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A College OnlyFans Creator Says Sex Work Isn’t The Best Creative Outlet

Gabrielle Castro, 20 and a former student at Montclair State University, was working at Dairy Queen when she decided to become a college OnlyFans creator. She was 19 at the time, and discovered the platform after seeing #OnlyFans trending all over social media. Influencers and celebrities were claiming to make hundreds of dollars for posting bikini pictures alone, and Castro was intrigued. Navigating the height of the pandemic, strapped for cash, and in need of a creative outlet, Castro made the leap to join OnlyFans, the subscription-based platform known for helping artists and creators monetize their content — and up until recently, sex work.

“I was like, ‘Why not try it?’ I’m 19,” Castro tells Her Campus. Prior to then, she had only explored modeling and photography through her private Instagram account, where she would occasionally post sensual photos of herself as an artistic experiment. Castro would often receive positive comments and feedback on her beauty, which made her feel empowered and inspired to create more through photography and modeling.

“Ever since I was little, my mom would dress me up and have photoshoots,” she says. “I try really hard to find confidence and see the ‘art’ within myself. Taking pictures of myself and my body is what I love to do.” Castro’s OnlyFans contained euphoric bikini nudes and strategically posed lingerie photoshoots. By posting suggestive elicit photos, while staying away from completely nude shots, she was able to find an artistic outlet while still expressing her sexuality on her own terms. 

With her Dairy Queen hours dwindling as the pandemic raged on, Castro needed an alternative form of income and figured OnlyFans could be the solution. “It was quarantine and I was trying to make some extra money,” she says. “I was barely getting hours at my job. I was like, ‘Why post these pictures on Instagram for free when I could charge people $15 a month?’ So, I put as much thought into OnlyFans as I possibly could.”

Castro scoured Twitter and YouTube for tutorials, hidden threads, and any evidence that would provide insight on the secret life of an OnlyFans performer. She found information about how to start an account and encountered dozens of influencers who claimed to be making bank off of their content. However, much to Castro’s dismay, details about the actual OnlyFans experience were few and far between — and she soon realized that the internet was making sex work sound much easier than it actually was.

“I was seeing all the hype around making money off of OnlyFans, but I really didn’t know what to expect,” she says. “There’s no way to really prepare for the interaction aspect of it. You have no idea what you’re going to be in for.” 

In fall 2021, OnlyFans announced a ban on sexually explicit content and nude material in an attempt to make the platform more mainstream — comparable to the likes of Instagram and TikTok. This planned October 2021 policy change left OnlyFans creators and users shocked and disappointed, and after hearing complaints from their users, OnlyFans revoked the policy in August 2021, before it could be implemented. Now, thanks to creators who protested the changes, subscribers can continue to pay between a $4.99 and $49.99 monthly fee for any type of content they desire on the platform. Even with the positive changes, Castro believes OnlyFans is likely better suited for full-time sex workers or influencers with at least 10,000 followers — as opposed to small creators like herself, for which the app is harder to profit from.

When Castro joined OnlyFans, the criticism instantly rolled in.

Before her first post, Castro knew she had to set some personal ground rules. “I was thinking about my moral compass and what boundaries I was going to set,” she says. “I basically set the boundary of no nudity. I wasn’t comfortable with that. I was comfortable with bikini pictures and enticing poses, because I was already taking those photos just for myself — so, that wasn’t anything out of my comfort zone.”

Even so, shortly after Castro began posting on OnlyFans, she began receiving harsh responses from family and friends. “When my mom found out, she instantly panicked. People started speaking to me differently and it made me sick to my stomach,” Castro says. “They called me a slut, which made me feel like I was really doing something terrible. My friends from Montclair started messaging me saying, ‘Why are you doing this? This isn’t you. You’re ruining your life.’” 

Before hearing the opinions of her close friends and family, Castro was incredibly confident in her decision. After, she started questioning why she was even on OnlyFans in the first place. Their judgment confused her. Then she realized they didn’t know what she was doing on the app. “I knew I was keeping things comfortable (not posting nude) but because nobody knew what I was posting, they assumed the worst,” Castro says. She realized that she should’ve informed her family of this decision to avoid misinterpretation.

