Opinion: For some women, OnlyFans is the only option

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In December 2020, The New York Post published an article doxxing a New York City paramedic for working on OnlyFans, a website where content creators publish explicit images of themselves for subscribers to see. 

In addition to revealing the woman’s identity against her wishes, The Post took every opportunity to shame her, something that was encapsulated by their inclusion of a quote from a fellow paramedic: “Other EMTs and paramedics make more money by pulling extra shifts, instead of pulling off their clothes.”

The Post put this woman’s career and life at risk just to air a public warning that women must conduct themselves in a way that is inoffensive to the delicate sensibilities of their male reporters — unless, of course, they wish to have their personal lives on display for a national audience.

This article was a case study in the many ways this country is failing to talk about sex work and women’s dwindling economic opportunities. 

The amount of content creators on OnlyFans has increased almost tenfold since 2019, coinciding with the pandemic and subsequent economic disaster. 

It’s no surprise that women have been especially hurt by the post-pandemic economy. Many of the industries that have been impacted the most — childcare, retail and restaurant service — are heavily dominated by women.

And women, more often than not, are forced to take on traditional roles of care taking, a responsibility that has grown as children do school from home and millions across the country fall ill with COVID-19.

The data shows that women are twice as likely as men to cite lack of access to childcare as their cause of unemployment.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that four times more women left the labor force in September 2020 compared to men. In December 2020, women accounted for all net job loss in the United States, losing 156,000 jobs as men gained back 16,000.

This pain is felt more harshly by women of color, with Black and Latina women being laid off a disproportionate rate compared to their white peers. A study also found that Black women were twice as likely to be laid off in the pandemic as white men. 

Many women have turned to OnlyFans and similar sites as a way to cope with the financial burden posed by the pandemic. There is something particularly cruel about shaming women for sex work while providing them with few economic alternatives and measly government assistance.

Sex work is not immoral or shameful. People own their own bodies and should do with them what they want as long as it doesn’t involve harming others. If they want to sell pictures of themselves, it should be their choice to make — no shame attached. 

The only concern to be had with the rise of OnlyFans is that it is riding the wave of women’s overall economic grief. Many women working on OnlyFans — including the medic doxxed by the Post — cite financial struggle as a driving factor to their work. This is when the industry can become exploitative rather than empowering.

It is no secret that there are many risks to sex work. Women cite fears of losing their current or future employment, familial tension, having pictures stolen and even receiving death threats. While there is nothing wrong with choosing this kind of work, it is unfortunate that those who may not wish to take those risks feel they have no other choice.

While OnlyFans brings some women the economic relief they seek, it is by no means a stable source of income. The recent increase in content on the website has cut profits for individuals even further, with the average creator earning less than $200 a month

If the U.S. does not enact government policies to address women’s economic struggles, this damage will extend far beyond the pandemic. Universal direct cash payments of $2000 a month dating back to March 2020 is a good place to start.

Next, this country needs universal child care to ensure that women have full economic autonomy and are not unequally burdened by the responsibilities of motherhood. All workers should make a living wage of at least $15 an hour; it is unacceptable that someone can work 40 hours a week in this country and still be unable to afford basic necessities such as food and housing.

Women doing sex work is not shameful. What is deeply embarrassing, rather, is a government that has willingly left so many women with no other choice.

Claire Sullivan is an 18-year-old coastal environmental science freshman from Southbury, CT.

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