuettes had the same vibe as the Oscars trophy, except the XBIZ version was a naked woman with an arched back and generous bust. As the nominations were read out loud, the women were replaced by quick clips of sex scenes corresponding to each category and nomination, and very few showed anything other than what Romeo described as “bang, bang, bang” pornography. “.
The ceremony was fun, enjoyable, and a little bit sexy (one winner took her trophy and said “I’m gonna put it in my pussy!”), but with each clip shown, I realized how deeply ingrained gender conventions still are and sex in industry.
It’s not like no sincere efforts were made. In addition to several categories like Best Sex Scene, there were also categories honoring trans performers of the year, gay and older performers in the industry. However, only trans female performers were nominated in the trans category, with no trans male representation; the category of gay performers had only men, no trace of lesbians; the girl-on-girl category was femme-on-femme only (proof that the scenes are for men, not women having sex with women), and the category honoring older performers was all MILFs. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the awards were also dominated by white people.
The ceremony brought me back to reality and reminded me of the conversation I had with Lust in the cool lobby of the Holloway House Hotel.
“People are still afraid of sex,” Lust told me. “Mainstream pornography teaches people that systemic violence against women is okay and part of a normal sexual experience. It teaches people that race fetishization is totally acceptable, that the sexualization of teenage girls is not a problem. And it teaches people that gender roles should be maintained and enforced during sex.”
Lust says this fear of sex is learned. That’s why people are ashamed to talk about their desires, to communicate their fantasies and things that turn them on to their partners, and why young people are force-fed abstinence-only sex education, only to end up editing out those fears when they get to mainstream pornography. It has also delayed the full emergence of gender representations that do not fetishize performers and do not confine their activity to so-called niche markets and categories.
But at the same time, the presence of feminist and ethical pornography was felt at XBIZ – and the desire to do and see more . The performers I spoke to, especially those new to the industry, were clearly aware of what needed to be done differently and how they were going to do it – specifically, on their own with indie, DIY production houses. And if their vision is any indication of what’s to come, the future of pornography is in good hands.