Not only were Castro’s friends and family quick to form opinions, but so were her classmates — including ones Castro didn’t even know. “This one guy at college approached me and said, ‘Do you want to f*ck? Can you come over and f*ck me?’” she says. “I’m not judging anyone who participates in casual sex, but I’ve never been that kind of person. I’m actually very shy, so I wasn’t used to being approached in that way.” Ever since joining OnlyFans, she felt overwhelmingly sexualized by everyone she came in contact with. She was paranoid into thinking about who was truly subscribing to her account. The fact that she didn’t have control over who viewed her content scared her into overanalyzing the actions and words of her classmates, professors, or even people at family gatherings. “I put myself at risk and made myself really vulnerable when I never even had to in the first place.”

At the time, Castro was also in a committed relationship. And although Castro shares that her partner has always been supportive of her OnlyFans journey — and that he would even help take her photos for the account — she recalls how her new side hustle began subtly impacting her relationship dynamic. “I felt like I was being unfaithful,” she says. “I had to entice these other guys and talk to them a certain way. It made our relationship a little weird. It made us drift apart a little bit.”

OnlyFans also impacted her interest in intimacy. “Because of the amount of sexual energy I was putting into the photos and all these different guys, I felt like I didn’t really want to actually partake in sex with my boyfriend,” she says. “I was so drained from the sexual interaction I was constantly forced to have.” 

Nicole Prause, Ph.D., a mental health care provider and researcher who studies human sexual behavior, says that sex workers may face unique difficulties in romantic relationships because of the stigmas around sex work. “There is tremendous stigma surrounding sex work, including legal sex work, which breaks common social expectations of sexual exclusivity. Many people in the USA have stable, romantic relationships outside their sex work, while other sex workers do not choose to be in a romantic relationship, sometimes due to stigma concerns,” Prause tells Her Campus. 

Soon after starting an OnlyFans account, Castro realized that she wasn’t feeling as empowered as she originally anticipated. “I thought I was going to be very proud of my body, but that wasn’t how I was feeling,” she says. “I started beating myself up. I was constantly questioning why I started it in the first place. It was just a quick downward spiral for my mental health.”

According to Prause, sex work can produce both positive and negative mental health reactions. “Determinants of whether sex work will work for your emotional lifestyle include whether the work is legal or illegal, having a supportive community, current financial security, and the existence of pre-existing health concerns,” she says. 

Castro made setting boundaries online a priority.

OnlyFans creators have control over the type of content they are posting, whether they opt to cover up completely or post fully nude photos on their account. Over time, they can receive messages from subscribers with specific requests for content, but it’s up to creators which ones they accept. When Castro first started posting, she opted to share three to four photos or collections per week, and would occasionally respond to personal requests, given that they honored her “no-nude” boundary and comfort level. Castro was able to promote her OnlyFans content by putting her OnlyFans link in her Instagram bio, posting suggestive sneak peeks on her IG story, and relying on the “Suggestion” page on the OnlyFans site. At first, the process seemed like it might eventually pay off — until things started to get awkward. 

“After just a few weeks on the platform, I was already uncomfortable with the interactions I was having,” Castro says. “I started posting subtle images, but then the DMs started coming, like, ‘How do I get pictures of you nude?’ and asking for super vulgar things. Subscribers were asking to see [a lot] and using all this terminology that was brand new to me. I had never ‘sexted’ before or anything like that. It all made me think, ‘why am I doing this?’” 

You’d think the answer to that question would be money. But all Castro wanted to do was use OnlyFans to share her passion for feminine sensual expression. She thought people would connect with the way she viewed her individual photos: divine, strong, and confident. However, because it was so easy to access any nudes at any time, people saw her through a pornographic lens. Her artistic approach was quickly disregarded by her viewers, and after a while, Castro herself. 

She would receive requests from subscribers wanting her to wear erotic outfits or reenact pornographic films, which felt different from her past photoshoots on Instagram, where she was in control of the creative vision. “The private messages started to flood in, and custom requests started becoming a regular occurrence,” she says. Viewers who had found her Instagram, saw her username come up on their suggested performers or even creeps who had her username memorized could access her content at any time. “People would ask me to wear a specific outfit, or wear my hair a specific way, and I would comply, but I didn’t want to do anything like that. There was no creative outlet for me. Just because I take pictures that people find sexual and feel ‘turned on’ by that doesn’t mean I have to play the part of their fantasy, which I felt like I had to do on OnlyFans,” says Castro. 

