So many influencers have joined OnlyFans in the last six months that it’s inspired an entire YouTube subgenre of reviewing influencer OnlyFans accounts.
“I bought Every TikToker’s OnlyFans so you don’t have to” by Kwite has nearly 1.3 million views. “I paid for Nikocado Avocado’s OnlyFans so you don’t have to” by hot tea has more than 1.4 million views. “I paid for Tana Mongeau’s OnlyFans so you dont have to lol (scam?)” by blair walnuts clocks in at more than 1.5 million views.
When it was founded in 2016, OnlyFans was originally intended to give fans exclusive access to their favorite creators based on paid subscriptions. It came to be associated with digital sex work because it allows explicit content like nudity. (Other platforms like Instagram and Tumblr have stricter content policies.) OnlyFans is credited with empowering its most popular creators by making sex work profitable for talent in an industry that was already destabilized by the internet.
But now joining the site has become something of a rite of passage for popular influencers who are restless in quarantine. Caroline Calloway, “scammer” turned author turned risqué cosplayer, made an account in March. Tana Mongeau, another controversial figure in internet culture, joined the platform in May. Just after angering conservatives like Ben Shapiro with her raunchy song “WAP,” Cardi B announced that she, too, planned to join the platform.
It’s not just a select set of influencers who are flocking to the platform. As the pandemic stretches on, more and more people are turning to OnlyFans as an extra source of income. COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the global economy, and although the unemployment rate is improving since the pandemic began, the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits each week is still staggering.
As a result of this sudden change, OnlyFans is experiencing explosive growth. An OnlyFans representative told Mashable that in the last six months, the total amount of user and creator accounts “nearly doubled.” In March, OnlyFans had 26 million registered users and just over 350,000 total content creators. CEO Tim Stokely told BuzzFeed News in May that the site averaged 200,000 new users and 8,000 new content creators every day. As of August, the site has more than 50 million total registered users and some 700,000 content creators.
But, as with everything related to sex, the politics of OnlyFans is sticky — and it’s only getting more thorny with this new influx of big names. Sex work is often called the “oldest profession in history,” but it is still deeply stigmatized and pushed to the fringes of culture. COVID-19 has undeniably changed the way content is both created and consumed, including porn. And the rising popularity of OnlyFans has helped to bring sex work to the mainstream; even Beyoncé name dropped it in the remix of Meg Thee Stallion’s “Savage.”
While influencers are no stranger to the platform, Cardi B is by far the biggest celebrity to join. “I feel like people are using it in a different way now, like the way I’m using it,” she told i-D. “But whatever way people are using OnlyFans, I don’t have a problem with it, you know what I’m saying?”
Not everyone, however, is happy about the influx of mainstream celebrity attention to the site and how they’re using it. Many people who already have large followings on other social platforms, like Cardi B, are using OnlyFans to share exclusive, but not sexually explicit, content for paying fans.
Crowding an already competitive market
Between stay-at-home mandates, limited travel, and a years’ worth of in-person events halting to a standstill, influencers’ sphere of actual influence has been severely limited. As Elle wrote in March, “during a global disaster, followers are craving authenticity over ‘picture-perfect’ life.”
OnlyFans gives fans varying levels of access to creators depending on the tier of their subscription; the cheapest tier usually allows them to view exclusive content, while the most costly tiers gives them direct messaging privileges, and the ability to make specific requests. With limited influencing opportunities, creators are using OnlyFans to monetize their access.
But this is saturating an already competitive industry. OnlyFans ranks its creators by popularity based on a percentage, though it’s unclear if the ranking is determined by income or by the number of subscribers. Mochi, an OnlyFans creator who preferred not to disclose their real name, said they’ve made $5,000 in one week and ranked in the top 1 percent of creators, and $6,000 another week and ranked in the top 2 percent.
“Anyone can get your coochie, anyone can get boobs. You have to make sure that you are the person they want.”
