The Hard Truth About OnlyFans

"I've suffered with body image my whole life, and now I can pay my bills with it. It's still crazy to me."

Beyoncé rapped about it on her recent collaboration with Megan Thee Stallion. Kerry Katona, Blac Chyna and Love Island’s Megan Barton Hanson all use it. The New York Times called it ‘the paywall of porn’. It’s pretty clear that OnlyFans is having one hell of a moment.

Launched in 2016 as a way for influencers to directly monetise their content, OnlyFans has more than 30 million users – and while it hosts creators across a spectrum of talents from comedy to music, the main draw is the stuff that’s to oracy for Instagram. The platform’s founder Thomas Stokley told BuzzFeed News in May that the site was seeing 200,000 new signups every 24 hours, with 7,000 to 8,000 new creators joining every day. He estimates that adult material makes up about 50 percent of the site’s content. Some of these creators are professional porn performers, some are already involved in other kinds of sex work, and some are amateurs who have discovered that there can be serious money in selling nudes online.

Just look at the platform’s most popular creator, Australian Instagram model Jem Wolfie – according to OnlyFans, she earns over $100k a month on subscriptions from her 10,000 subscribers.

There are no official figures on how many Irish users or creators the site has, but a quick look on social media will confirm its growing popularity over here. Ana*, 29, set up her account in December of last year after becoming intrigued by the buzz around OnlyFans on Twitter. “I was training in a buying and merchandising office after years of retail work, but I’d always had long-term absences due to mental health reasons,” she tells STELLAR. “My mam died a few years ago and that only exacerbated things. I just really struggled with having to go to work five days a week, having a responsibility to other people… I saw a lot of people on Twitter seeming to have some access with OnlyFans, so I thought I’d give it a go and see if the income from it alongside the dole would be enough to get by.”

In the months since she set up her account, Ana has earned about €9000, which includes private sales made over social media. OnlyFans creators set their own prices – subscriptions range from a minimum of $4.99 to a maximum of $49.99 a month – and can earn extra money through pay-per-view (PPV) messages and tips from subscribers. The site takes a 2o percent cut of the earnings.

“I haven’t been making that much during quarantine because I find it really hard to be motivated to make content and advertise,” says Ana. “But even though I’m barely active, I still make $100-200 a week just from people renewing subscriptions, or sending out PPV messages.”

Selena*, 24, has made $15,000 in a year on OnlyFans, and saw it as a natural progression from selling her nudes privately. “I’ve always been someone who was very comfortable with my body and my sexuality. I’d already been posting somewhat juicy or salacious pictures on my personal accounts for a long time, and selling content to people privately via DM or email for years,” she says. When she started, she was also working full-time, but there have been periods in which she has depended on her income from OnlyFans. “I’m lucky because it’s something I do purely out of fun and enjoyment, and of course money is, well, money. There are people whose situations are different and who depend on this work, which I think is important to highlight.”

What with the high cost of living and ongoing rental crisis in this country, it’s easy to see why earning money through OnlyFans has become an attractive prospect for many Irish men and women. “It’s hard to live on a basic wage in this economy, and I’ve started thinking about having my own home. I wanted to start some savings but that wasn’t possible on my regular income,” says Kayleigh*, 24, who uses OnlyFans to subsidise her earnings from her ‘vanilla job’. “It’s allowed me to work on my own terms, choose my own hours, and given me the freedom that a regular job just doesn’t allow.”

Kayleigh also points out that it makes her feel good about herself. “It has changed the way I view my body dramatically! I’ve suffered with body image my whole life, and now I can pay my bills with it. It’s still crazy to me.”

Opinions on sex work are divisive. Some believe the sex trade is exploitive and should be abolished entirely. Some think it is inherently misogynistic. Others argue that many women chose sex out of their own free will, and should be allowed to work in safety. In Ireland, the purchase of sex is illegal under the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017, but this law does not extend to online sex work. In this way, selling nudes on OnlyFans can almost seem like a grey area – does it even count? And if it does, are we coming closer to sex work being seen as ‘acceptable’?

Kate McGrew of the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) says that in an ideal world, OnlyFans creators would acknowledge the struggles of more traditional sex workers, who have laid the groundwork for this new era in the sex industry. She explains that those who engage in sex work online are often higher up in the ‘whorearchy’ – the hierarchy that exists in the sex industry, which makes some type of sec work more stigmatised than others – and can look down on those who work differently.

“To a degree, the more ‘acceptable’ that all forms of sex work can be understood to be, the more potential there is for sex work to be a safer and less stigmatised industry,” she says. “There’s always a wariness of people that come into the sex industry without knowing our struggle and history, who are more susceptible to looking down on people who work in a different way. Because sex workers are ostracised from society, we’ve really learned to band together and put aside our differences so we can fight for all of us.”

The women who spoke to STELLAR for this piece say they don’t think that using OnlyFans will impact their lives in the future. They believe that young Irish people are becoming more sex positive, and more supportive of sex work in general. “I don’t think it’ll impact me in the future, I hope, purely because I have already given up on the notion of having any sort of conventional life,” says Ana. “I can’t imagine myself looking to get a job that would Google me or judge me for that, and while I would prefer my family never to find out, I also don’t think they’d be disowning me or anything like that.”

“I do think attitudes to sex work are changing. I see lots of young people in their early 20s not even on OnlyFans, but just supporting those of us who are on it, and being vocal about it and sex workers’ rights in general. When I was 20 I hadn’t a clue about anything like that, so I find that really hopeful.” Selena agrees. “I wouldn’t want to be involved with anyone or any company that believes me doing sex work, or being open and public with my body, should be a hindrance to my future and opportunities. I definitely think that attitudes are changing, whether people like it or not. So many of my friends and peers are involved in or know about OnlyFans, and have positive and encouraging things to say. Do I think it’s for everyone? No. But at the end of the day, as long as we’re all minding our own business and doing no harm to others, I think it’s here to stay and only going to get bigger.”

“I came into this knowing what I was doing and weighed up the pros and cons,” says Kayleigh. “It’s definitely not anything to be ashamed of, and I feel that a lot of people are way more sex positive now, the younger generations especially. There are always going to be people that try to paint it in a bad light, but when I’m 25 and sitting in my own home, I’m not really going to be that bothered. Men have profited off of women’s bodies for centuries, so why shouldn’t we take back that power?”

*Names have been changed

Images via Twenty20