At times, Castro found it difficult to set boundaries with subscribers on the platform who pushed her boundaries too far. “I thought OnlyFans would want to make sure I as a creator felt safe and comfortable, because there were really weird, creepy guys on there,” she says. “But, at the time, I had to go through hours of Google searches to figure out how to block guys just to get them out of my face.”

As the DMs increased, the more demanding subscribers became, and the more concerned Castro felt. “I had no idea who I was talking to, what their true intentions were, what they were capable of, how obsessed they were getting, or even if they knew me in real life,” she says. “It started setting in that it could get dangerous.”

The reality became clear when Castro had an unsettling interaction with someone at a family gathering, and realized that the boundaries between life and work were becoming more blurred every day. “I had this feeling in my chest, like, ‘Oh my God, what if he could be one of the people that subscribes to me?’ And I’m knowingly talking to this person and I have no idea. Subscribers could be my age or 50, so it was just creepy.”

Over time, Castro wondered if OnlyFans was even worth it. “I got a little bit scared, like I put myself at risk and made myself really vulnerable when I didn’t necessarily have to,” she says. “Eventually, I didn’t feel like compromising my well-being just for this little bit of income.” 

After 10 months of creating content, that was the end of Castro’s OnlyFans journey. She joined the platform to receive an artistic appreciation for her content that highlighted the sexual beauty of a woman’s physicality. That artistic appreciation was nowhere to be found. She stopped answering messages, stopped receiving money, and worked to heal after such a draining situation. 

It’s harder to make money on OnlyFans than you might think.

At first glance, OnlyFans might seem like a relatively easy way to make money, especially for sex workers whose subscribers are willing to pay a high price for exclusive content. Plus, seeing celebrities like Bella Thorne make $1 million in 24 hours — while scamming 1.5 million lesser-known OnlyFans creators in the process — can be misleading. However, Castro quickly learned that generating an income on the platform isn’t easy — and if you’re not an influencer with millions of followers, it can take extensive effort to pay off.

“You’re going to have to do a lot to get even a small amount of money,” Castro says. “There is a whole community on this app. They know what they want, and they know how much it costs, so you can’t try to lowball anybody, either. You have to put as much thought into it as you can.”

There’s also another reason OnlyFans can pose difficulty for performers: If you’re making over $600 on the platform, you are required to file a 1099 tax form, according to their community guidelines. You can also be taxed anywhere between 10%, 12% and 24%, depending on how much income you’re bringing in from posting content. “Social media makes you feel like anyone can post on OnlyFans and one bikini photo will get you a free trip to Greece,” Castro says. “But if someone sends me $100, I will get $80. I don’t even know why performers don’t just sell their nudes privately — the tax is not worth the time and effort it takes to be a part of the OnlyFans platform. There were girls pushing $3,000 a week, while I made $3,000 in six months. It wasn’t really worth it for me at that point.” 

Not only did Castro realize she wasn’t making a large profit from OnlyFans, but her discomfort grew when she noticed that many of her subscribers were craving a genuine romantic connection with someone, AKA the Girlfriend Experience. Over time, continuing to charge them for content didn’t feel ethical. “Subscribers were craving this false connection with someone,” Castro says. Even though the Girlfriend Experience is one of the most successful practices of sex work, Castro wasn’t interested in leading men on for financial gain. “Some guys were like, ‘Can we just pretend to be something?’ It made me feel so sad. I really wanted them to go out and find a real, genuine connection.”

Eventually, Castro began turning down requests and even encouraging subscribers to spend their money on other pursuits. “I literally didn’t want to play a part in it,” she says. “I would tell them, ‘No, I’m not going to keep selling you $60 bikini pictures. Go take yourself out for a nice dinner.’”

While some advised her that the people reaching out were “just subscribers” and to “milk them for their money,” Castro couldn’t see past the emotional side of the app, and empathized with them. “Deep in my spirit, something felt wrong,” she says. “You start to have empathy for other people — even the people behind the screen telling you to take your top off.” 

Sex work made castro reexamine her creativity and confidence.

