OnlyFans is empowering sex workers, challenging old stigmas, and making porn more intimate than ever. It also offers the possibility of life-changing money—for those willing to take the plunge.
He moved to Nashville to make it as a singer but wound up working as a barback, a job that in three years had gone from tolerable to marginal to almost unbearable. At 26, his dream of a career in music had already begun to feel hopeless. And now Brayden Bauer’s anxiety was spiraling. “Every time I would buy something, I would think that I should be spending this money on a song,” he says. “Even when I would buy food, it would be like, ‘What am I doing?’ ”
Then, last March, Brayden’s circumstances grew even more precarious. The coronavirus pandemic temporarily shuttered the bar. When the place reopened, it felt unsafe, and he made up his mind not to go back—even though he wasn’t quite sure what else he’d do. He turned to Twitch, the livestreaming platform popular with gamers, and he began selling merch—sweatshirts and hats with little weed jokes screen-printed on them. He was earning around $2,000 a month, which was enough to make rent, but Twitch involved streaming himself playing video games for seven or eight hours every day. He had no time for music. It wasn’t sustainable.
Yet his foray into performing online opened his mind to certain new possibilities. In May, after a little encouragement from some of his followers, Brayden started an account on OnlyFans, the subscription platform that allows creators to charge for photos and videos, notably explicit ones—a kind of Patreon of porn. He had no experience with sex work, but out of some measure of desperation he decided to give it a go. “I realized it was kind of my only choice,” he says.
Brayden has curly brown hair, brown eyes, a slim build, a warm singing voice, and 26 tattoos. He often wears nail polish. On Twitter, his display name used to be Discount Pete Davidson, as he bears a close resemblance. He’s amassed more than 43,000 followers there—an audience that OnlyFans would enable him to monetize on his own terms. The platform allows creators to charge what they like for subscriptions, income they can supplement with tips and fees for customized photos and videos. In exchange for hosting the content, OnlyFans takes a flat 20 percent cut of performers’ income, far less than most camming sites take and closer to the terms set by Patreon and Substack.
“It was just crazy,” says Brayden Bauer. “I’d never had more than a couple thousand dollars in my bank account at one time in my entire life. I was able to pay off multiple credit cards.”
In November, Brayden started posting nude photos and solo videos of himself, often in the shower, for an audience that he says is roughly 50–50 women and men. (Brayden is straight, which he mentions on his page, but he also doesn’t care if anyone assumes otherwise.) He set his subscription price relatively high ($14.99 a month) to take advantage of the initial wave of curiosity, produced a lot of content, and promoted it on Twitter. Then the money started coming in. In his first month he made $20,000.
“It was just crazy,” he says. “I’d never really had more than a couple thousand dollars in my bank account at one time in my entire life. I was able to pay off multiple credit cards. Put some money aside for taxes and music and still be able to do whatever I wanted.” And buy things: eight pairs of new sneakers, a bunch of tattoos, a new TV, a PS5, and a VR headset. Since then his monthly income has stabilized at around $3,500, and he spent the winter recording new songs that he hopes to release this spring. “It’s been nice to have a little bit of disposable income without exhausting myself,” he says. “Because anytime I would have a decent amount of money working at the bars, it was because I had just worked two 14-hour shifts in a row on a weekend.”
Brayden is part of a wave of former low-wage workers turning to OnlyFans during what has been a boom year for the platform. With screen time (and general horniness) soaring during quarantine, the site’s traffic more than doubled over the first six months of the pandemic, and by December the company boasted that it was adding 500,000 new users a day. The number of creators on the platform has likewise skyrocketed during the pandemic, from 120,000 at the end of 2019 to over 1 million at the end of 2020. Out-of-work service workers like Brayden found themselves vying for online attention alongside career sex workers, models, influencers, and, increasingly, celebrities. Cardi B joined to premiere the behind-the-scenes video of “WAP,” Teen Wolf star Tyler Posey made his debut by singing naked with a strategically placed guitar, and Bella Thorne earned $1 million in a day—and the wrath of Twitter—after her followers believed she’d promised a nude photo that was not, in fact, a nude.
