OnlyFans, a subscription-based social media platform, seems to be on an unstoppable rise to domination of online sex work.
It’s a perfect example of how capitalism turns human sexuality into a profit-making machine.
After a lockdown boom, it now boasts around 50 million users with 675,000 people creating content.
A recent survey of just over 3,000 students found that over a fifth had used OnlyFans while at university.
Bosses claim that their website is used by everyone from personal fitness experts to DJs and chefs.
But in reality the vast majority of it is individuals selling pornographic pictures and videos of themselves.
Users pay a monthly fee to access this content. They can also approach creators to request bespoke pictures or chats over private message—for a fee.
One creator, Rose, claimed, “It is so different to any other kind of porn website, it’s completely run by yourself.
“You give a cut to OnlyFans to use their website, but you set your own prices, your work times, no manager, no restrictions, no production team.”
And while the overwhelming motivation is money, the site can also provide a warped sense of worth in an alienated world.
As another creator said, “I was no longer a nobody, but somebody who had a monthly price tag above his head.”
Yet far from putting the control in the hands of sex workers, it stays with the bosses.
For a start, bosses take 20 percent of everything users make on the site. Founder Tim Stokely has a history of making his millions off of women’s bodies.
He owned GlamGirls—a webcam TV channel—and then Customs4U, a website where audiences could request bespoke pornographic videos.
Below the cosmetic tweaks, OnlyFans is just like any other element of the porn industry.
It mimics the kind of relationship between client and sex worker found at Spearmint Rhino or on a webcam site.
Sex workers, usually women, are paid to provide a highly distorted sexual product for men to buy.
Pornography—whether snapped on an iPhone or filmed in a studio—is far from true sexual liberation.
It reduces sex and sexuality to a series of acts, focusing on those that are most profitable.
So content creators aren’t exploring their own sexual desires, but providing what they think users will pay for.
OnlyFans users are forced to compete with each other to get the most clicks and appear high on suggested content.
This often pushes creators to produce more explicit content to keep their subscribers happy—and keep the cash coming in.
One student at Canterbury Christ Church University in Kent said, “When I first started, it was not explicit content, it was just lingerie stuff.
“But when I got with my partner we decided that we could do explicit content because it would make more money.”
Some users want the so-called “girlfriend experience”—the idea that they’re paying for something more than just a faceless porn actress.
And because fans have a direct line of communication to creators, some have to fake this identity through daily personal interactions.
“I make sure to answer any message I get from a fan and to always communicate in a friendly manner,” said Jenny.
“Around 40 percent of my income comes from private message tips, so it’s definitely important to show your appreciation.”
In a system where bosses try to profit from every part of life, sex is reduced to yet another opportunity to make money.
OnlyFans isn’t the road to liberation—it’s another example of how sex and sexuality is distorted, repackaged and sold back to us.