People unfamiliar with the hard work and mental devotion that sex work requires might think that performing on OnlyFans leads creators to feel more confident — after all, they’re technically being rewarded for their attractiveness, right? For Castro, the opposite was true. “I feel like I had a false sense of confidence,” she tells Her Campus. “Yes, I was posting the photos and yes, subscribers were all complimenting me. But in the end, I wasn’t feeling it.”

Prause acknowledges that sex work can sometimes seem like a college student’s perfect source of income: online, self-sufficient, and protected behind a screen. “Compensation and scheduling flexibility are, of course, strong predictors of work satisfaction in general, so it makes sense that these would be related to satisfaction with sex work,” she says. “To the extent that sex work allows college students to work fewer hours and they replace those hours with useful tasks, their work and schooling is likely to be less stressful than if they needed to work more hours for similar pay.” 

For a while, OnlyFans filled Castro’s lack of income from her service job because of the pandemic. She’d attend online classes, hang out with her boyfriend, and set up her makeshift photography studio in her room. Due to the lack of hours at her job, making time for OnlyFans was the easiest part of her sex work journey. However, the emotional toll it took on Castro’s mental health was more important than any $250 lingerie photo. 

Additionally, Castro felt like the more she posted on OnlyFans, the less creatively inspired she was. “I thought OnlyFans would be a space for me to post my photos, post my art and people would subscribe and enjoy,” she says. “When I initially started taking photos, I would choose the outfit, rule my lighting, choose my hair and makeup. I’d be the photographer and the model. When you have to start mass-producing photos that other people are coming up with, and just following their requests, you feel out of control of your own creative process. I felt like I lost control over my own art.”

After about 10 months of posting on OnlyFans, Castro decided to close her account, citing ongoing discomfort about interacting with subscribers. “I felt strong within myself to be able to walk away from something that I know was not good for me, even if I was getting a profit from it,” Castro says. Now that she’s off the platform, she’s redirecting her energy toward Instagram again, and is more focused on confidence. “I’m trying to be more active, consistent, and confident on social media,” she says. “Every post on Instagram is still anxiety-inducing. I’m still trying to build my confidence.”

According to Castro, what began as an experiment during quarantine evolved into her discovering her true self. And although she ultimately decided to close her account, the experience inspired her to explore photography and modeling as a profession — something she had never seriously considered pursuing before. “Through it all, I realized that I love to take pictures,” she says. “I’m such a sucker for visuals and aesthetics and things like that. It’s my Virgo rising.” 

Although Castro doesn’t regret her OnlyFans experience, she still receives comments from Instagram followers and close friends who question her relationship with sex work. “Every time I post something now on regular social media that’s a little bit revealing, my followers are like, ‘There she goes promoting again.’ It’s going to take a while for me to escape the image of it,” she says.

According to Business Insider, OnlyFans user numbers grew from 20 million to 120 million in just over 12 months during the pandemic, and as of December 2021, OnlyFans reportedly has 170 million registered users and just over 1.5 million content creators total. For individuals who want to create on the app, Castro recommends setting specific content boundaries and sticking to them, then contributing ample time and effort into their content. And despite her mixed experience with the platform, she believes there is still hope for creators. “I still think OnlyFans is a really cool platform,” she says. “I think it’s an interesting way for people to express their sexuality.” And at the end of the day, she has no regrets about joining the app — even if it led to some uncomfortable experiences.

“OnlyFans definitely had to happen because if I didn’t do it, I would’ve constantly thought about doing it,” Castro says. “It really helped me figure out what I want and what I don’t want, and who I am and who I’m not. It just helped me find myself. OnlyFans really did help me become who I am.”

Interviews were edited for clarity and length.

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Meguire Hennes is a Her Campus Editorial Intern and a senior at Montclair State University. She is majoring in Fashion Studies. Meguire is excited to share her knowledge of pop culture, music, today's fashion and beauty trends, self love/mental health, astrology, and musical theatre. When not writing or in class, Meguire can be found living her best Carrie Bradshaw life in NYC, singing 70s/80s classic rock a little too loud in the shower, or watching her favorite rom-coms over and over again. Coming from a small town in Wisconsin, she's excited to see what adventures await her in the big city!
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