These women are making thousands selling nudes of themselves on OnlyFans

Lauren isn’t an entrepreneur or a highflying city exec, she works as a full-time OnlyFans content creator, making a sizeable income by selling nude images of herself and interacting with her subscribers. She’s one of the most popular creators on the platform.

In a good month she can make in excess of £35,000, although she’s coy about what her current income is during lockdown, indicating that she’s earned much more than that recently. I can hear the smile in her voice when we get to the topic of money during our phone conversation.

“After lockdown I’m moving into my dream home worth £800,000. It’s where I’ll eventually have kids,” Lauren Elizabeth*, 24, from Northamptonshire, says of her plans for the future. “Then I’m going to buy rental homes. I’m saving. I won’t be able to do this forever. This doesn’t have longevity.”

She began her journey on OnlyFans 18 months ago, after getting lots of DMs on Instagram asking whether she had an OnlyFans account. Although she’d previously trained as a personal assistant and good grades at school, her experience of the workplace had never been a positive one. “Mentally it was hell,” she says, describing how previous stints working for a fashion designer and as a social media manager didn’t work out.

That all changed when she discovered OnlyFans – a UK tech company founded in 2016 by the British entrepreneur Tim Stokely. His brother Thomas (an investment banker) joined the company in 2018. Although it’s been around a few years, it’s only really become mainstream in the past 12 months. Since lockdown use of the platform has skyrocketed. A spokesperson for the company told GLAMOUR that OnlyFans has seen a 75% increase in the number of people signing up during the months of March and April and now has over 30 million users and 450,000 creators. “We are currently seeing around 200,000 new users join the platform every 24 hours, and we’re welcoming anywhere between seven and ten thousand new creators everyday.”

You know it’s a thing when Beyoncé refers to it in a remix with Megan Thee Stallion.

The platform was originally set up as a space where influencers (who now prefer to be called content creators) could make money by sending exclusive content from cooking videos to comedy and celebrity workouts to “fans” who subscribe to their channels. That’s still the case. But as it has gained in popularity, it quickly shifted to a platform for content of a more ‘adult’ nature, where users share intimate images and videos of themselves naked and having sex. It has gained a reputation as the “paywall of porn”, becoming a key destination for adult content and in the process, providing fresh revenue streams for adult entertainers and sex workers. As is the case with any disruptive technology, OnlyFans is creating new opportunities for some and leaving others behind.

Financial success isn’t instant or guaranteed on the platform and people like Lauren are keen to emphasise that. She made £300 in the space of a few hours the first time she used it – posting some bikini and topless pictures using an emoji to cover her nipples. But as one of the early adopters, she already has the edge over OnlyFans newbies. “It’s really competitive and I was very lucky,” she says, “people need to remember that. In my opinion this is glamour modelling now.”

It’s clear from speaking to Lauren that she knows what her USP is and what her boundaries are. “I don’t wear makeup and I’ve had no surgery. I want to break down stereotypes,” she says of her natural, girl-next-door look, before describing how quickly things can escalate as soon as you start interacting with fans. “You will be asked to do literally anything you can imagine. Mentally, you need to stick to a boundary,” she says. “I’ve been asked to finger myself and film it while identifying myself. I just wouldn’t do that.”

Lauren has become more comfortable with sharing topless images of herself and no longer uses emojis. “Now I’m like, free the nipple,” she says. But she draws the line at taking part in a sex video. She once kissed another girl, but has set a boundary not to do that any more and has found that posts of herself are more popular with her fans.

Lauren’s friend Annie (who prefers not to give her full name), aged 25 from Oxfordshire, has been on OnlyFans since July 2019, but with more limited success. She posts sexy images wearing colourful lacy underwear and accentuating her tattoos. “At the beginning I was doing a lot better than I am now. It’s difficult to get yourself out there. Lockdown has brought it back up a bit. I guess people are buying more (nudes) because they’re at home and bored and ya know… horny. My best month ever was £4,000 but I’m not back making that kind of money monthly.”

Since joining, Annie has been cautious about how she uses her other social media accounts. Sites like Twitter and Instagram are a key part of the OnlyFans ecosystem. They’re used to drive subscribers, but it can be risky to use the hashtag #OnlyFans and other relevant tags as accounts can end up being reported and deactivated or suspended if they are found to breach the terms of service or community guidelines. “I have to keep it tame on Instagram, I keep it private and I don’t hashtag it.” Annie says. “I do post nude stuff on OnlyFans and lingerie pics. I get lots of requests. People want to see my tattoos. This morning I was asked to wear shiny stockings and send a picture of my feet. For some reason, feet are a thing on here.”

It’s impossible to say precisely how lockdown is impacting our behaviour and what the side effects will be, but there are already indications that more nudes are being requested and sent during this time as people increase their digital interactions while staying at home and OnlyFans reports a spike in activity. A recent survey* on sex and relationships during lockdown found that more than 34% of women were open to the idea of exchanging nudes and that men are more likely to send dick pics than they were before social distancing was introduced.

“There’s likely been a rise in people seeking pleasure and that’s not a bad thing,” says Dami Olonisakin, a sexual wellness content creator and host of the podcast Laid Bare. Dami hasn’t got an OnlyFans page, but as someone in the sex-positive space, she knows many cam girls, strippers and escorts who’ve set up accounts. “I’ve seen a lot of sex workers try to monetise their work through Snapchat, for example. OnlyFans has made that part of it much easier.”

While neither Lauren or Annie would consider themselves part of the porn industry, it’s been widely reported that OnlyFans has been adopted by sex workers and professional adult entertainers. Dami says that there is a stigma attached to OnlyFans now. She believes that is rooted in misogyny and ignorance towards a wide spectrum of women – from professional adult entertainers to amateur glamour models.