“You are a salesman,” Mochi said during a FaceTime call. “Anyone can get your coochie, anyone can get boobs. You have to make sure that you are the person they want.”
As with any kind of online content creation, digital sex work is a nonstop hustle. Creators must front equipment costs, promote themselves across multiple platforms, develop and maintain relationships with their audience, and churn out new content. It may be glamorous and can be lavish, but it’s far from the laid-back lifestyle most assume it to be.
“When we’re getting pushed down [the ranking] because of all these celebrities making so much money, we’re losing subscribers and followers who know that we dropped down to 5 percent. They equate that to us not doing our job anymore,” Mochi continued.
Mochi, who is Black and Asian-American, added that influencers who are already conventionally attractive have a leg up — especially if they’re thin, white, and fit into society’s narrow definition of beauty. If you’re queer, trans, BIPOC, and/or fat, you’re often looked over in favor of those influencers.
Queer, trans, BIPOC sex workers do find success on OnlyFans, but they’re also fetishized for appealing to specific niches. OnlyFans creator Lena Lolita, who is also Black, has turned down requests to fulfill certain fetishes.
“I have been asked before, ‘Do you do race play?” and things like that, and I’ve politely declined,” Lena Lolita explained in a FaceTime call. “I’m not going to kink shame anyone like that because…being able to explore something like that in a safe and consensual way can be healthy for someone.”
When influencer Caroline Calloway, for example, joined the site, she marketed her OnlyFans as NSFW cosplay of characters from literature. Having spent a good portion of the last two years entangled in controversy, Calloway’s self-promotion sparked debate within the sex work community over whether doing so was whorephobic because it assumes that sex workers are uneducated. After bragging that she was on track to earn a six-figure income from her OnlyFans account, she challenged critics to show her other sex workers who made “emotionally poignant, softcore cerebral porn” like hers.
Other sex workers thoroughly ratioed her tweet by using it as a platform to promote their own “softcore cerebral” content.
Calloway acknowledges the poor wording of her tweets, including one in which she muses about being the first graduate of Cambridge University to have an OnlyFans account. In a FaceTime call with Mashable, she said she wished she had framed it as more of a welcome for suggestions to be “proved wrong.”
Calloway is far from a traditional influencer; although she has just under 700,000 Instagram followers, she rarely uses her platform to shill brand deals and merchandise. Instead, she uses her platform to promote her (often criticized) art, writing, and OnlyFans account. Like hundreds of thousands of other creators, Calloway made her account because she was “bored and horny and broke” in quarantine. She had just raised $50,000 from releasing a three-part series in response to an essay on The Cut about her by her former friend Natalie Beach, and donated the proceeds to COVID relief for doctors short on personal protective equipment. She doesn’t regret the donation, but was “counting on the paycheck from that asset,” which she says left her in financial straits.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being desperate,” Calloway said. “I think that’s a weird, shitty part of modern culture, a capitalist structure of our society. It’s OK to be desperate. I mean, I’ve been broke many times in my life.”
As a cis white woman with a large online reach, Calloway juggles with the duality of contributing to the normalization of sex work while also taking up space on a platform where marginalized creators are already at a disadvantage. Calloway, at the very least, is cognizant of her privilege in a way that many others are not, and donates a portion of her OnlyFans revenue to Black and trans sex workers.
“I think in this complicated, messy world, both things are true.”
“It’s hard for me sometimes to hold what seems like conflicting ideas side by side. Gentrification and privilege within sex work exists. There are double standards that affect people of minority far far more than they affect me,” Calloway added. “At the same time, people like me, people like Tana Mongeau joining OnlyFans does make it a little easier for someone down the road to tell their parents that they do sex work…I think in this complicated, messy world, both things are true.”
Entitlement to female bodies
The influx of celebrity OnlyFans accounts is also loaded with an uncomfortable entitlement to women’s bodies. Predominantly male fans have taken to Reddit and Twitter to complain about their favorite influencers creating OnlyFans accounts, but declining to show any nudity.
