A recent article in The Times highlighted the growing numbers of online “influencers” who are setting up accounts on premium-content site OnlyFans, and then finding themselves pushed into the world of online porn by demanding users. OnlyFans is in many ways similar to other video and image sharing sites such as Instagram: users set up an account, post videos or pictures of themselves, and other users can access this content. For a fee. As The Times points out:

It’s like Instagram with a paywall — and fewer restrictions. Creators may post adult or pornographic material. Anyone over 18 can join and start charging subscription fees for content; OnlyFans takes a 20 per cent cut.

Although the site comprises of “Content Creators” who are promoting non-pornographic material, it has rapidly developed into a hub for hosting porn, where the creators upload whatever material they wish and then charge a monthly subscription for access. Once subscribed, ‘fans’ can request bespoke content for a fee from the performer. And they do. Persistently and sometimes aggressively.

The PR soundbites proclaim that the site has “changed sex work forever” and that it has put “sex workers in charge”, and it is true that there are enormous amounts of money being made by a small minority on the site for pornographic content. But this does not tell the whole story.

 

Celestia Vega was an 18 year old YouTuber when she was subjected to image-based sexual abuse by a former partner who had leaked her nude photos online. After the leak, her YouTube channel was bombarded with people sharing links to the illegal content, and demanding that she post more. She stated that she felt she needed to “regain control” otherwise it would never end, so she started to post her own nude images and videos. What began as an attempt to regain control after suffering horrendous abuse, quickly turned into a new nightmare. She states:

“Every time I posted something, my followers would say, ‘That’s good but it’s not enough’. I felt like I had to keep getting more extreme. I told myself that I was empowered and wanted to pretend that I was, but I felt horrible. I was smiling in those pictures, but I wasn’t there. I was doing things like a robot. And I couldn’t stop, because everyone was telling me I had to keep going. I was being forced — honestly, it felt like that.”

This experience is sadly not unique to Vega or OnlyFans. The entire porn industry has become a free-for-all market where, due to an explosion of content availability and accessibility, the fees that performers can charge have been driven down, and the only way to earn more is to engage in increasingly degrading scenes.

The demand for performers to engage in acts they don’t want to but eventually acquiesce to is common on OnlyFans. For example, 22-year old Jess doesn’t show her face on OnlyFans as she’s worried about the impact it might have on her if people found out. She earns approximately £100 per month from the site – or £1.90 per hour.

She states: “I do get lots of messages asking to show my face. It’s a bit of a struggle because there’s a massive market where girls do. If someone offered quite a significant amount then maybe I would consider it…It’s horrible when people demand you to do something so flat-out…Obviously you don’t want to be treated as an object, but at the same time it’s what you’re signing yourself up for.”

The rapid descent into hyper-objectification and boundary-breaking demands from users is typical of an industry that instills a sense of sexual entitlement and a disregard for consent in those who watch porn. OnlyFans is exploitation with a shiny new label.

While there are some making hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars a year from pornographic content on Only Fans, this is not a positive in anything other than purely economic terms for those individual performers. In fact, it only evidences the extent to which sexuality has become commodified in our pornified society. It is now seen as a “success story” if somebody can be objectified to such an extent that they are held up as trophies within a system that leaves all but a tiny, tiny minority worse than when they started, after the industry has chewed them up and spat them out. Profiteering does not negate the inherently objectifying nature of porn, in which predominantly, although not exclusively, women are commodified for consumption by men.

OnlyFans might have shaken up the economics of the porn industry, but it isn’t any different from any other site that relies on objectifying women and men into consumable, sexualised products. Don’t be drawn into the cynical publicity; it’s time OnlyFans is recognised as the platform of exploitation and objectification that it is.