Mostly, though, these creators are not famous. They are ordinary people trying to make a living by appealing, with an unprecedented digital intimacy, to your fantasies. And the life-altering financial success they’re chasing remains intertwined with a simple cost: the old stigma that still goes hand in hand with doing any kind of sex work. As the pandemic rounded year one, I set out to talk to OnlyFans creators making erotic content—newcomers and veteran sex workers alike. Joining OnlyFans is a great pandemic gamble, and most of all I wanted to know: Was it worth it?
How to Make It Big (and Why You Probably Won’t)
Among the savviest and most successful creators on OnlyFans is a 28-year-old woman who goes by the name Aella. A shrewd and data-driven former tech worker, she has earned as much as six figures in a month, and the story of her success is also one of liberation. She grew up in the Northwest, the eldest daughter of evangelical Christians who homeschooled their kids. Her father, she says, was particularly strict, which prompted her to break from the family at 17 and enroll in college. Unable to pay the tuition, she was forced to leave school before completing the first semester. She ended up working at a factory in Eastern Washington, assembling electrical components for $10 an hour and living with five roommates in a cramped apartment where she slept on a mattress on the floor. She did not always have enough money for food.
After about a year, a friend mentioned camming, and one night, Aella tried it. In her first session, she wore a padded bra, not quite realizing she would be taking it off during the stream. But she made $60 in three hours, twice as much as her rate at the factory, and camming became her profession for the next five years. She often worked on a site called MyFreeCams, which she says took 50 percent of her earnings, but her take still averaged around $200 an hour. In her best month, thanks to a fierce contest with a fellow model, she made $50,000. The money enabled her to travel widely in her early 20s, working from Turkey, South Africa, and Europe. For a time, she moved to New York City and, seeking a higher hourly wage, began escorting. Last March, she started posting on OnlyFans and is now making far more than ever before—about $60,000 a month, and in two different months as much as $100,000.
“OnlyFans feels like it’s really put the power in the hands of the performers themselves,” says Stoya. “And that’s groundbreaking if true.”
In a way, Aella’s evolution as a performer parallels the rise of OnlyFans itself. The company’s founder and CEO, Tim Stokely, created the site in 2016 after launching two other online adult businesses: GlamWorship, a “financial domination” site, and Customs4U, a cam site. Two years later, Stokely sold a majority stake in OnlyFans to Leonid Radvinsky, whose long career in adult businesses includes owning the camming giant MyFreeCams, the site where Aella worked.
With its structural similarities to social media, OnlyFans quickly proved a hit: The site draws on influencer culture as much as it does the adult world, a dual identity that set it apart from your average camming site. The platform also capitalized on what Lux Alptraum, a writer and sex educator who’s reported on the adult industry for 13 years, says may be a wider cultural shift around paying for adult content. Because of Tube sites, younger millennials and Generation Z have always known internet porn as abundant and free; following a performer on OnlyFans can feel exclusive in a way that simply watching a video of unknown pedigree does not. “I suspect there is a weird phenomenon whereby paying for porn is almost more taboo and more special and kinkier now,” says Alptraum. “It’s like, why do people buy artisanal water, you know?”
According to Aella, OnlyFans is a big improvement over camming for performers too. “OnlyFans is a much easier way of earning money,” she explains. For one thing, she says that OnlyFans’ 20 percent cut offers much more advantageous financial terms to its creators than any cam site. All the adult creators that I spoke to for this piece agreed that the cut was surprisingly modest, especially given that adult websites pay higher fees to payment processors than other businesses do. “It’s fair compared to industry standard, but I also think it’s actually fair, which never happens in entertainment or sex work,” says Stoya, a 34-year-old porn star and writer, who started an OnlyFans account in March. As a comparison, she points out that PornHub takes a 35 percent cut from its affiliated performers’ video sales. “I don’t want to get too excited,” she says, “but OnlyFans feels like it’s really put the power in the hands of the performers themselves. And that’s groundbreaking if true.”
