With the cost of living soaring, an economic crisis, and wages that can’t be stretched enough to provide an enjoyable life, people are worried about their finances now more than ever. The sad truth is scrimping and saving can only take you so far. As a result, around 46% of Gen Z and 37% of Millennials are working multiple jobs to make ends meet. We’re in the era of the side hustle, and thanks to the internet, you can now easily monetize your hobbies and expertise to help provide that supplemental income. Some people play video games online, and others sell handmade jewelry on Etsy; the online marketplace is thriving. So many sites allow you to sell your goods and services directly to consumers wherever they are in the world.

But there’s another way to make money online, one that doesn’t require you to spend hours making a bracelet or mastering a video game. The Only thing you need is Fans.
For someone who’s been laid off, a young person who’s been kicked out of the house, or anyone who needs money immediately, signing up for this platform is very enticing. They tell you all you need to do is post a few flirty photos, and you’ll be making loads of money in no time, all from the comfort of your bedroom. But they don’t tell you who the people lurking behind the screen are, or about the system of oppression and the long-term pain for short-term financial gain. This is the dark side of OnlyFans.

In 2016, British businessman Tim Stokely, alongside his older brother, Thomas, created a website to help adult entertainers receive payments directly from their followers. Tim noticed that adult performers were promoting and selling their services on social media platforms like Instagram. But as the platforms started cracking down on nudity, those performers found it challenging to promote their services. And trying to send content individually to each follower took a lot of work. OnlyFans solved both problems by creating a subscription service where fans could pay to access their favorite performers’ content.

In the beginning, only a few creators were frequent users, primarily performers who had already made a name for themselves in adult entertainment. Though initially small, the platform was a precursor for change in the industry. Shifting their career online meant that a sex worker now had the option to control the means of production. No more going to set and working under the constraints of directors and producers that might not always have their best interests in mind. They could now work from home and be self-employed. They could have complete control over their image and working conditions.

In 2018, American Leonid Radvinsky, a veteran of the online adult entertainment scene, bought a 75% share of OnlyFans. Radvinsky had made millions by creating websites that claimed to sell stolen or hacked passwords to porn sites. He was actually getting paid by those sites for directing online traffic their way. After buying OnlyFans, Radvinsky revamped its business model and saw incredible growth. Then the pandemic happened, and the popularity of OnlyFans increased exponentially, making it the household name it is today. With people out of work and in a vulnerable financial situation, OnlyFans provided an easy revenue stream. A job they could work from home. On the other side of the screen, boredom, loneliness, and isolation drove more people to seek out the services of sex workers online, creating more demand than ever before.

Suddenly, this small website was a smash hit. On Twitter and in major media outlets, articles circulated about how much money some women were making. And not just women. Men, too, can earn well on the site. A lot of people started wondering, “Should I start an OnlyFans of my own?”.

For new creators, there’s the impression that OnlyFans can pull you from crippling debt or buy you a house. Or that it’s easy money. Just take off your clothes and pose under flattering light; maybe take a video or two. And once you hit upload, start counting those cheques. The reality is, that for most people, that’s not going to happen. Nearly 75% of all the revenue on OnlyFans is going to the top 10% of creators. These people are mostly career sex workers or actual celebrities who had devout followings before their pivot to OnlyFans.

Bella Thorne and Cardi B are some of the most traditionally famous posters on OnlyFans. At one point, Thorne was making $11 million a month on the site, while Cardi B rakes in close to $10 million. And these are women who don’t post nude content, nor do they have to work nearly as hard as the 90% of creators who struggle for a share of the remaining 25% of revenue on the platform. Many of these creators have to work seven-day weeks promoting themselves, marketing, corresponding with brands, and speaking with their subscribers, just to earn a liveable wage. Many don’t even earn enough to make OnlyFans a full-time gig – the average creator makes just $180 per month. Now, OnlyFans has empowered sex workers, primarily those who have worked in the industry for decades. But the way the media cover the success of this minority suggests that anyone can make money this way.

It’s the classic survivorship bias. We listen to the ones who are thriving so much that we think that’s the norm, not realizing that they are the outliers and that the reality for the average creator isn’t that glamorous. We’re selling a dream to young men and women that sex work is easy money. As a result, many people join the site and immediately start posting intimate and vulnerable photos without realizing the immense pressure and psychological effects that selling sex can have on a person. The hard truth is that this industry is not for everyone. Yet the narrative around OnlyFans deceives people into thinking it is for everyone. And at the end of the day, OnlyFans takes a 20% cut of your earnings and 0% of your trauma. The platform creates a direct link between your sexuality and your profit. It’s easy to obsess over the statistics and analytics of your channel, but here, you’re not judging your skill or work; you’re judging your body.

