As adult film studios and strip clubs were shutting down in spring 2020, OnlyFans user base grew by 75% in only a month. Between March 2020 and March 2021 the “subscription social platform revolutionizing creator and fan relationships went from 7.5 million to 120 million users (on April 2022 there are more than 170 million users.—To The Moon).

The booming network mostly known as a hub for explicit content has been accused of tax fraud, stealing content creators’ money, content leaks, and circulation of child abuse material. In addition to public criticism, many content creators have been disappointed in the idea of making a living with an OnlyFans blog.

The biggest obstacle is probably the competition. While a few celebrities announce crazy profits from the platform, like Bella Thorne who made $1 million on her first day with some beach photos, the median income for an OnlyFans blogger is a humble $180 a month before tips according to XSRUS.

Just like with regular blogging, setting up a profitable account requires investments.

“It starts with getting a good camera, good lighting, and a good space. Many professional models use studio spaces (even though they often look like regular apartments). Next, you’ll need expensive makeup, clothing, and sex toys. And there’s no guarantee all this will ever pay off”,

says Anastasia, who worked with OnlyFans during the pandemic.

Illustration: Edik Katykhin
Illustration: Edik Katykhin

Many models use conventional social media like Instagram to build their fan base before inviting followers to OnlyFans.

“At first, I stupidly paid money to shady Instagram pages with lots of followers, but they only provide you with useless likes from fake users. As I got smarter, I discovered cross promo opportunities: bloggers share each other’s content, and this allows you to get actual followers”,

tells Anastasia. Even though Instagram itself doesn’t allow explicit content, it can still be used for selling it as long as there’s someone willing to pay for private messages. Some creators actually consider it a safer and easier way to sell content.

“I never used OnlyFans or similar services to sell nudes. I stayed on Instagram and networked through customers I met while working at a strip club”,

says Casey. And while expressing female sexuality is quite hard on Instagram with frequent bans from the platform, male bloggers enjoy more freedom. itsversayce, a digital artist whose work is centered around his nude buttocks, started an Instagram blog as a way to express himself and reclaim his body image rather than looking for profits. He admits,

“I’ve been banned by Instagram for my content before, but several times I actually received warnings from the platform for female nipples in my stories rather than the actual pictures in my feed. And I’ve been able to sell prints to guys who discovered my work by simply following me on Insta. Some folks have been telling me to get into NFTs with my work but I think they can be overly saturated at the end of the day and tarnishing to one’s reputation in the future.”
Source: instagram.com/_itsversayce_
Source: instagram.com/_itsversayce_

Instagram or Twitter are not built for selling content, but networking there is free for bloggers, while OnlyFans takes its cut on every transaction.

“You get $12 on a $15 subscription and $80 on a $100 tip, which hurts considering how hard you have to work, staying on your phone all day and chatting with jerks who request custom content”,

says Anastasia.

However, some models who didn’t expect much from the start were positively surprised. Christiana shares her OnlyFans experience:

“I started ironically for some side money—I didn’t think it was going to make any profit. Within the last two years it became my main source of income on and off. Sometimes I get messages from OnlyFans managers to help boost activity, but I don’t take it seriously enough to find myself investing the time. However, I know plenty of women who depend on it way more working hard every day to make ends meet. This may sound like easy money, and yet, it takes me a lot of energy to build the platform consistently to keep up with posts, custom content, and private messages. Anyway, I’m thankful for the platform because it’s online work for independent contractors so I find myself trying to keep up with that extra rent money and tax write-offs”.
Illustration: Edik Katykhin
Illustration: Edik Katykhin

As for tax write-offs, the fact that OnlyFans claims to operate in compliance with the labor law can result in discrimination of immigrants like Anastasia.