Savannah Rose, a psychology student and cannabis advocate, has more than 76,000 followers on Instagram. Her OnlyFans subscription costs a hefty $40 per month — four times as much as the average $9.99 a month most creators charge. In a review of her OnlyFans account, a jaded Reddit user complained that Rose’s content was “good” but “not great.” The Reddit user added that while some of Rose’s OnlyFans content was “top shelf awesome” as it revealed more than her Instagram photos did, the “topless” photos she posted — which cost subscribers $200 to view — did not reveal her nipples.
“No nudity, no sex?” another Reddit user replied to the post. “Trash.”
It’s understandable that fans want their favorite creators to post more often, especially if they’re paying for it, but expecting nudity from anyone, regardless of their profession, is unreasonable and a blatant violation of their privacy.
“Male entitlement to popular figures, and the rage that follows, is nothing new.”
Male entitlement to popular figures, and the rage that follows, is nothing new. Belle Delphine, “gamer girl bathwater” merchant, was banned from Instagram for nearly a year after trolling her fans with her Pornhub series. In a more severe case, photos of Bianca Devins’ body went viral after her murderer, a vengeful friend who was enraged that she kissed someone else, posted them on Discord.
The expectation of nudity on OnlyFans is a symptom of a greater issue: Many men believe that women owe them something for their attention, whether it’s a kiss or a revealing photo.
How influencers can respectfully get into sex work
No consenting adult should be shut out of sex work — anyone should have the right to do what they want with their bodies, as long as it doesn’t affect non-consenting parties. Still, if influencers want to respect those who were in the industry before them, they can do more than monetize their nudes.
For one, influencers who glamorize OnlyFans can also be more vocal about the reality of showing the world your body. Nudes posted on OnlyFans are often watermarked, and like with Premium Snapchats, expected to stay within the confines of a paid subscription. Screenshots are still taken and circulated online, and although there are measures OnlyFans creators can take to conceal their identity, ensuring total anonymity is impossible.
“Imagine the worst person to find out that you were doing sex work and imagine that they are going to find out.”
Mary Mae, an OnlyFans creator in the top 2 percent of the site, wants influencers to be more transparent about the potential ramifications of sex work. If sex work isn’t a lifelong career aspiration, it may not be for you. Mary Mae — who also preferred to not share her last name — worries for young girls who believe that sex work will temporarily fix their financial situation without lasting consequences.
“Imagine the worst person to find out that you were doing sex work and imagine that they are going to find out,” Mary Mae said in a FaceTime call. “How does that make you feel? Because, if you’re going to start, it will happen…And then you’re blasted all over the internet, all your friends know about it, but you’ve made no money from it.”
Mary Mae said that although she loves what she does, she had to come to terms with the fact that her parents, friends, and future employers were likely to see her body. Mochi, who describes themself as a “survival sex worker” because they have no other means to make an income, created an in-depth pamphlet for “baby sex workers” — those just starting out — that dives into the very real potential consequences of sex work.
“A lot of sex workers don’t want to talk about the downsides of it,” Mary Mae continued, noting the already deep running stigma against sex work. “At the end of the day, it is dangerous. It’s not for everyone.”
“They’re like, ‘I’m not a sex worker,’ but it’s anything of you soliciting any sexual acts, even if it’s just you shaking your butt on somebody.”
Influencers who choose to make OnlyFans accounts can also acknowledge that they’re actually doing sex work — and use that to fight for sex workers rights. Both Mary Mae and Mochi agreed that within the sex work community, there’s a hierarchy of stigma against different types of sex work. Those who don’t post full nudes on OnlyFans look down on those who do, and those who only post on OnlyFans look down on strippers and club dancers, who look down on full service sex workers who directly engage in sexual activity with clients.
