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Let’s Talk About OnlyFans: Exploitation or Empowerment?

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Wilfrid Laurier chapter.

Strictly speaking, OnlyFans is not a porn site. Launched in 2016, its intention was to be a subscription service where creators could sell premium content. These could be recipes, workout routines, the behind-the-scenes of filming music videos – anything! But, with no restrictions on the nature of the content and 80% of all earnings going directly to the content creators, it satisfied a need in the sex industry. Women and men had control over the content they were putting on their pages and when they were putting it out. They were keeping most of the profits and up until recently, they could be paid every seven days.

Some people believe that it’s impossible for sex work to be empowering and that the nature of the industry is inherently exploitive. I would argue that it’s the structure of the industry that determines if it is exploitive. If an individual consents, is fully informed and is fairly rewarded, then it’s condescending to say that their choice to monetize their body isn’t valid. OnlyFans has changed the structure of the porn industry for the better as content creators receive 80% of the earnings; this is a vast improvement from sex workers being paid a flat fee for their hours in the studio, while producers keep the money from royalties. If the workers receive the stigma of being a sex worker, shouldn’t they receive the benefits?

OnlyFans has normalized the sex industry in a way that other porn sites have failed to, and it is only becoming more popular. In May, it was revealed that OnlyFans was gaining 200,000 new users and 6000-8000 new creators every day. Some of the growth can be attributed to the pandemic; there are a lot of people out of work and spending quite a lot of time at home. But, it’s also because of the control the creators have over their content and their ability to interact with their subscribers. For the appropriate tip, a subscriber can essentially direct his own fantasy.

One concerning aspect of OnlyFans is when celebrities use the site to moonlight as a sex worker, without intending to actually follow through on what they promise subscribers. I’m talking, of course, about Bella Thorne.

Thorne, estimated to be worth $5M-$12M, took to bragging about how she earned $1M in the first 24 hours after she made an OnlyFans account. She forgot to mention that she earned that money by scamming users. The former Disney star charged her subscribers $200 to see her nude photos, but the users only received lingerie photos similar to what she had already posted to her Instagram. This resulted in tens of thousands of dollars in refunds being demanded, and OnlyFans suspiciously changed their payment policies after this scandal. Now there are caps on tips and creators are only being paid monthly.

Despite Thorne’s protests of attempting to destigmatize the industry, she was, in fact, exploiting it. Thorne played no part in making the platform popular and had no legitimate intention of joining the community, but rather saw an opportunity to gentrify the space. She took her pre-existing fame and stepped on the backs of all the sex workers who had climbed to the top of the creator lists, screwing over every single creator in the process.

The debacle rightfully angered sex workers. While OnlyFans is still better than the traditional platforms of sex work, the same day-changes in financial policy showed that the creator’s empowerment was still victim to the whims of people with more power.

Bria Steele

Wilfrid Laurier '21

Bria is a 3rd year psychology student at Wilfrid Laurier University.
Chelsea Bradley

Wilfrid Laurier '21

Chelsea finished her undergrad with a double major in Biology and Psychology and a minor in Criminology. She loves dogs way too much and has an unhealthy obsession with notebooks and sushi. You can find her quoting memes and listening to throwbacks in her spare - okay basically all - her time. She joined Her Campus in the Fall of 2019 as an editor, acted as one of two senior editors for the Winter 2020 semester and worked alongside Rebecca as one of the Campus Correspondents for the 2020-2021 year!