For Aella, OnlyFans also offers vastly improved working conditions. She describes camming as a kind of Glengarry Glen Ross of sex work; it’s intense, and models are at the mercy of an algorithm that pushes or buries their content in real time. In addition, like many cam models, she would usually make the majority of her money from a single anchor client. “It becomes a weird power relationship, which can be very toxic,” she says. “A lot of girls would be beholden to emotionally abusive members.” On OnlyFans, by contrast, Aella’s earnings are much more widely distributed; her biggest client might spend $800, or about 1 percent of her monthly income.
Aella has pale skin, hazel eyes, and long chocolate-brown hair. Her self-produced content is well lit, with good production values, and often accentuates her slight goofiness: For example, she might post a video of herself working out topless wearing a VR headset or playing the accordion. Her monthly subscription price is high, at $22.92, and she posts content to her page as often as four times a day. To hear her talk about OnlyFans, you’d think she might be running any small business experiencing first-year growth. “The majority of what I do is thinking about how to market my product,” she says. Fan turnover is high, she adds—many people subscribe for a month, then drop off, so to be successful, a creator needs to consistently draw in new subscribers. She says that posting free content on NSFW subreddits (those that do not ban users for posting consensual adult material) is a common method of promotion. Aella says some creators also prioritize Twitter, which she thinks, among social media platforms, is relatively tolerant of sex workers and of adult content.
That kind of attention to marketing is what can make an OnlyFans performer truly thrive, according to Alptraum. “I think fundamentally, it’s the non-sex parts of online sex work that make someone succeed or fail, which is counterintuitive for a lot of people,” says Alptraum, who herself ran an early independent porn site. “Like, yes, making good content is important. But good content without good marketing won’t get you anywhere—just like with all other online stuff.”
Essential to good marketing is market research, which is partly how Aella has set herself apart. She’s always been drawn to data—for a while she left sex work and joined a cryptocurrency start-up—and throughout her years in the adult industry, she’s conducted careful research to help optimize her earning potential. Last winter she surveyed nearly 400 female OnlyFans creators about their incomes from the platform, unearthing some important findings: Showing your face in content, posting more frequently, and charging higher subscription prices are correlated with higher incomes.
She also graphed her respondents’ monthly earnings, indexed to their OnlyFans percentile rank. The resulting distribution looks like a hockey stick. Though she surveyed only a relatively small group of female creators, Aella’s research could suggest that fully half of OnlyFans’ more than 1 million creators net no more than $100 a month. Earning $750 puts you in the top 10 percent. Given the stigma against sex work, it seems there is a very large pool of people at the bottom of the OnlyFans income pyramid who are entering the precarious and risky world of sex work for what appears to be very little reward. Last April, a blogger calculated OnlyFans’ Gini coefficient—a common index of income inequality, with 0 being perfect egalitarianism and 1 being the most unequal distribution possible—at 0.83. Based on this data, if OnlyFans were a country, it would likely be among the most unequal nations on earth.
It’s hard to square this analysis with talk about OnlyFans democratizing porn, yet few professions offer such high potential rewards to young people with no formal qualifications and no family or other connections. For Aella, it’s taken her far from the life she was raised to want—that of a submissive Christian wife and mother—and enabled her to live with a fierce independence. “I want to save up enough in a couple of years and then never have to work again if I don’t want to,” she says. Today her life outside of sex work revolves around writing, an interpersonal meditation practice called Circling, and various forms of community-building. She recently moved back to Washington, largely because it has no state income tax, and may use some of her earnings to buy land; she’s exploring the idea of creating a commune. “Making $100,000 a month,” she says, “I was like, ‘Oh, I could actually buy a piece of land pretty soon and start building on it.’ ”
Porn’s Great Equalizer
During the early months of the pandemic, American sex workers saw their incomes evaporate. Porn sets shut down, as did clubs where strippers and go-go dancers performed. In-person work like escorting and dominatricing became too risky for most clients and workers to contemplate. But sex workers were cut off from most forms of public support, even if their labor was legal. Federal law barred those whose work is of a “prurient sexual nature” from receiving PPP loans.
