EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Like everything else in the pandemic, sex work is going virtual.
OnlyFans, an adult entertainment platform, is creating a robust market for remote sex work across the globe that pays the bills and also allows content creators to call — and create — their own shots.
KTSM 9 News spoke with one woman in El Paso about how the platform can be both profitable and empowering.
“You’re essentially, like, in your room, dancing in front of a cell phone,” said Luna, who quit her job in corporate insurance to pursue OnlyFans full time at the end of 2020.
OnlyFans launched in 2016 as a way for people to subscribe and pay for content by their favorite artists. Lax nudity clauses allowed for explicit content to be posted (and profited from) that quickly turned the platform into a go-to site for on-demand sexual and everyday fantasies to be virtually commissioned and fulfilled.
The platform is adamant about ensuring in-person interaction does not occur. Any user who plans or even discusses meet-ups is immediately banned from the platform for violating terms and conditions. The company’s policy of removing users from OnlyFans for escort services drew attention at the beginning of the pandemic as people across the country were losing jobs and turning to OnlyFans to make ends meet.
Last April, OnlyFans underwent a 75-percent surge in sign-ups with more than 170,000 new users registering each day.
Luna was among them, and hasn’t looked back.
She told KTSM 9 News she was working in corporate insurance and felt a sense of ennui.
“I realized I didn’t enjoy the work I was doing and I started my OnlyFans to help me leave my job,” she said.
Luna said she started her OnlyFans account in May during the stay-at-home order and was able to quit her day job by October. She said she consistently earns at least $1,600 a month, which is about $500 more than working 40 hours at minimum wage in Texas per month.
OnlyFans creators keep 80 percent of their earnings.
“I put in solid work and I enjoy doing it, and it does yield me some nice income — and that’s rare,” said Luna. “For me to be able to say I’m actually having fun while making this kind of money was rare.”
The allure of online intimate content is providing a profitable form of escapism as people adapt to pandemic-era limitations on physical contact and intimacy.
The 2020 Singles in America study, the most comprehensive study on dating behavior in the U.S., reports 71 percent of singles did not have sex during the pandemic.
The data, coupled with the number of new OnlyFans users per day, suggests people were finding creative ways to sexually adapt within the containment of the pandemic.
OnlyFans has risen to the upper echelons of pop culture in the last 11 months that monetizing sexual content on the platform has soared.
Celebrities like Bella Thorne and Cardi B have created accounts, and Beyonce solidifies the platform’s popularity in the remix of Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage.”
“Hips tik tok when I dance / On that Demon Time, she might start an OnlyFans (OnlyFans).”
A nod from the queen.
Despite the popularity of OnlyFans, creators say stigma still exists that all content creators engage in highly pornographic activity (although some do) or that it’s a gateway to outright prostitution (the company has very strict policies against escorting and prostitution.)
Luna said her profile is more playful than pornographic. Think delicate laces, romantic silks, angelic wings with tickle-me feathers.
“I try to be creative with the sets, but I’ll be in lingerie and stuff like that,” said Luna. “But I don’t really do typical stuff that I know others do with respect to going full XXX.”
The rise of OnlyFans captured the attention of producers on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit in an episode that depicts a content creator who is sexually assaulted and victim-blamed in court.
Luna said varying degrees of dehumanization occur regularly on OnlyFans.
“They don’t treat you like you’re real,” she said.
Some users, she says, will pay to subscribe to her account to troll her.
“As a ‘sex worker,’ people kind of treat you differently because they’re paying you,” said Luna. “They expect to treat you however they want or expect to have some sort of ownership over you because they are giving you some sort of monetary form.”
People pay to harass her. She says she’s received comments on her account that criticize her body type, but subscribers do not have access to much user information.
A subscriber could be anyone. A subscriber could be anywhere, too.
“One time a follower messaged me on my OnlyFans and was like ‘you looked great at Walmart today,’” said Luna.
It could’ve been a cashier who admired her eyelashes, a 20-something eyeing her in the ice cream aisle, an exhausted mother longing for intimacy.
“The user knew what I was wearing, so it was real,” she said.
Part of the “job” component of being an OnlyFans creator is to blur the line between intimacy and fantasy, while also understanding transactions.
Luna said it’s common to receive requests for content and empowering to say “no.”
“It’s our power to be like, ‘that’s not what I’m trying to share right now,’” she said.
The containment of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused shifts in consumer behaviors.
Popular pandemic splurges include $600 espresso machines, lighting kits for work-from-home meetings (and content creation!) and premium liquor and spirits.
And yet, Luna said the expectation for free adult content persists.
“This is my body,” she said. “What makes you feel so entitled to ask someone else for pictures of their body without having given them anything?”
That’s not to mention all of the work that goes into it, including preparation, production and promotion.
“They don’t think about the fact that I got ready for two hours, that I took an hour to take pictures, the fact that it took another 30 minutes to edit and put them together,” she said.
The expectation for adult content to be free is partially fueled by the prevalence of unlimited access via free online porn platforms.
“I think it’s so misogynistic, that idea of ‘I shouldn’t have to pay to see you naked,’” says Luna, noting that the exploitation that occurs in the sex industry because of free adult content.
A December 2020 article from the New York Times reports that these types of platforms are full of content featuring racist and misogynistic videos, as well as extremely graphic sexual depictions and real instances of abuse.
“Pornhub exploits the sex workers,” said Luna. “I started learning about the child trafficking, child abuse and sexual assault that gets film and published on places like that.”
OnlyFans provides opportunities for creators to have full autonomy over the frequency and content of what they post.
People like Luna have found outlets for creativity within containment and, most important, a sense of freedom.
“I went from working for someone else and having a very structured, like, you have to follow what your boss tells you to do, to completely being able to do whatever you want,” said Luna. “It’s quite a nice change.”