And it’s not just you judging it. Putting yourself online like that means your body is out there for public scrutiny, and if there’s one thing the internet loves to do, it’s scrutinize.
Before you know it, you start feeling less than adequate. Maybe you’d make more money if you had a bigger chest, lost weight, or dyed your hair a different color. Trying to make it on OnlyFans as an inexperienced sex worker changes your relationship with yourself and your sexuality. And it might seem worth it. Stories about people buying houses and paying off debt with money earned on OnlyFans enter casual conversation. The suggestion to start an OnlyFans channel is a flippant response to those with money struggles when, in reality, the average creator makes pennies, and many would have been better off using their time to work a minimum-wage job.

Imagine going through all that only to not make the money you hoped for. You’d be left feeling like you sold out, yet you never even got paid. Still, for people in desperate situations, even a tiny amount of money could be a good supplement to their income, and the promise of OnlyFans preys on those in these vulnerable situations. The site is notoriously awful at preventing underaged users from signing up and takes no responsibility for hosting them. Teenagers can easily use a fake ID or a relative’s passport to circumvent the few safeguards currently in place to protect young people. Many minors are posting on the site, and OnlyFans has not taken firm action to deter them. Images of minors are paid for by people much older than them, with more money and power. They see a young person in a position to be taken advantage of, a child they can control through money. This platform allows minors to be roped into exploitative relationships from a young age. Underaged creators are vulnerable to the same risks adults are when posting on the site, yet they lack the maturity to understand the consequences.

Everything you post on the internet is permanent. Images posted online are downloaded and reposted without consent. Even if you one day choose to stop posting or leave OnlyFans, your content doesn’t cease to exist. Could this negatively impact future relationships or how your family and friends view you? Of course. The stigma sex workers face is harsh and demeaning. Some people think they can treat sex workers as less than human, and that they deserve any negative consequence that comes their way. Stalking, rape threats, doxing, death threats, harassment, hacking, it’s hard to trust that even your so-called fans have your best interest in mind. OnlyFans stars have been the victims of break-ins and blackmail at the hands of their patrons.

In one case, a stalker repeatedly broke in and hid in his favorite OnlyFans model’s attic. Just do a quick Google search, and you’ll see countless women’s accounts of negative experiences, and to be honest, there’s not much the site can do about it. Also, when money is exchanged, the boundaries between the creator and the fan are blurred. Unhealthy parasocial relationships form whereby the fan thinks they own a portion of their favorite creator. Voyeurism plays a role, too, as some fans insert themselves into made-up fantasies or relationships. It reminds me of the parallels between OnlyFans and online dating. You seek someone to love or give you attention, yet you want to control the interaction altogether.

More of us are conducting all aspects of our lives from the comfort of our homes, so we missing out on meaningful human connection and spontaneous interactions with others. This generation is plagued by increased rates of social isolation and loneliness. Young people are looking for intimacy through their phones and screens. But these aren’t substitutes for real, in-person connections. We talk more about this intersection of love and the internet in our video “The Dark Side of Online Dating.” From a subscriber’s point of view, the state of OnlyFans is also dark. People are often quick to blame the women who create content for these platforms. But statistically, the average user is a middle-aged married man.

What attracts this demographic to the site? It could be loneliness, dissatisfaction in the marriage, or even a particular fetish. So they look for what they cannot have in person, or what they feel they lack in their relationships, online. Let me clarify that two consenting adults exchanging money for sexual pleasure is not inherently wrong. But when this dynamic replaces in-person sexual intimacy, OnlyFans users can teeter into porn addiction. Irritability, social isolation, anxiety, and depression are all side effects of too much porn consumption. You might display more violent or aggressive sexual behavior, mirroring fantasies or fetishes you see online. Things that a partner might not be comfortable with.

It skews how you view your sexual partners and potential partners in person. It flattens them into characters on a screen. There’s something about intimacy that can only be achieved with another person. When your sexuality revolves around people on your computer and the relationships you uphold through your OnlyFans subscriptions, intimacy’s indescribable, intangible magic is lost. Sex work is the oldest profession in the world, and it isn’t going anywhere. Technology will continue to develop, with OnlyFans being this generation’s preferred form of online adult content.

So how can we engage with the platform ethically and humanely?

Well, self-awareness is key on the part of both the creator and the user. Posting or consuming content without considering your ‘why’ could cause misalignment between your values and actions. Continue to ask yourself questions. Do I feel safe and comfortable showing this part of myself online? Is my use of OnlyFans interfering with relationships in my personal life? Is this platform and how it’s promoted safe for creators? How do my ethics align with online pornography? Be brutally honest with your answers. Your honesty sheds light on the dark side of OnlyFans. You become an informed consumer or creator, making the site more hospitable for all.

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