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OnlyFans: The Notts Creators Selling Nudes During Lockdown

7 September 20 words: Alex Kuster
illustrations: Lowri Virk

It’s safe to say that it’s been a pretty manic year so far, and certainly not the vision of 2020 we had hoped for. But through the struggle, a lot of us have found creative ways to feel connected. And in this case, to bring in some extra money. With social media being used now more than ever, especially when each day seemed neverending, OnlyFans – the online platform on which creators can post explicit content for a monthly subscription fee - is one of the businesses that has thrived since the pandemic...

For those unaware, OnlyFans is a UK-based subscription service on which content creators earn money from users who subscribe to their pages. It’s a new wave of adult entertainment in which the creator has full control over what they post and how they post it. As of May 2020, the site had 24 million subscribers who were dishing out a total of $725 million to the slew of content creators posting, with the site owners taking 20% of each creator’s earnings. Lockdown only increased the number of people going online everyday, with CEO Tim Stokely reporting around “200,000 new users every 24 hours and 7,000-8,000 new content creators joining every day”. I’d say the proof is most certainly in the figures. 

The sex industry is changing; there’s no doubt about it. With the rise of OnlyFans, content creators are entrepreneurs who are at the centre of their trade. They are in charge of when they post, what they post, how they pose, what they wear, the lighting, the price. It’s a platform that brings the adult entertainment industry into the social media age – putting the decisions in the hands of those posting the content.

So what kind of stuff is on there? OnlyFans is like a racy version of Instagram, in which the subscribers can tip and ask specific requests of the content creators, for a price. 

One creator, Hannah, explained how the business of OnlyFans has changed for her since March: “I have been full time with OnlyFans for over a year now, so I was lucky enough to continue using it as normal. However it gained a lot of new traffic and subscribers were much more active, especially throughout the first month of lockdown. This meant I had so many more people to reply to and create custom requests which took up a lot of my time, but luckily I wasn’t busy.” 

Having the extra time seemingly allowed Hannah to use it to her advantage and bring in the cash during those difficult months. She also told me that she’s earning on average £5000-6000 a month and has friends who are earning over £230,000 in one month alone. There aren’t too many other jobs in Nottingham able to offer a young person that sort of income.

The way I see it is that men sexualise women every single day and I’m smart enough to make a profit from that

With years of oppression and being held down by patriarchy, OnlyFans is a progressive way for women to take control of their earnings and use their bodies to their advantage. Hannah told me that posting on OnlyFans has given her more confidence than she ever imagined, bringing a newfound love and confidence for herself and her body. She shares, “The way I see it is that men sexualise women every single day and I’m smart enough to make a profit from that. Women have been exploited in this industry for way too long, and I find it very empowering that women can now take back control of their sexuality.” If Angela Carter can rework fairytales into feminist literature, how different is it for modern day women to reclaim the sex work industry?

But this is not just a site for women, as men are also reclaiming their bodies and bringing in some hard-earned cash. I spoke to user Hanboy, who says that OnlyFans is just like an uncensored version of his Instagram account and described it as “nothing much to shout about.” He is bringing in around £377 a month and having a pretty relaxed experience on the site. In terms of body positivity, he told me that “it makes me feel free to be who I like to be and also it feels nice to be admired and appreciated by people who find you interesting, that they would be willing to pay money for your OnlyFans.” This is evidence that OnlyFans is really down to the content creator, and they are able to put as much or little into it as they like. 

Of course, it won’t always be just that. Behind the content comes a hell of a lot of hard work. I asked Hannah how much work a day she has to do to keep her account at its prime and her fans happy: “I pretty much work from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep some days. I give myself 2/3 days a week where I focus completely on making content, and then every day I have to interact and promote on social media - I’d say an average of at least 10-12 hours a day, sometimes more.” Productivity in the modern world is not defined in a way it once was, especially since more and more of us have worked from home during the pandemic. Creating a business and a brand on OnlyFans has been an entrepreneurial venture for many of the biggest earners on the site, especially when there was so much pressure on us to be ‘productive’ during all the time we spent at home. Some of us baked banana bread, some of us stripped off. 

Social media never sleeps, and that means the hustle is real. Fans come from places across the globe, all with different time zones, all firing different requests at the content creators at any time of the day. If you want to earn the money, you’re gonna have to put in the graft. 