Among those who pivoted to OnlyFans was Sinnamon Love, a 46-year-old Brooklyn-based sex-industry veteran who has held almost every job in the adult world imaginable—porn star, porn director, webcam model, phone sex operator, full-service sex worker, fetish model, and co-owner of a cam studio. When the pandemic hit, she was working in online porn and as a freelance professional dominatrix, catering to in-person clients. Soon she shifted much of her energy to an OnlyFans account she had created in 2018 and earned $61,000 on the platform last year.
Now Love feels the site can do more than provide a paycheck; she thinks it can also upend a lot of the old racist behavior and tropes that have hampered her porn career for years, even after she became a major star. “It really is blatant,” Love says, pointing out that mainstream porn has a racial earnings gap of up to 50 percent for performers, according to research by U.C. Santa Barbara associate professor Mireille Miller-Young. “If everything that you’re producing with marginalized people in it has some sort of derogatory terminology, or the lighting is shitty, or the makeup is bad or whatever, it’s like the companies are putting less effort into these projects,” she says. “They’re giving movies with primarily Black talent less budget.”
“People are making content on their terms,” says Mickey Mod, “with the people they want to perform with, on the timelines they want to do it, and reaping all the benefits.”
By putting creators in a direct relationship with their audience, Love says, OnlyFans cuts out porn’s often problematic middlemen, makes sex work scalable, and welcomes creators of all identities and body types. “Subscription-based platforms really have the potential to be the great equalizer in our industry,” she says, “because people have the opportunity to set their rates and make whatever money that they want to make.” Love is now aiming to further equalize the industry through her work as the director of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Peep.me, a subscription-based adult-content platform (and an OnlyFans competitor) set to launch in 2021, which will be structured as a worker-owned cooperative.
She’s also the founder of the BIPOC Adult Industry Collective, a group she started during the pandemic to provide mental- health services and direct aid to sex workers of color and advocate for fair pay and the rejection of racist tropes and language in porn. Among the workshops she’s set up is an OnlyFans 101, and one of the collective’s founding members, Mickey Mod, a 41-year-old porn performer and the creative director of the site Kink.com, echoes Love’s thoughts about the platform’s transformative possibilities. “For BIPOC performers, OnlyFans and these direct-to-consumer platforms have been sustaining a lot of people and showing people that these gatekeepers that say ‘Oh, your look doesn’t sell’ or ‘Oh, I already have a Black person on the site this month’ just how wrong that is and how strong the demand is,” Mod says. “People are making content on their terms, with the people who they want to perform with, on the timelines that they want to do it, and reaping all the benefits.”
The fact that OnlyFans creators work for themselves and set their own rates should, in theory, ease the income disparities between white and Black performers. But Love says some of the adult industry’s fraught racial dynamics are surfacing on subscription- based platforms. Discovery algorithms on these sites need to become more equitable, she says, so that Black and brown performers are adequately represented—something she’s trying to get right with Peep.me. “When I came on board, I didn’t want to see us utilizing an algorithm that favors cis, white, thin, commercially attractive people,” she says. “It’s super important to make sure that marginalized people are at the forefront of your advertising. If you’re only posting a certain type of person, you’re only going to get customers looking for that type of person.” (When reached for comment, a representative from OnlyFans said that the platform’s “suggested creators bar changes frequently and showcases an inclusive range of creators.”)
