Sexualised self-expression online - hot tub streams and OnlyFans

There is a category on the popular streaming platform Twitch that is dedicated to hot tubs, usually featuring women in bathing suits or bikinis, receiving money in exchange for displaying their bodies during the stream. Following a similar dynamic, influencers and content creators can earn money by producing erotic and pornographic content on OnlyFans, a platform where subscribers can access exclusive, often inappropriate content after purchasing a subscription. Do these options pose a danger for children and young people?

Date 2023-08-11 Author German Safer Internet Centre Section awareness Topic advertising/commercialism, grooming, love, relationships, sexuality (online), potentially harmful content Audience children and young people, parents and carers, teachers, educators and professionals
A young woman streaming in front of her computer screen

New opportunities to earn money with erotic or pornographic content are constantly developing on the internet. The problem is that these opportunities are also increasingly found in services that are also used by children and young people. There is often no clear separation between content for adults and content for minors. What's more, anyone wishing to earn money this way must be present on all the popular channels and social platforms just 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 respective guidelines, content creators often also promote content on other channels with different guidelines. Thus, users are directly directed to platforms such as Twitch or OnlyFans, which allow them to upload and monetise 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 this 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 the 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. 

Therefore, 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. However, nudity and pornography are prohibited on Twitch.

Screenshot of the homepage of the pools, hot tubs and beaches category on Twitch

On Twitch, hot tub streams are easy to find using the search function. Registration is not necessary for watching.

Screenshot of the warning message that a stream is dedicated to an adult audience. It is always possible to click the warning away.

Streams for adults can be marked accordingly. However, this notice can simply be clicked away.

Example 2: OnlyFans

The platform OnlyFans works like a social network (Facebook, for example). 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 strives 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 sexualised. 

OnlyFans has come into the spotlight primarily because a few well-known public figures also use the platform and monetise their content. 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.

Screenshot of the OnlyFans account of US rapper Cardi B.

OnlyFans account of US rapper Cardi B.

Screenshot of content creators on OnlyFans suggest a personal relationship to their followers through private messages.

Content creators on OnlyFans suggest a personal relationship to their followers through private messages.

What about the protection of minors?

It is not necessary to register to watch a stream on Twitch. In our 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 however 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. 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 sexualised 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 sexualised self-portrayal on the internet might carry the risk that children and young people will not recognise 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 on the German Safer Internet Centre).

The self-presentation of the performers is also characterised by a problematic role model and gender bias. 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 and caregivers

  • Talk to your children about sexualised 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.

The German Safer Internet Centre has developed a booklet for teachers and educators (in English) about selfies, sexting and self-presentation.

Find out more about the work of the German Safer Internet Centre, including their awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services – or find similar information for other Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.

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