For other users, OnlyFans is more of a side-project to bring in extra earnings, especially when many of us were without work or furloughed. User KikiSleek told me that OnlyFans was essential in bringing in money throughout lockdown: “I am a tattooist, so I was unable to earn any money during lockdown, which is why I turned to OnlyFans. It really was a lifesaver. I earned almost £2000. I don’t post the most explicit content, but still earn a nice amount.”

I’m sure Kiki isn’t the only content creator who turned to the site to help during the pandemic, and with many of them returning to work and the relationships already established, it should hopefully continue to help bring in money alongside other jobs.

In terms of adult entertainment work being a career of longevity, the Internet moves fast and those who don’t keep up get left behind. It’s a cut-throat industry, all about being creative and changing as the times do. If you’re on the top end of earners on the site, you’ll be bringing in a very decent income. The ideal situation would be to work and save for a short amount of time, then have enough to do what you want with it. Hannah elaborates: “This industry is so tough to be a part of, you have to have a very thick skin if you want to succeed. I receive abuse from strangers daily, mostly men who are against OnlyFans. At first this really affected my mental health, but you learn to just ignore it as time goes on.” So the fast pace of the industry is not the only challenging aspect of being a content creator. 

With the lure of a quick fix, and several users proving that it works, OnlyFans is certainly a tempting route to go down. Yet, I can’t help but think about the other side of it all. In Ellie Flynn’s documentary #Nudes4Sale she delves into how easy it is for young people to access the site. UK laws are currently set to prohibit anyone under the age of eighteen from selling explicit content, but those boundaries become blurred when it comes to sites like OnlyFans, who are not required to scan their website for underage material. When I was researching content across Twitter, I found a lot of hashtags that included the word ‘teen’, which was quite worrying. 

I receive abuse from strangers daily, mostly men who are against OnlyFans

A video recently went viral where people were protesting outside PornHub’s offices on International Women’s Day, hosting signs that said ‘Shut it Down’ and ‘Trafficking Hub’. One million people have since signed a petition to shut down PornHub after alleged sex trafficking videos. The Internet is an incredibly vast platform, in which it is very easy to access horrific and illegal content. With sex becoming more and more normalised and websites capitalising upon it, we have to be careful to protect the workers from exploitation and not let things get out of hand. 

I also spoke to Matt (who chose to keep his real name anonymous for privacy) who has been using OnlyFans during lockdown. He shared that his best experience has been “the networks of people I have from doing this and the support we give each other.” He also told me that many content creators he knows have gone from OnlyFans into the porn industry. The line can be a very undistinguished one and I imagine it is easy to crossover into porn when you’re already posting naked content daily. In terms of keeping himself safe when working with other creators, he says: “if there’s another person in the video you have to get them to sign consent forms and have their ID checked. It’s a long process. Plus finding the right person is also very difficult.” A lot may scoff at this line of work, but these users are nothing but professional. Taking every precaution to protect themselves and those that they work with, which is a much safer way to continue to promote the sexwork industry.

Out of those that I spoke to, I asked if they had received any requests that they didn’t want to comply with or that made them uncomfortable. KikiSleek told me that her strangest request was “to go and sit with a boy in geeky pyjamas whilst he played Xbox” for £200. She told me that although she didn’t comply, it would have been easy money. Requests like this sound harmless and a lot of fans are after that girlfriend or boyfriend experience, but we have to protect sex workers from putting themselves in vulnerable positions. With the growth and de-stigmatisation of adult entertainment, we have to accept that it is absolutely a legitimate form of work and keep those doing it protected, supported and safe.

There are fantastic organisations, such as the International Union of Sex Workers, who are working hard “for the human, civil and labour rights of those who work in the sex industry”. When I asked Hannah if she thinks the industry is changing and if she feels safe, she said “Yes without a doubt, OnlyFans allows people to not just look at porn, but to connect with the creators. It’s also way more ethical and everything on there is consensual, unlike a lot of the free porn sites. Women and men are now able to be in charge of their own work and not risk exploitation from larger porn companies.” There are more options in terms of support appearing regularly, as this type of work becomes more normalised. Hannah said she had been contacted by another content creator who had started SACWU, who “aim to protect you when things go wrong” and focus on building a wider, more powerful community. 

There is a future for sex work and sites like OnlyFans. Just like people becoming influencers on Instagram and wearing clothes to promote brands, content creators on OnlyFans are taking off their clothes and promoting themselves and body positivity. We need to normalise our bodies and remove the boundary separating social media and pornography. They really aren’t that different. With more and more support becoming available, and the conversations being opened up, we are progressing into a world where this is the present and the future, where technology has undeniably changed the way we do things.

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