“There’s this new-found hate for the app,” Dami says. “I’ve seen lots of comments and memes on social media. Things like ‘she turns 18 and gets an OnlyFans page’ as if to imply that she didn’t even try to make something of herself. I feel it’s men being misogynistic about women making money and being in control. I see a lot of deep-rooted jealousy. I’m all for women having agency over their own bodies.”

Both Lauren and Annie each have the support of their respective boyfriends and families for what they do. But some friends have cut contact with them because of OnlyFans. “I think a lot of people will never accept it,” says Annie philosophically. “I’ve had so many jobs in the past. Now I have the time to follow my talents. I’m a really good artist. I paint portraits, dogs, cars, mostly realism.” Annie has a separate instagram page dedicated to her artwork. Despite being her passion, it doesn’t pay the bills. She has been spending lockdown getting back into painting and drawing (as well as sending nudes).

The women are brutally honest about the drawbacks of OnlyFans. “Once you start you can never go back” says Lauren. “You get known for this. I worry if I have kids they’ll get bullied in the future. How will this affect my little brother for example? You really need to think about the pros and cons.”

Lauren has had to come to terms with some of the security risks involved with using the platform such as revenge porn and stalking. “(Nudes) do get leaked. You could end up on PornHub. Some subscribers sell my stuff. People pretend to be me (stealing my image). I used to cry about it all the time. Nothing can be as bad as this. But now I feel the positives outweigh the negatives.” she says. “Definitely set up Google Authenticator (a security tool which gives special passwords in real time that expire on an ongoing basis making it safer to login and protect accounts), don’t tell people your address and put your personal Facebook on lockdown,” she adds.

Lauren has been a victim of revenge porn (online image abuse) on multiple occasions. She has seen her content ripped from OnlyFans and posted on sites like Reddit and PornHub and has found that the bigger her OnlyFans account grows, the more challenging it becomes to control where the content ends up.

“Once the women publish those images, they lose control of them,” says Professor Julia Davidson, an internet safety advisor to the UK government. “The problem is then the image appears in multiple sites. It’s a digital footprint. There’s a digital record with consequences which could affect job applications and relationships in the future.”

In a statement email to us OnlyFans said: “We take content piracy very seriously and have a designated team that issues formal takedown notices against all reported leaks and copyright violations. We also have multiple systems in place to monitor for illegal activity, including revenge porn, and take appropriate action immediately.”

Revenge porn is a crime. It’s against the law to harvest and distribute sexual images. Yet the problem of image-based abuse or revenge porn isn’t one that’s specific to OnlyFans. It’s an internet wide challenge that platforms, legislators and regulators have struggled to adequately address for years. But as Prof Davidson points out, it’s not just about industry regulation or preaching to people. It’s also about awareness and education. Solving it is a shared responsibility.

The other big issue that’s been raised about OnlyFans is the potential for the platform to be accessed and used by minors. OnlyFans changed its age-verification process after a BBC documentary illustrated just how easy it was for teenagers under 18 to get around it. “There is a huge debate about age verification,” says Prof Davidson. “It’s very difficult for companies to implement a robust process.”

“It’s all so new. I find it terrifying quite frankly,’ says criminologist Dr Elena Martellozzo. “I don’t mean to take away from the feminist movement of women who feel empowered by this. My concern is not necessarily about grown women selling pictures of themselves. And we can’t stop adults from watching porn. But my concern is always for the kids.”

Dr Martellozzo has worked on large pieces of research with the children’s commissioner speaking to over a thousand young people on the impact of explicit content. TL:DR porn is not good for them. She has also worked with the police and the NSPCC on investigations into child porn and says a lot of the material retrieved on hard drives during investigations was produced by young people themselves.

While neither expert is saying that indecent child imagery is being distributed or harvested on OnlyFans, it is clear that they have concerns about the behaviour it encourages and how accessible it is to minors. GLAMOUR asked OnlyFans how they protect children and how confident they were that child imagery is not being produced or distributed on the platform. An OnlyFans spokesperson told us “this is an area we take extremely seriously and our Trust and Safety team use both manual and technological solutions to address it, including AI image recognition systems to automatically filter obscene or underage media content.”

As per usual, technology and behaviour has outpaced legislation. There is an Online Harms Whitepaper that looks at issues like hateful and abusive imagery, revenge porn, grooming and child exploitation. It aims to make the internet companies take more responsibility. But experts say the legislation from that won’t be forthcoming until around 2023. That’s a long time in the world of social media. “Teenagers are risk takers and children publish explicit images of themselves (which is against the law). The site has a responsibility to ensure it isn’t accessible to children so that images don’t end up in offenders’ collections,” says Prof Davidson.

It would be over simplistic to say that OnlyFans is damaging/empowering women or destroying/democratising porn and adult content. It’s way more nuanced and multi-faceted than that. Sites like PornHub already host content by amateurs and have features like live cameras which allow users to interact with content creators via cam sex. One of the distinguishing features of OnlyFans is the guise of intimacy or the veneer of a connection in what feels like an innocuous, social space that includes, but isn’t exclusive to, pornography. In other words, this isn’t just about watching sex acts or nudity. It’s also not solely about policing women’s bodies or debating whether it’s another byproduct of the patriarchy.

What OnlyFans does is tap into our need to take part in risky behaviour and record that digitally and fulfil our desire to build connections or have some sort of meaning therein. With 30 million subscribers the size of OnlyFans is a drop in the ocean compared to the number of users on Facebook (2.5 billion), Instagram (500 million), Twitter (330 million) and Snapchat (210 million). But it’s growing at a rapid pace. What’s happening on the platform is just the tip of the iceberg. If the experts are to be believed, we won’t see the impact of how OnlyFans is being used during this time until long after it.

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