Internet | January 17, 2020 10:43 am

Kaylen Ward and the Rise of Viral Charity Porn

Stripping down for a good cause is nothing new, but Ward’s campaign has introduced a new era of naked philanthropy

kaylen ward
Kaylen Ward and her fellow Naked Philanthropists are saving the planet one nude at a time.
Twitter/Kaylen Ward

Sex sells, but sex also gives back. 

Earlier this month, model turned “Naked Philanthropist” Kaylen Ward launched a provocative new trend in philanthropy after raising over $1M for Australian fire relief by offering to send nude photos to donors in a viral Twitter campaign. The massive success of Ward’s first foray into naked philanthropy led to a first-of-its-kind charitable partnership with subscription content service OnlyFans, a second campaign to benefit earthquake relief efforts in Puerto Rico, as well as numerous copycat campaigns launched by models, sex workers and fellow aspiring “naked philanthropists” of all kinds. 

Model Jenna Lee was among the first batch of prominent figures to join Ward’s effort, and tells InsideHook her own relief campaign has raised over $60,000 for Australian wildfire relief. 

“I take climate change very seriously which is why I felt the need to participate in this specific campaign,” Lee says, adding that the experience has been “absolutely incredible” and she hopes to launch similar campaigns to support other causes in the future.

Countless others have since joined Ward and Lee, and while the viral trend may seem like a novelty, the Naked Philanthropist herself has been quick to acknowledge her place in the much broader tradition of philanthro-porn. 

“All the girls acting like I ‘stole’ their idea for the nudes for charity are literally insane,” Ward tweeted. “Neither them or I pioneered the idea of ‘charity porn.’”

Indeed, while porn and charity may seem like strange bedfellows, the porn industry’s surprisingly rich history of charitable endeavors is well documented. 

Pornhub has been in the business of giving back for years, with Vox’s recent charity porn timeline dating the site’s altruistic efforts back to at least 2012. Since the official launch of Pornhub Cares in 2015, the company has raised money and awareness through a variety of cheeky campaigns like last year’s “Dirtiest Porn Ever” and “Beesexual” programs, which donated to ocean pollution relief and bee-saving charities, respectively.

Like Ward and her followers, other models and sex workers have also previously used their platforms to launch their own charitable endeavors in recent years. Maxim has dutifully covered Belgian model and activist Marisa Papen’s racy calendars for wildlife and ocean pollution relief, while porn star Mercedes Carrera teamed up with a group of fellow performers in 2015 for a live cam show to raise money for the world’s first porn-funded STEM scholarship.

This growing trend among pornographic models, performers and sex workers launching their own independent campaigns reflects not only a new form of philanthropy, but also an important shift in the sex industry at large. As Neha Chandrachud noted in her coverage of Carrera for Vice, “Carrera and her team challenge the dominant narrative that sex workers are inherently oppressed and unable to practice self-determination.”

However, while in many cases the internet may help provide space for creators to build their own platforms, it’s still not an easy place to be a sex worker. Instagram infamously thanked Ward for her charitable contributions by shuttering her account on the grounds that she had violated community guidelines (despite the fact that her campaign took place on Twitter), and while Lee tells InsideHook that the response to her campaign has been generally positive, she has had to deal with people trying to either resell or republish her images. 

“Sex workers need to be more protected when it comes to this matter for this very reason,” she says. 

Meanwhile, like sex work itself, charity porn is hardly an exclusive product of the digital age. Sexy calendars have been a fundraising staple since some point when people still used physical calendars, and the Playboy Mansion was once a coveted destination for benefits and fundraisers hosted by even the most “buttoned-down” of charitable foundations, the New York Times reported back in 2000.

The appeal of mixing sex and charity is obvious — it’s roughly the same appeal as mixing sex with anything, plus the inherently provocative salacious-meets-wholesome juxtapositon — but its current resurgence may actually come as something of a surprise. After all, in the digital age, there’s never any need to fork over cash for nudes. So why were people so eager to donate money in exchange for a mere nude photo?

As it turns out, the motivation probably had less to do with the nudes themselves than it did with the movement’s surrounding virality.

Melanie Ulle, CEO of Denver-based philanthropy consulting firm Philanthropy Expert, likens the current trend to the equally buzzy but considerably more G-rated Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS that swept the internet back in 2014.

“It comes as no surprise that folks are upping the ante now for Australia,” Ulle tells InsideHook. “The philanthro-porn we’re seeing now is another innovative way to grab the attention of donors who otherwise might remain apathetic.” 

The mainstream virality of these campaigns may also point to a growing cultural acceptance of X-rated philanthropy. While some charity porn efforts in the past have been thwarted by pearl-clutching organizations that refused to accept porn-funded gifts, Ward and company have generally reported a surprisingly positive public response. 

“It has been a very positive campaign,” says Lee. “To date I have not gotten one bad message.”

After all, sex work is work. Charity porn is charity.