OnlyFans Isn’t Just Porn ;)

For some people, an extra $250 a month is the difference between making rent and being evicted, which renders that income indispensable rather than supplemental. But OnlyFans simply didn’t pay enough, and paid too slowly, for it to be a viable option for many. The funds from a sale on OnlyFans take seven days to appear in a creator’s account, after which it may take three to five days to transfer to their bank, which means a person must have that kind of time — and a bank account, and a space in which to work, and reliable access to the internet — in order for the site to be viable. The Web 2.0’s shift to digital advertising and commerce leaves behind the most vulnerable. Caty Simon, an organizer of Whose Corner Is It Anyway, a mutual-aid group by and for low-income, drug-using and housing-insecure sex workers, said she was incredibly frustrated by “the ubiquitous directive to just hop online” that dominated the early months of the pandemic.

“So much of middle-class life has become virtual,” she said, speaking also of government services, like vaccine appointments and applications for financial support. For the members of Simon’s organization, who may be dealing with cognitive difficulties and tech unfamiliarity as well as extremely limited smartphone access, “the skill and resource gaps are huge.” Moreover, depictions of OnlyFans as an equal-opportunity platform “ignore how thoroughly that market is saturated.”

Regardless of how many workers transitioned to OnlyFans during the pandemic, “sex work in person didn’t stop,” Blunt said. “Many people have continued seeing clients in person, whether that’s due to financial need or personal preference.” Indoor and in-person providers frequently charge more than a hundred dollars — including up to and over a thousand — for an hour of their time. Hustling for subscriptions at $8 and $12 a pop, as one escort put it, “just doesn’t compare.”

Predictably, the tolerableness and profitability of in-person dates, for workers, tracked along lines of financial stability. Escorts who were able to take a few months off were comfortable with the way they returned to work and how many clients they saw, but workers with less economic leeway, even those who previously felt good about their job, were far less positive. Simon said that her organization’s members “definitely saw more instances of abuse and assault” during the pandemic and that she would be “really worried” about what a surge in demand — as per the common prediction of a Roaring ’20s-style snapback to public life — would mean for them. Though an absence of business for workers is “10 times more dangerous” than an uptick, most members are currently unvaccinated and clients are “generally more cavalier with health risks than we are.”

Non-sex workers tend to see online work as categorically safer than in-person work, but it’s more accurate to say that online work entails different types of threats. The New York Post’s December outing of a local paramedic as an OnlyFans creator is one example of how senselessly cruel (and high-profile) consequences can be; the woman was a private citizen whose actions were of no discernible public interest, yet the paper elected to devote an entire article to her legal name, pictures and social media handles. Stigma against sex workers remains an injurious force, and being already out doesn’t inure one from familial strife or social conflicts. One sex worker I spoke with who lives alone had a “fan” show up at her front door. Another said her family was “destroyed” after a member took issue with something she posted on OnlyFans. “To be visible in an online ecosystem that wants your erasure opens you up to a whole host of risks,” said Blunt, who is troubled by the ways sex workers are losing “the ability to stay anonymous.”

After over a year of sustained effort, Gia is in the top 0.5 percent of OnlyFans earners, though she confirms that number’s fluctuations can be so discordant with her profits that it feels “arbitrary.” Since paying to break the lease on her work space in July, she has taken in enough to cover her bills, and her past two months were so profitable that her income matched what it was before the pandemic. She even invested in an ergonomic desk chair, “which costs more than you think!” She’s proud of how she managed to teach herself new skills on two separate high-stakes occasions: “I feel I have some control over my situation and not like I have to exist in the margins. I could actually apply these to some other businesses.” For as well suited as she was to in-person work, and as well as it paid, she has no plans to go back.

Her fans, and Kimberly Kane’s fans, and the fans of other 1 percenters, probably won’t abandon their entertainers of choice simply because they get a vaccine or start working in an office again. “I have this very strange bond with a lot of my fans who have been with me since the pandemic,” said Gia, who posted daily video diaries early in the pandemic in which she would check in on (and flash) her followers. “It became a constant for them. And it became a constant for me, too. They grew with me as I figured it out.” The OnlyFans customers I spoke with expected subscriptions to be a mainstay in their future budgeting, because they felt connected to certain performers and saw paying for porn as an ethical act. But most anticipated spending less on the site as the pandemic subsides. They assumed that the need for intimate interaction would be fulfilled through encounters, compensated or otherwise, that take place in shared physical spaces.