“OnlyFans did me dirty. When they announced the upcoming changes to their content policy, I tried to withdraw my money and I couldn’t (OnlyFans announced a ban on sexually explicit content in August 2021 but didn’t follow through after facing a backlash from users.—To The Moon). I’m an asylum seeker in the United States, which means I have a Social Security Number and am authorized to work while waiting for my green card. They thought the fact that I have an American bank account and a foreign passport was extremely suspicious, and as it turned out my employment authorization card had expired, they banned my account and withheld the money. Trying to negotiate withdrawing the money I made while my ID was still valid led nowhere. In addition, I lost access to the account I spent so much time setting up.”

As a result, Anastasia switched to an alternative subscription platform, Fansly, who considered her SSN a sufficient proof of her eligibility to work in the U.S. and had an interface she found much user-friendlier than OnlyFans. She was finally able to withdraw her OnlyFans earnings months later, when she requested her tax paperwork from the platform, as they realized she was in fact a taxpayer and could easily sew the platform for stealing her money.

Models from the United States switching to OnlyFans from legal sex services such as dancing in strip clubs were still eligible for the pandemic unemployment benefits. They didn’t struggle as much as those who provided under-the-table services. Models can easily get banned if moderators suspect they provide “full service” as it’s called in the industry. This puts users who turned to OnlyFans for the lack of social security in a very vulnerable position. Moreover, account bans often happen for much more minor reasons.

“I know girls get banned for using words like “blood” in their posts. This is absurd if we think of period blood, fake blood on Halloween, or many other occasions where it can come up”,

says Anastasia.

Illustration: Edik Katykhin
Illustration: Edik Katykhin

In return for their 20% cut OnlyFans offers safety measures, i.e. protection from screenshots, watermarked content, and an option to not share some personal information. However, stealing content is as easy as taking a picture of your computer screen with your phone, and the necessity to report sex services as a source of income to the IRS doesn’t exactly help with staying anonymous. Anastasia expresses her skepticism about privacy in the field,

“All these warnings, disclaimers or watermarks don’t really help. Everything that appears on the internet, stays there. There’s always a high risk of getting outed, and my mom claims she’s received pictures of me from some guys who don’t like that I get to decide what to do with my body. Many girls are constantly afraid their parents would receive something like this. Once, I met a guy on Tinder and he said he’d seen me before and knew where I have a remarkable mole. I used to be a cam girl back in the day and it turned out someone had stolen a video and sold it to a porn site. Plus, there’s another common way to profit from stolen content: setting up fake accounts for scamming subscribers.”

Christiana is less skeptical. She believes that OnlyFans is a “safer vessel” compared to other online platforms and stayed true to the service even after their attempt to ban adult content. However, when the platform announced the upcoming ban this made her think of other options,

“Online sex work will still continue with or without OnlyFans. I feel like Snapchat or Twitter are the best backup options—even with the risk of stolen content—this is where us sex workers can still exchange private content. In addition, that lets us keep 100% of profits which are simultaneously less traceable.”

Illustration: Edik Katykhin
Illustration: Edik Katykhin

As the pandemic restrictions get lifted, Anastasia is looking forward to returning to her dance job,

“Maybe working online is simply not for me. When I dance, I don’t need to take selfies or imitate intercourse. All I do is chat with customers and entertain them. I never do anything other than dancing, I don’t kiss them or have sex with them. If there are people who try to touch me I can always say “no” and walk away. Even if someone manages to take a picture of me, most of the time there’s nothing much to see there, it’s just like a beach photo. On the internet, where you don’t see their face, people know no limits. They can, and they will, say craziest things to you.”

Casey once seemed to like her dance job, too. As the pandemic hit, she sold some content online but mostly enjoyed her forced time off using the pandemic unemployment money. She underwent a breast reduction surgery in late 2020 and realized she wouldn’t be able to dance again for at least a year due to visible scars. Later on, Casey admitted,

“This job was never safe. Men constantly tried to get into my panties. In fact, the way they would pull my breasts is probably the reason I needed the surgery.”

She now works a regular office job.

itsversayce has more than 10,000 Instagram followers now and is not planning to stop.

Illustration: Edik Katykhin
Illustration: Edik Katykhin