Gone are the raunchy 900 numbers and the sordid escorts on the back of The Village Voice.
With the emergence of the Only Fans Website, work in the sex industry is now delivered via a digital platform.
Founded in 2016 by Timothy Stokley, Only Fans has 50 million registered users who pay monthly subscription fees for access to accounts following their favorite content creators. The lure is exclusive content – articles, photos, videos – that is unavailable anywhere else on the web. Celebrities like Cardi B., Blac Chyna, and Bella Thorne post exclusive content for their fans on their Only Fans website pages. Although anyone can use Only Fans to post any kind of content, (you can find fitness, art, literature, etc… on Only Fans), the bulk of the content on the site is X rated. Most of the subscribers are male and they pay for intimate experiences that roughly translate into “girlfriend” interactions.
Different from other social media platforms that don’t allow full nudity, Only Fans allows performers to control how creative they get with content. Subscribers can send performers private messages requesting personalized content. Requests can be anything, from special messages to outrageous costumes or explicit dancing. More creative and personalized content yields higher earnings for performers. Monthly subscriptions don’t amount to much, but some men spent thousands of dollars on requests from their favorite performers. Subscribers are looking for detailed and personal interactions that make them feel special and loved through the facades of their computer screens. (Only Fans is not available in app form because Apple has strict guidelines against sexual material.)
While there is opportunity for a performer to make lots of money, it’s not as easy as taking off your clothes. A performer needs to amass a large fan base who must subscribe before any money starts rolling in. (Only Fans keeps 20% of whatever the performer brings in and the performer keeps the rest.) Sometimes this means engaging for hours on Instagram and Facebook first and then leading those users to Only Fans, but that doesn’t mean they’ll subscribe.
During the pandemic, Only Fans website boomed. Not only did subscriber numbers increase, but so did content creator numbers. (There were 60,000 performers in 2019 and this rose to more than one million during the lockdown.) More and more women looking to make ends meet turned to Only Fans trying to pay the bills. While some may have made some money, they worried about their prospects of finding a regular job if word of their Only Fans account ever got out or the shame they might feel if their families knew how they made money.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the most popular content creators can take home as much as six figures per month. This takes skill and dedication. Because subscribers are constantly falling off, a performer needs to find ways to re-invent his/her image, pick up new subscribers, and keep them coming back. This involves continual and consistent marketing. This marketing is what sets the top earners apart from the other content creators who struggle to draw profits.
Performers on Only Fans view the site as an opportunity for growth within the sex industry. The ability to create their own content and control the amount of money they make is just like having their own business. While porn is often available for free, the content creators on Only Fans get paid for actively knowing their subscribers in a deeply personal way. If they are good at what they do, it can be a lucrative profession for them and a rewarding experience for the subscriber as well.