OnlyFans: power in the hands of the creator

20 May 2019

Photograph: Martin Lightbody

Two young women share their stories and experiences of the platform

If, like me, you spend an ample amount of time on Twitter or Instagram, you’ll most likely have come across OnlyFans. Launched in 2016, it is a “subscription site that enables content creators to monetise their influence.” Essentially, it provides a platform for the “Insta-famous” to earn money from their followers. A simple concept.

Interestingly though, the website seems to have diverged somewhat from its original raison d’être. Admittedly, I was unaware of the platform’s existence until this year, and therefore can’t comment on its use in the early days, however it has acquired quite the reputation.

Nowhere on its website does it make reference to explicit content, but this hasn’t prevented adult entertainers from cashing in. According to the site’s terms of service, you may not “create, upload, post, display, publish or distribute User Content that is obscene.” Despite this, many of its creators use it to post uncensored images and/or videos for their subscribers, who pay anywhere between £5 and £50 per month, depending on the price set by the account holder.

When I think about the phrase “adult entertainers”, an imaginary showreel of professional pornography circulates in my mind. But actually, many of the people using OnlyFans seem to be ordinary people in ordinary places, like Glasgow. For them, it has simply become an extension of their social media accounts. The OnlyFans website allows users to register with their Twitter handles, and often, account holders use the social networking site to direct traffic to their profiles, share teasers, or both. I caught up with two young content creators, Katie and Hannah*, in order to find out more about the platform and their experiences of it.

Katie, 23, created an OnlyFans account in December 2017. Three months beforehand, she had been the victim of revenge porn – defined as the “sharing of private, sexual materials, either photos or videos, of another person without their consent and with the purpose of causing embarrassment or distress.” In 2017, revenge porn was made illegal in Scotland under the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm Act. A man leaked a video of Katie having sex, which left her devastated and unable to leave home for weeks at a time. As time passed, she was fortunately able to get back to her old self. She didn’t, however, post to her account until April 2018, as she was too nervous to take the plunge.

Infographic: Taylor Robertson

Katie said: “I came across a girl on Instagram who used OnlyFans and I became interested. The reason I took the leap and made my OnlyFans account is because I felt that people had seen my body without my permission, so I no longer had the option to keep my body to myself.”

Unlike Katie, for Hannah, the decision to sign up to OnlyFans around a month ago was based on personal choice alone. She said: “I’m proud of my body and don’t see why I shouldn’t post pictures that some people post to Instagram etc for free and get some extra money for it.”

Until very recently, Katie was working a full-time job while managing her account. She spends as little as three hours per week creating content, which suited her while she was still in her previous employment, however, this does vary. Her income and number of subscribers also tend to fluctuate; at any given time, she has between 375 and 500 subscribers. When asked if she classes being an OnlyFans content creator as employment, she replied: “I do class it as employment, because I pay tax like anyone else.”

Hannah disagrees. She said: “I’m not extremely serious about it and don’t consider it as a job. I don’t spend a lot of time on it, however it takes up a little while of my day.”

OnlyFans, which is free to sign up to, has a referral scheme, which gives account holders who sign up using someone’s link access to a group chat for support and advice. According to Katie, a lot of girls share ideas on Instagram, and everyone tries to be as creative as possible. Her content includes: “Lingerie shots, cheeky outfits, topless, shots from previous lingerie/topless photoshoots and occasionally some videos.”

She has limits and standards – set by herself, of course – which she adheres to regarding the images and videos she posts. She said: “I don’t do any full nudity on my OnlyFans as my own personal opinion is that it’s too personal to show my bottom half naked. However, I am all for the girls who do it. I’m not against it, it’s just not something I offer on my page.” Like Katie, Hannah too has personal content limits. She said: “Most people are extremely supportive, however a lot of people are shocked at the nudity, which I don’t involve myself in on the app.”

Although OnlyFans is more mainstream and well-known now, when Katie started out, many people hadn’t even heard of it. To her knowledge, no one in her own town, or even surrounding areas, held or subscribed to accounts. To this day, the website itself is shrouded in mystery, giving little away before sign-up.