“They’re like, ‘I’m not a sex worker,’ but it’s anything of you soliciting any sexual acts, even if it’s just you shaking your butt on somebody,” Mochi said. “They don’t understand that because their view of sex work is me having sex with someone.”
The only influencers Mochi has seen interacting with the sex work community “right” are Amber Rose, who hosts an annual “SlutWalk” to reclaim slut shaming and end rape culture, and Trisha Paytas, who’s controversial for a laundry list of reasons but is at least transparent about being a sex worker.
“By acknowledging the fact that they’re sex workers, popular influencers on OnlyFans validate the notion that sex work is real work.”
By acknowledging the fact that they’re sex workers, popular influencers on OnlyFans validate the notion that sex work is real work, and can use their large followings to advocate for sex worker rights. In 2018, the controversial FOSTA-SESTA bill became law. It was meant to police online prostitution rings, but it has also had a huge impact on consensual sex work. After Trump signed the bill into law, sites like Reddit and Tumblr, which were havens for sex workers because of previously lax content policies, banned the parts of the platform that could be policed under FOSTA-SESTA.
In an effort to overcorrect, Tumblr infamously banned nudity, Reddit banned a number of subreddits like r/SugarDaddy and r/escorts, and Craigslist removed its entire personals section. OnlyFans itself falls in a legal gray area. Under such tight restrictions, countless sex workers lost their main income sources.
With a small army of followers who already pay attention to them, influencers can use their, well, influence to promote legislation to decriminalize sex work, campaign for representatives who are pro-sex work, and lobby for the repeal of FOSTA-SESTA.
For her part, Calloway says she is less bothered by “who” considers themselves a sex worker and more with the legislation that affects them.
“We should really be looking for the true enemies of whorephobia, the true enemies of sex work: the Republican legislation in places [where] sex workers are shadow-banned on CashApp or Venmo,” Calloway said when asked what she thought of influencers with OnlyFans accounts who didn’t want to identify as sex workers. “These sort of problems are so much more pressing than whether or not someone self-identifies as a sex worker and what that means about them as a person.”
Influencers jumping on the OnlyFans bandwagon can at the very least promote the content of other sex workers. As competitive as the field is, creators largely rely on building an audience on Instagram, Twitter, and Reddit to promote their OnlyFans accounts. As with any other form of content creation, monetizing digital sex work depends on building a dedicated fan base.
Social etiquette dictates not only following other sex workers back on social media, but promoting them whenever possible. Mary Mae, for example, uses her Twitter account with more than 29,000 followers to not only share snippets of her own OnlyFans content, but retweets other creators’ as well. Just as they collaborate with and promote “civilian” influencers — civilian is a term within in the sex worker community to refer to someone who doesn’t do sex work — influencers with OnlyFans accounts can bring attention to the sex workers with whom they share a platform, especially ones from marginalized identities.
“We built this network and this platform together. Without the coalition of women and men and non-binary people and everyone under the rainbow, it wouldn’t exist the way it exists today.”
“I think they [civilian influencers] should definitely use their platform to elevate the voices of other content creators that do really good work, because we’re always trying to promote one another,” Lena Lolita said. “We built this network and this platform together. Without the coalition of women and men and non-binary people and everyone under the rainbow, it wouldn’t exist the way it exists today.”
And if having an OnlyFans account is nothing more than a novelty, Lena Lolita added, you should reconsider whether you really need to make one.
“There are people making a living doing this, and if this is something you just do on the side, and you’re not committed to doing on the side, you should take a serious look and say, ‘Am I saturating a market that is not built for me?” Lena Lolita said. “Or that could be better benefitting someone else?”
At the end of the day, it’s nobody’s place to gate keep sex work. But if influencers are going to hop into the world of OnlyFans, they’d be far more welcome if they’re willing to use their societal privilege, digital leverage, and economic advantage to advocate for a safer future for all sex workers.
CHECK OUT THE FREE APP BELOW