24-year-old Kirsten Vaughn, a mechanic who appeared in Hulu’s OnlyFans: Selling Sexy documentary, started an OnlyFans account as a way to pay off debt and start her own race car shop. The growing subscription-based digital platform, which garners over 500,000 users a day, launched in 2016 as an opportunity for sex workers to get paid more for premium content. Fans can request specific videos and creators can receive big tips on individual posts. OnlyFans may have started with sex workers, but over time — especially during the pandemic — people who previously hadn’t considered themselves to be sex workers began creating profiles.
OnlyFans got even more attention when celebrities, like Bella Thorne and Cardi B., came on the scene. And when Beyoncé name-dropped OF in her song “Savage,” she really put the platform on the map. Unlike traditional porn, sex workers and content creators have more control over what they post and the level of nudity they’re comfortable sharing. Celebrities are notorious for not showing any nudity at all on the platform but still ranking as top earners. Sex workers in the Only Fans documentary reported making $10k per month on average.
But once the pandemic hit, like most employees, OnlyFans creators were worried about losing work. If people were losing their jobs, would they have the money to spend on X-rated entertainment?
It turns out, users most definitely did want to pay for sexual content. “People are desperate for extra income during these tough times. Since the pandemic started, I have tripled my monthly income on OnlyFans specifically,” Romi Chase, a sex worker, tells SheKnows. OnlyFans sales skyrocketed and their traffic doubled between March and August. Strip clubs were closed, people were at home more, and physical contact was basically off-limits.
“The pandemic has inflicted a deeper level of boredom and loneliness in consumers who might otherwise not indulge in porn every day. It’s hard to resist the urge to put those spreadsheets off for a few minutes while you gawk at some beautiful naked people.” Geoffrey Celen, Co-Founder of The Porn Dude tells SheKnows. Celen has seen an increase in midday porn, including OnlyFans, as homebound fans take advantage of their “boss-free environment.”
Plus, content creators have more time to, well, create content — especially direct-to-consumer content that closes the intimacy gap felt by users nationwide. As a result, OnlyFans grew to 24 million users in just six months.
During the pandemic, Instagram influencer Caroline Calloway took to OnlyFans to raise money to pay for her book deal debt. “Now that my own financial situation is less dire than it once was, I think the argument that I (and other Internet personalities) leave OnlyFans for the sex workers who ‘need the money more’ is more valid,” she wrote in December, echoing sentiments that celebrities should leave the platform.
Other critics believe that only sex workers should be on the platform since they lost their jobs. “In my mind that’s $100K more or less stolen from independent sex workers who lost their full service jobs in a pandemic and didn’t qualify for government assistance,” one commenter wrote.
Chase, though, sees more profiles entering the game as an opportunity. “Some people say it over-saturated the market and made it harder for us adult content creators to monetize our content but I honestly think increased traffic is a great thing,” she says.
Even so, people who are looking to make ends meet — no matter their industry — have been signing up. Notably, 23-year-old Lauren Caitlyn Kwei, who is an NYC paramedic, went viral during the pandemic for her side gig. “There are plenty of people who are medical professionals who have every right to do what they want with their own bodies. I’m not doing it at work. Healthcare workers aren’t making a lot of money. And I’m not the only one trying to make ends meet,” she told The New York Post.
Kwei’s story shed light on the fact that sex workers weren’t the only ones looking to make money — so were essential healthcare workers, whose importance became glaringly obvious during the pandemic. Still, she was forced to take down her profile out of fear of losing her day job for “inappropriate conduct, on and off duty.”
But even with more user signups during the pandemic, there is still a lot of judgment about how others choose to make a living.
“I wish I could say that it’s made people more open-minded but there’s still a giant struggle with censorship online with social media and sex workers. Sadly we are unable to directly promote our [accounts] on Instagram without risking getting deleted or shadow banned,” Sara Vandella, a sex worker, tells SheKnows. Even though sex work is still being penalized — no matter the platform — the pay model of OnlyFans gives people an opportunity to earn more in their own time.
“[It] empowers people and helps them realize that they do not need to rely on a traditional 9-5 for a living,” Romi concludes. “You can live a comfortable life making more money than you would have ever thought possible — all from the comfort of your home.”