Image Credit: Charles Deluvio
Popular opinion of OnlyFans is that it is a great site for adult performers and sex workers as, unlike more unethical forms of sex work, it is the performer who has direct control and decides their working regulations on their terms. The screen separates the performer and the ‘Fan’, meaning that it’s a safe space and you can easily say no to your ‘Fans’ if you feel uncomfortable. However, sadly this isn’t always the reality and many young girls are falling victim to the darker side of OnlyFans, becoming completely consumed by the site at the cost of their mental health and self-worth.
Over the lockdown period, the number of OnlyFans creators has risen from 200,000 back in February to 700,000 today. Additionally, a further 30 million more ‘Fans’ have joined the social media website, taking their total number to around 50 million. The site works in a similar way to Instagram, except to access an accounts content you must subscribe, paying a subscription fee each month. The creator sets the price, they choose what they post and how much they chat with their subscribers. It sounds like they are in control, right?
But there is a catch – money.
A subscriber can cancel their subscription anytime, so to keep the money coming in, you must keep your customers coming back for more. Just like in an office job for instance, where you want to impress your boss to be considered for that promotion, young girls are constantly raising the bar on what they are willing to do for their subscribers in order to keep their business, and with this new influx of users to the site, competition for business is rife.
Dannii Harwood is the first person from the UK to make £1 million on the site, she states that “whatever you do, the guys are always going to want more”. Appreciating that young girls look up to her as a success story, she reveals that many believe they can just take a few nudes and gain thousands of subscribers, and whilst that might happen for the first few months, if they don’t “up their game” soon, subscribers will go elsewhere. It’s like a drug, once they’ve had a hit, they want more, and more and this cycle never ends.
A recent documentary by BBC Three revealed the darker side to OnlyFans, meeting the young girls who have been caught up in its world and its promise to make money fast. They interviewed 23-year-old Lauren, who is making almost £35,000 from the site every month. She is one of OnlyFans top earners, yet she admits that once you have done something once, there is no need to do it again: instead, you must top it. In this constant cycle of needing to raise your game for views, it’s no surprise that young girls are becoming more and more wrapped up in the site and the fear that their pictures aren’t enough can have crippling effects on their self-worth. When asked if she would do it if there wasn’t so much money involved, Lauren stated that she wouldn’t as there has been “so many horrendous downsides and horrendous judgment and it’s been mentally a lot… but money is freedom… if it wasn’t for that I wouldn’t do it.”
Lauren admits the toll it has taken on her mentally, and while she sticks by her decision to work in this profession, she is one of the lucky ones in the sense that she is extremely comfortable financially, and can afford to set boundaries. She says she receives messages offering to pay her £5,000 for sex, and while she can afford to say no, many girls yet to achieve success on the site perhaps can’t.
Celestia Vega is a 20-year-old ex-sex worker, who began sex work as soon as she turned 18. OnlyFans was where she spent most of her days, spending hours taking photos, each one more explicit than the last as her fans demanded more and more of her. At 19 she signed a contract with a porn agency and had a breakdown. She said that sex work left her feeling broken, and she reached a place where she felt there was nowhere out of her situation.
This is a prime example of where OnlyFans obliterates any feelings of control you once thought you had. In a YouTube video on her channel, Vega states, “I originally did sex work as I way for me to have a better grasp and control of how people viewed me, particularly sexually, and I was seeking the attention that I previously lacked elsewhere… I experienced a lot of hurt, a lot of danger, and a lot of false promises and especially a few months ago I started to realise how much that I have felt like I have truly had something taken away from my youth because of my decision to start sex worker right immediately after turning 18.”
Vega is now in a much better place and is determined to grow from her past experiences and reclaim herself for who she really is. Vega’s case highlights that if you start sex work so young, it may not be long before its addictive and toxic nature consumes you.
Yet, what is terrifying is that many girls are subscribing to the site underage. Reporter Ellie Flynn managed to track down Hannah (fake name), a 17-year-old who started OnlyFans when she was about to turn 15. She says she receives hundreds of dms from underage girls asking for advice on how to follow in her footsteps. Sadly many of them are succeeding in making it onto the site. Hannah was able to make an account using a friends’ ID, and after some investigating, Flynn discovers that a creator’s bank account details don’t even have to match up with the name on the ID, meaning that many people underage can use a fake ID and still successfully make an account on the site.
Clearly, something must be done. OnlyFans must do more to ensure their site is safe and the regulations are being abided to. While OnlyFans is a great platform for independent cam girls and performers, especially during the pandemic where in-person bookings are no longer possible, it isn’t the place for people, particularly those who are young and impressionable, who do not fully understand the nature of the site and this line of work.
As the site continues to grow and more young people seek to join, perhaps it’s a topic that needs to be discussed in schools. As students see the success of OnlyFans stars, they need to be educated on the dangers of underage sex work, and how the industry can affect mental health. At 18 you legally have the decision to begin sex work, but it is so important to understand its possible consequences. Vega will never forget the “intense and traumatic things that [she] had to go through in this industry that [she] somewhat forced [her]self in [her] most vulnerable state”. Sexualising your body can quickly go from being something fun and empowering, to a stressful way to earn a living with detrimental effects to mental health.
Constantly uploading content and interacting with subscribers every single day to make sure they feel special and continue to subscribe is a huge commitment; and once people figure out that by stopping or even repeating the same content for too long, the money will also stop, the harder it is to escape the cycle.