Image: OnlyFans

For the most part, we naturally assume that work of this nature is kept secret, however, Katie’s family is fully aware of what she does. They don’t love it, but they accept that she is an adult and capable of making her own decisions. She said: “I’m so blessed to have such an understanding and supportive family! It makes all the difference. I’ve always been taught to never let people’s opinions of me make my decisions for me or even affect me in any way. So they are glad to see me living this way now.”

Her boyfriend, whom she had known for several years before they began their relationship, also knows about her OnlyFans activity. She said: “My boyfriend is fully aware as well. It doesn’t bother him either, he’s been really great.”

According to the website, OnlyFans retains 20% of the payment received whenever you sell a subscription to a viewer. The fee is to cover the payment processing, hosting and “all other associated costs with running the OnlyFans website and apps.” Subscribers have the ability to direct message and “tip” to have personalised pictures or videos created on demand. Katie hasn’t had many strange requests, but said: “There’s the occasional request for pictures of my feet, but that’s become quite normal on these sites due to social media.”

Although the 23-year-old receives a lot of in-person support from those closest to her, abuse on social media has affected her. At one point, she was on the receiving end of so many nasty messages about her OnlyFans activity, she decided to take a break. Hannah also sees a lot of negative comments on social media. Unsurprisingly, Katie and Hannah aren’t the only women receiving abuse online. According to Amnesty International: “For many women, Twitter is a platform where violence and abuse against them flourishes, often with little accountability.”

Photograph: Sharon McCutcheon

Katie described her experience, saying: “I had a lot of really horrible messages and I had people tweeting about me calling me horrible names etc. It was a living hell and no one could grasp why I was doing it. I really struggled at the start, to the point I even took a break from OnlyFans so people would stop being nasty. However, not long passed before I was back on the site and more so now than ever.

“I went through a point in life where I just stopped caring what everyone thought and did what I wanted to do. It’s made me a stronger person and it allows me to do much more with my life than ever before. Overall, it’s impacted my life in a very positive way.”

She added: “Negative comments used to bother me a lot as I explained previously, but now it doesn’t really affect me. Most people just hate what they don’t understand, some are jealous, and some just really think it’s wrong – which is absolutely fine, everyone’s allowed an opinion.”

Debates on the progress of women’s rights often arise when exploring the commodification of women’s bodies. Some argue that you can’t be a feminist and take belfies – pictures of your bum, and yes, an abysmal attack on the English language – whereas others believe you can. Feminism means different things to different people, and there are a lot of areas open to interpretation. According to the International Women’s Development Agency: “It’s about respecting diverse women’s experiences, identities, knowledge and strengths, and striving to empower all women to realise their full rights.”

Photograph: Kim Kardashian

Hannah’s OnlyFans account makes her feel empowered, echoing Kim Kardashian’s post-naked mirror pic statement on International Women’s Day 2016. She said: “Everyone will look at it differently, however I wouldn’t let anyone disrespect me because of it or through it, and I’m certainly all for women’s rights. Just because I feel confident in posting pictures of myself on the internet doesn’t mean I don’t have self respect or shouldn’t have rights. I actually respect myself a lot and am very body positive and ‘go girl’ type of way.

“With an OnlyFans account you can control what you post, and how much it costs a month. People should have the right to do whatever they want with their own bodies and embrace it and it shouldn’t be looked down on.”

Katie added: “For me personally, it makes me feel strong! I’m doing what I want with my body and I’m making money from it. Men have always lusted over women and their bodies for free without complaining so maybe everyone is just a little mad that we are using it to our own benefit now and making people pay to see our bodies. It’s a great feeling actually.”

Like Katie said, people are entitled to their opinions. I’m of the “live and let live” persuasion – I don’t see myself signing up to OnlyFans anytime soon, but I respect the choices made by others to do so, as long as decisions are made solely by the individual concerned, without outside influence or pressure. Many have written that these sites have “democratised” porn by giving people the opportunity to create from home, for free. It’s too early to tell, but this self-governing style may well be the future. And democracy of any kind trounces dictatorship in my eyes.

Note: OnlyFans services are not intended for anyone under 18. According to the company website, it has checks to ensure that they do not knowingly collect personal information from anyone under 18.

*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the source.

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