Love also wants platforms to ensure their creators’ safety by banning racial and other identity slurs—a step OnlyFans says it has taken. “It only benefits them to do it,” Love says, “because if the creators feel safe, then the creators are going to stay. They’re going to want to be there. And they’ll make more money.”
Stigma’s Long Shadow
The first thing Evelyn Harlow does most mornings after waking up is check her OnlyFans inbox to see if any new subscribers have materialized overnight. “For some reason, porn is just really active, like in those wee hours of the night,” she says. “I get a lot of my subscribers at midnight to 2 a.m.” Evelyn (who asked to be identified by the pseudonym she uses on OnlyFans) is 26 and lives in Canada. She started her account last summer, after losing her $14.50-an-hour retail job, and she took to the site naturally: Sometimes her videos give the impression that you might be hanging out with a beautiful roommate who is casually chatting while, for instance, making over-easy eggs in the nude. She’s now bringing in about $1,300 a month from her page, which—given that she’s only six months in and didn’t start with a big social media following—she’s satisfied with. Her goal is to make $5,500 a month.
But as her following grows, she also fears one of her posts getting too much attention—and drawing the scrutiny of those in her life who don’t know about her online alter ego. “I worry sometimes, where I’m making a post and part of me is like, ‘Oh, it would be so good for the business if this did really well,’ ” she says. “And then I’m like, ‘If this did really well, there’s a higher probability that someone I know will see it.’ ”
Gradually, Evelyn has told most of the people she’s close to about her current line of work. She’s not out to her family, except her sister, who’s her roommate. Revealing herself as someone who makes money from creating homemade porn is still stigmatizing, she says, even in an age when watching porn and sexting is normalized. “It’s a different thing to say you do porn or you post nude pictures online and get paid for it, or you share intimate details about your sex life online and people pay a subscription for that,” she says. “There’s just something about sex work where it combines the taboo of sex and the taboo of money and you put them together and some people say, ‘Oh,’ and then they change the subject. And then I’m sure they go home and they tell their boyfriend their friend’s lost their mind.”
She’s also experienced the feeling of seeing a romantic partner, or a suitor, reevaluate her after her disclosure. “Some people look at sex workers differently too, and then they might be like, ‘I can push her into having sex now,’ ” she says.
OnlyFans creators who are new to sex work, like Evelyn, are now navigating the minefield of the occupation’s stigma for the first time and doing it mostly without a strong support system. Among the biggest risks faced by online sex workers are harassment and doxing: Late last year, the New York Post revealed the identity of an EMT who had an OnlyFans account to make ends meet. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez came to the woman’s defense, tweeting, “Leave her alone. The actual scandalous headline here is ‘Medics in the United States need two jobs to survive.’ ” The EMT deleted her OnlyFans account and kept her job, but the episode showed the precarious existence faced by newcomers to sex work as they seek to reconcile their day jobs with their online personas.
For Mickey Mod, that kind of shaming shows how sex work is still effectively “quarantined” from other forms of work in most peoples’ minds. “ ‘It’s fine if that’s what you’re going to do and that’s all you’re going to do—but I don’t want that person to be my accountant,’ ” he says of the prevailing attitude. “And I feel like that is a big hill to have to climb.” Mod attributes this view to simple misogyny. “People can’t accept that things are being done consensually, which is fucked up and mostly deeply rooted in an extreme misogyny that is so ingrained in our culture that most of the time people don’t even recognize it,” he says. “People don’t recognize that people other than women do sex work and can’t rationalize that women could choose sex work or choose it consensually.”
Evelyn weighed the decision to begin her OnlyFans account very carefully, down to choosing her pseudonym. “I realized there’s kind of a line you cross over. You can’t step back from it,” she says. “There is an online footprint now, and what happens on the internet stays on the internet forever.” She says she thinks about her parents finding out all the time. “I know it’s going to happen at some point,” she says. “I would much prefer to tell them myself. I would hate for them to find out through finding me online. Yeah, I think about it a lot.” But she hasn’t yet brought herself to begin the conversation.
