It wasn’t until March this year that I discovered what exactly OnlyFans was. We found ourselves stuck inside when COVID reached the UK, and I started to spend a lot more time on TikTok, discovering new creators. The more I scrolled, the more I noticed that a lot of the womxn that came up on my ‘for you page’ had a link in their bio for OnlyFans. But what was it? I quickly realised that whilst the company itself markets it as a place for people with a high following on social media to ‘release exclusive content for their fans’, it’s also become a tool for people to make an income by selling (usually sexual) pictures and videos of themselves for a subscription fee.
I can’t lie, I was intrigued. At the time the job I was in meant it would never have been a feasible option for me, but the more I looked into it and discovered the coveted stories of womxn, in particular, making their annual income in a couple of months, the more I wanted to know. One by one, creators I had followed on Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter for years started sharing links to their accounts. From limited one-time subscription deals and sneak peeks of what they were posting, to pretty PG-rated snaps, the variety of content showed it didn’t matter what it was – people were willing to pay for it. Whether it was a lingerie snap, a full-frontal nude video, a BTS of a photoshoot, or just some never-before-seen pictures, what I saw was a lot of womxn regaining power over their body and in particular, their sexuality.
Whilst I commend anyone who uses the site, I personally know that it’s not something I could do. Not just because I’m not body confident enough to put myself in that position, but because I’d be terrified that people could screenshot my content and share it around. This is of course something the company is aware of, and they encourage people who share content to use watermarks to protect what they post. But would that be enough to make you feel secure in what you’re posting?
“It can be a very degrading and exhausting experience, as you need to be constantly available to subscribers”
*Beth is a creator using OnlyFans. She signed up to the site last year as she found herself out of work and was motivated by seeing other young women on social media making money from it. “I found it difficult to use the platform for a while. Unlike other social media, OnlyFans is a subscription-based service, so it doesn’t promote users on a “timeline” or feed.” The lack of a timeline within the app means users have to promote themselves elsewhere to drive traffic to their account. “Users who already have a couple of thousand Instagram followers can find it relatively easy to get around 50-100 subscribers. However, for those with fewer followers, or a hesitancy to share on their personal pages, you have to build your subscribers from the ground up.”
But making money on the platform isn’t as simple as posting some photos every day for your subscribers. Beth says most people are looking for discounts or free trials on their subscriptions rather than committing to your content. “You barely make money from new subscribers. The money-making part comes from PPV (pay-per-view) videos.” The videos themselves are sent to subscribers who have to pay to view them, ranging from $3 upwards. The key, Beth believes, to making this work is learning what your subscriber wants and likes, and keep providing that content regularly. “It can be a very degrading and exhausting experience, as you need to be constantly available to them,” she says. “They often request some very X-rated content, and can occasionally be disrespectful. On the whole, you have to be ready to face all manner of desires and personalities, which can be tough.”
What Beth tells me about her knowledge and experience using the app, further proves that I personally couldn’t utilise it, as much as I may want to. As a young girl I was taught which areas of my body to cover up, to not show too much skin around men because it makes them uncomfortable and to hide anything that might make them stare to reduce any risk of harm. I remember being in school and hearing a male teacher comment on a student’s skirt length as ‘distracting’ for the boys she shared a classroom with. Watching her have all the attention and blame put on her made me pull my own skirt down, so that wouldn’t be me feeling uncomfortable in a room full of boys who were all staring at her legs because they were told it’s ‘just what boys do’.
“A woman who chooses to share and charge a fee for photos of her body, does not respect herself less than a woman who chooses not to.”
I asked Beth if she fears her content being shared outside the app without her consent. “Unfortunately, in this line of work, there is always a chance your content would be shared or stolen,” she says, “and it’s something you should be willing to face should it ever happen. I have only seen this happen a couple of times in my online community and the majority of women have faced this with a powerful, level-headed, and measured response.” Whilst this may sound like a scary possibility, as Beth says, it’s something people who use this site are well aware of and prepared for. “Ultimately, you have full control over who sees your content,” Beth tells me. So, what does she do to make herself feel secure when using the app? “I have always been slightly concerned about this, so I keep my subscriber count and twitter follower count private and small.” It’s also important to remember that stealing photos of women, sharing them, or using them to blackmail them – also known as ‘Revenge Porn’ – is against the law. It is not taken lightly, and something can be done if you are a victim of it.
The problem to me in all of this is that, somewhere along the line we made a decision as to what a ‘respectful’ woman looks like. And that definition is out of date. A woman who chooses to share and charge a fee for photos of her body, does not respect herself less than a woman who chooses not to. So, if having an onlyfans account helps you learn to love and embrace your body, or gives you a sense of control over your narrative, I support and applaud you and your power.
Because in my mind, if you’re using OnlyFans to post and charge a fee for ‘adult’ content that’s as PG or R rated as YOU are comfortable with, which puts you in control of who gets permission to view it the way you want it to be viewed, you’ve finessed the very system that told you your body was something to hide.
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