As subscription-based sites and other online avenues for self-marketing have gained popularity, web-based sex work has become appealing option for those looking to safely profit from creating and selling explicit content.
When the London-based site launched in 2016, OnlyFans creators Tim Stokely and Amrapali Gan’s goal was to revolutionize creator-fan connections, according to the OnlyFans website. Quickly, amateur sex workers from around the world with followings of all sizes harnessed the power of the site to sell adult images, videos and other forms of self-created pornography.
Shelby Seal, 21, of Santa Cruz, California, is in the top 0.25% of creators on OnlyFans. Seal joined the site in December after her commission-based job no longer paid her enough to make ends meet, she said. After one month of sharing content, Seal had already earned $2,900, so she decided to quit her job in February.
“I had a come up of confidence before starting, which got me to even have the confidence to even be on the platform,” Seal said. “(My fans) have definitely made me feel more secure and confident in myself. It’s empowering.”
Seal shares content on her main feed, to which a monthly subscription costs $15 a month, and creates custom pay-per-view content, for which customers request specific material from her, she said.
Seal’s main feed consists of photos and videos of her wearing lingerie. The pay-per-views, which are more expensive, include explicit and intimate imagery such as strip teases, personal pleasure and fetish-specific performances. Prices range from $10-$100 depending on the video length and level of nudity, Seal said. The majority of Seal’s income comes from pay-per-views.
Eloise Hale, 21, of Fayetteville, joined OnlyFans in January, collecting $1,500 in her first month.
“I’ve been told for a long time that if I was to start one, people thought I would be successful,” Hale said.
After losing her job in January, she thought about searching for another, but instead decided to join the platform and try to make enough money to pay that month’s rent.
“I realized I was going to be needing another source of income and along with losing another job, that pretty much sparked it,” Hale said. “This seemed like a more convenient option and It turned out that it made more money than my initial part-time job was.”
Hale’s monthly subscription price of $15 allows customer access to lingerie photos and videos of her caressing parts of her body, she said. Hale never posts photos or videos she thinks are too explicit on her main feed, such as bottom nudity, she said.
Hale also makes pay-per-view content, and earns most of her money from it, with custom photos valued at $15 each and custom videos at $30 each, she said.
While her work is lucrative, there are also negative aspects of the job, Hale said. Sometimes subscribers address harassing or belittling comments toward her.
“It’s very objectifying in many ways,” Hale said. “People will just demand more and more, and there's a lot of times when people treat you like an object and say you’re easily replaceable.”
Although Hale often receives backlash from OnlyFans members, her family and friends have been supportive during her endeavors, she said.
Seal’s loved ones have had a similar response, with some of her friends asking how they can join the platform too, she said.
“My family has been super chill,” Seal said. “(My significant other’s mother) is really the only unsupportive person, and everybody has basically been like, ‘Teach me how, I wanna do that.’”
Seal now solely supports herself by being an OnlyFans creator, earning approximately $28,000 a month from her 1,600 monthly subscribers, she said. She spends more than six hours a day filming and editing content, but it does not feel like a job because she enjoys the work.
While OnlyFans has become one of the most widely known platforms for profiting from adult-only content and connections, there are other options available. Tabby Vinciguerra, 21, of Fayetteville, has been in virtual and in-person relationships with “sugar daddies” — older men who provide money in exchange for relationship perks ranging from sexual to strictly emotional — for three years. Vinciguerra joined a dating site geared at helping members find relationships aligned with their personal goals because she wanted to make some extra money, she said.
“Some people like discreet meetups, some people wanna go out on a date, so it really just depends on what they want and what I'm comfortable with,” Vinciguerra said.
Vinciguerra also has a virtual relationship in which she sends customized explicit photos and videos, talks on the phone and FaceTimes in return for a weekly allowance of around $600.
“It's different because you don't get to know the person as well, but you still develop a unique relationship,” Vinciguerra said. “It's honestly been one of the more beneficial relationships that I've had thus far.”
Vinciguerra’s family and friends have been supportive of her choices, but she has dealt with ex-partners’ disapproval, sometimes causing her to rethink her own beliefs, she said.
“At some points, it made me question what I was doing and made me judgmental toward myself and other people,” Vinciguerra said. “I feel like I’ve grown from that and have really just found pride in what I wanna do with my life, instead of letting other people decide that for me.”
With platforms such as OnlyFans, sugar baby dating websites and others becoming more mainstream and opening doors to a variety of safe online sex work, Hale thinks such work is slowly becoming more socially acceptable, she said.
“I think everyone has kind of adapted to sex being so accessible that it’s not as shamed anymore,” Hale said. “A lot of what I hear is, ‘Wow I can’t believe you’re doing that, I could never do that, but good for you,’ so it’s kind of like a backwards compliment. But I tend to just say ‘Thanks,’ and roll with it.”
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