In its 7 years, OnlyFans has managed to somewhat ‘normalise’ the selling and consuming of pornography, so much so that the site has levelled with the likes of Instagram and Twitter as a regular social media platform, and is much less of a taboo topic than its closer counterparts such as PornHub. This has seen individuals with no prior background in sex work at all, such as influencers, or even those with any amount of social media following, take to the platform as a source of extra income. This is a testament to how 'empowering' the platform is perceived to be, that sex work has become a side hustle or even an aspiration, in comparison to it historically being a last resort for those struggling to make ends meet. Flashy headlines such as "Couple quit NHS jobs to start OnlyFans page and now make quadruple their pay" (Daily Record) or "TikTok Star Tara Lynn Makes $350,000 a Month on OnlyFans" (Entrepreneur) heavily contribute to this glamourised view of a previously stigmatised role. But how empowering is this, really?
Despite certain risks associated with traditional sex work being diminished, OnlyFans is still sex work. And there are some risks associated with this that unfortunately, can't be defeated. There is the commodification of the, usually feminine, body present, and in turn, dehumanisation from consumers who see profiles not as the people behind them, but as virtual objects for their sexual pleasure. This has real life implications, as there are multiple studies that prove pornography consumption links to harmful attitudes towards women that can manifest in an array of physical forms from dismissal (i.e. objectification in real life sexual scenarios) to real life violence. There are multiple accounts of ex-OnlyFans creators saying that they faced vile, degrading comments on a regular basis, from subscribers who felt a sense of entitlement towards them, which can take an enormous, lasting mental toll on an individual level. Your job is essentially to consistently interact with strangers who see you solely as a source of sexual gratification - this would undoubtedly be a draining task, day in, day out, that is likely to warp your self esteem and sense of identity over time and impact your real life relationships, in turn.
The aforementioned sense of ‘control’ is also questionable, as it is hard for a creator to have true control when working against demand, particularly in such a saturated industry, if they want to keep subscribers paying then this can very well mean being edged out of their comfort zone towards more extreme content until they are essentially a puppet for their highest payers. So, despite OnlyFans’ attempts to repackage sex work into an empowering and regulated profession, this is far from the reality of the job. If anything, this is more damaging, as it compels young people to ‘try out’ a profession they would’ve never dreamed of before, under the illusion of power and control that is quickly lost to the highest bidder.
Disclaimer: This is not to blame sex workers, but harmful misogynistic attitudes ingrained within society. This is also not to say that this is an issue which only affects those who are feminine-presenting - most of these issues are also applicable to masculine-presenting creators too, but statistics show that over 70% of creators are women and audiences are primarily men, so I chose to focus on them for the sake of this article.