Aella did not get to control the circumstances of her family finding out about her sex work. During her camming career, she says, her identity was discovered and someone interrupted the livestream of her father’s Christian radio show and posted a screen capture of one of her cam shows. “Which is how my parents learned that I did this,” she says. “And that was really terrible.”
She has also been stalked—primarily online, though she says one man tried to find her in person—and has dealt with “people who think that we’re in a relationship or in love, and that’s a little bit scary.” Much of what she knows about online security comes from veteran sex workers, and by this point, her safeguards are automatic. “It’s, like, built into my blood to be very, very careful about the kind of information I give online,” she says.
Looking back, Aella feels that in a strange way, her evangelical Christian upbringing gave her the tools to live a life as a member of an out-group. She grew up with the sense that the rest of the world was “just never going to understand, and that you, culturally, are very different from them,” she says. “I felt like, ‘Oh, okay, I can live a life and be okay like this.’ I don’t think I have the strong fear reaction to it that a lot of other people do, who never got the opportunity to experience being safe while the outside world hated them.”
Brayden also grew up in a conservative family; his father was music director at their church in Texas for two decades. His parents have become more accepting of the choices he’s made that they don’t understand—the tattoos, the weed he smokes partly to manage his anxiety. “But something like sex work is the very end of a spectrum that I don’t think they’re anywhere near,” he says. He fears them finding out in some way he can’t control but hasn’t yet brought himself to tell them. “Everything circles back to Christianity for them. There are things that they think are wrong and immoral, obviously that don’t actually hurt anybody,” he says. “If something like an article was how they found out, then that’s something I’m totally okay with.”
For Sarvani, a 23-year-old tattoo artist in Washington State who started an OnlyFans account to make up for income lost during the pandemic, that was a conversation she was forced to have prematurely. Last April, she posted an eye-catching tweet, one that played into a popular genre of boasts about what people had bought with their earnings on the platform: “Say whatcha want about OnlyFans but I just moved into my dream house at 22,” she wrote, captioning a photo of herself posing proudly in the doorway of a two-story suburban house. Truthfully, the home was rented, and Sarvani had only started her OnlyFans account a few weeks earlier, in March. But she seemed like the ultimate OnlyFans success story, and within hours her tweet was on its way to almost 270,000 likes and 17,000 quote tweets, many of them highly critical. A popular alt-right account mocked her, and its audience subjected Sarvani, who was born in India, to racist abuse. Strangers called her a whore and said that she should die, and she endured weeks of vile harassment and death threats. Her Twitter account is under her real name, so individuals who wished her ill had a head start in seeking out her personal information.
Sarvani, who studied a form of Indian classical dance from the age of four, is the sole non-nude OnlyFans creator I interviewed. (She shares bikini and lingerie shots.) In the wake of the tweet, someone sent a screen recording of her OnlyFans page to her mother, who was unaware of her work. “It was awful,” says Sarvani. “She’s not thrilled that this is what I’m doing. We just talked about it on Christmas, actually. And she was like, ‘I don’t like that you’re in sex work, but I am happy that you’re happy and that you found your niche.’ ”
However, Sarvani notes, “going viral really, really did boost my tattoo business, and I’m really grateful for that. And that’s what I want to do with my life.” She’s still on OnlyFans for now and is on track to make about $100,000 in her first year on the platform. In January, she tweeted a since-deleted photo of a key: She’d signed a lease on her own tattoo studio, which is set to open this spring, pandemic permitting. “You know what I’ll probably do is try and make another viral tweet,” she says. “I have an inspiration. I could probably say something about OnlyFans giving me this opportunity to open a new shop and then boost my tattoo business, because I know that will do really well. And then also announce that I am done with OnlyFans. That’s probably what I’ll do.”
The Fans: A New Intimacy
The money is the big draw, of course, the possibility of financial salvation that makes all the stigma and fear worth enduring. But a number of the OnlyFans creators I spoke with also mentioned something else they found on the platform—a sometimes unexpected connection with their followers, a sense of power that came with understanding and unlocking their desires. “Sex work is fundamentally about manufactured intimacy,” says Lux Alptraum. Something about OnlyFans seems to make the manufacturing part a little easier, a little more natural. Mickey Mod describes it as “this private club that your friend who happens to be hot is inviting you into.”
Sometimes those conversations stray from the purely erotic to the life of the mind. Stoya lights up when talking about her 737 OnlyFans subscribers, and not just because the nearly $54,000 in income the site provided her in 2020 has allowed her to give her assistant a raise and a promotion. “I open up my inbox most mornings and it’s, like, a conversation about Jonathan Carroll’s The Land of Laughs with the fan who bought it and sent it to me, and a conversation with a different fan about The Land of Laughs because he asked for a topless picture of me reading and that was the book I was reading at the time and he’s also read it,” she says. “It makes me wish we could do group threads on OnlyFans.”
Stoya typically exchanges messages with about 25 fans a day. Not every fan interaction is pleasant—some messages are “weird to awful,” and she occasionally hears from someone who is “unhealthily fixated, and blocking them doesn’t work; they just make a new account over and over. And that can be alarming.” But she’s been in the industry for over a decade, she has security measures in place, and the vast majority of her fans are people with whom she enjoys interacting within the boundaries of her paid inbox. She has gotten messages asking about techniques for anxiety management during the pandemic and questions about sexual health. “Some of it’s so banal,” she says. “Like, someone’s like, ‘I have trouble sleeping. Can you record a bedtime voice memo for me?’ Well, of course.”
Aella says that being a sex worker and creating content for people on OnlyFans has made her more empathetic toward men. “They’re people,” she says. “I think there’s a lot of dehumanization that occurs for horny men—which is understandable. I hate horny men a lot of the time. But if you can get past that, these horny men are people experiencing drives that they didn’t ask for, and it’s really tough to be in the grip of that. I have a lot of compassion for that.” Prior to becoming a sex worker, she says, “I think I wasn’t fully aware that men often use sexual intimacy as a proxy for emotional intimacy, or that sexual intimacy is sort of a requirement in order to have emotional intimacy, and they don’t really know how to have it with anyone else.”
As a man in an industry where women are typically the stars (and the bigger earners), Mickey Mod finds OnlyFans refreshing because he’s actually the focus for once. “I feel most of the time in my in-person performing, I’m mostly kind of an extra or an afterthought,” he says. “They usually cast the other performer or performers and then me.” Mod says that OnlyFans has been “a perception shift,” and he sounds surprised when he talks about how different it is to be the person everyone is coming to see.
Sometimes sex work connects with some of the deepest and most personal human drives—the desire to be known and to be understood. For Evelyn, online sex work represents the latest development in a long process of getting in touch with herself again after suffering from eating disorders throughout her adolescence, college, and acting school in her 20s. Gradually, in recovery, she began to connect the shame she felt about food and her body to sexual shame that she’d absorbed growing up in a devout Catholic family where she says purity was emphasized and no one spoke openly about sex.
As an adult, accepting her body was like a test, and learning to enjoy herself sexually—to embrace her desires and sexuality without shame—was in a way the ultimate repudiation of her illness. “I just got really hooked on the theory that if you’re ashamed of something, you should do the opposite of hiding it,” she says. “I use my fear as my guide, and that might seem reckless to some people, that might seem ridiculous. But fear, it’s useful also.”
Posting nude photos online, Evelyn says, is awesome. It’s taken years for her to become comfortable enough with her body and her sexuality to be able to do it; she still experiences some fear, but she has freed herself from the shame. “It feels,” she says, “like being seen.”
Jenna Sauers is a freelance writer who splits her time between Brooklyn and New Zealand.
A version of this story originally appeared in the March 2021 issue with the title “The Future Is OnlyFans.”