OnlyFans: The online platform selling content from gym workouts to adult videos

In an era where porn is freely available online - why has this subscription site grown in popularity?

Adeline Berry, drag artist, getting ready for a performance. She is an occasional user of online social media platform OnlyFans

Adeline Berry, drag artist, getting ready for a performance. She is an occasional user of online social media platform OnlyFans

 

Adeline Berry is a transgender woman and drag artist from Dublin who has been involved in sex work for most of her life. Like several thousand women around the world, she is a member of a rapidly growing platform called OnlyFans.

OnlyFans is an online membership platform and app where users can sell their photos, videos and broadcast content charging members to view it for a monthly subscription. The content ranges from gym workouts to make up tutorials but it has become better known for adult/sexual content.

“I would provide photos of my face in drag, otherwise it would be feet, legs, other body parts,” explains Berry, an occasional user. “I’d type descriptions of my day or what I was doing, show what book I was currently reading with my exposed breasts in shot for example.”

Anyone can sign up to be a subscriber or creator and you can charge however much you like for subscriptions ranging from a minimum of €4 per month.

Users receive 80 per cent of the payment received and the company keep a 20 per cent fee to cover payment processing.

But in an era where porn is freely available online - why have sites such as Only Fans where users pay a monthly subscription grown in popularity?

The arrival of Uber and Deliveroo has seen more workers take part in the gig economy but while conditions and pay can be precarious, some are looking online to more lucrative ventures and the prospect of earning money through your social media or online presence seems tempting.

Key to all influencers’ popularity is convincing followers you have an insight to their life, says Dr Paul Anthony Ryan - a lecturer in the department of sociology at Maynooth University and author of Male Sex Work in the Digital Age.

For Ryan, the reason lies with users who have grown up online - anonymous content doesn’t cut it anymore and they want personalised or bespoke content.

“It’s about this level of presumed intimacy and assumed interaction. People don’t want to watch anonymous people having sex. They want to see people they follow online and who they admire,” he says.

“To an extent, we all curate our image online but for people with huge followings, they can leverage their image and their social capital.”

OnlyFans is a monthly subscription membership club wehre users get access to content from people they follow
OnlyFans is a monthly subscription membership club wehre users get access to content from people they follow

As part of his research Ryan has spoken to international students and those who came to Ireland with poor levels of spoken English who had low paid jobs in the service industry and in the gig economy.

“One of the most important things is that it has made this type of activity mainstream. When people think of the sex industry and sex work they still think of someone down by a canal. That still exists but it has evolved online and it encompasses so much more of these types of activities,” he says.

Ryan adds that the men he spoke to for his research do not view themselves as sex workers but rather see this online activity as a way of supplementing their income.

“They would see it in a more pragmatic way. We live in a visual society and these are young men with good bodies who are leveraging their physical and erotic capital,” says Ryan.

Handy nixer

While it may seem like a lucrative gig, actually earning a living from the app from monthly subscriptions is rare enough. Subscribers have to be kept engaged and maintained, content has to be uploaded regularly and more niche content must be produced as the app becomes more popular and competition increases.

“I spoke to over 30 people for my research . . . the most successful had 60,000 followers on Instagram but they have a task on their hands trying to convince their followers to sign up. People will always focus on the sex worker who earns $5,000 per weekend but they’re the exception rather than the rule and it’s the same with Only Fans,” says Ryan.

For Berry, OnlyFans was a handy nixer and not something she could see herself making a full-time career from. “You get out of it what you put in but you do need to have a very big following to attract subscribers in the first place and to always be ready to fulfil whatever requests they have. Fortunately, I have a few irons in a few fires so I would not have to solely rely on it (OnlyFans) alone,” she says.

“The high cost of rent and living here makes it inevitable that people will look for ways to make extra money on their own terms and in their own time”.

Berry points out that shame and stigma surrounding sex work remains a feature in Ireland and says transgender people are forced into this work as they are discriminated against when it comes to other jobs.

“If you are transgender and in a country where nobody will hire you, it’s a job you can do without having to worry about the police arresting you or seizing your funds or deporting you. There’s no need to interact with anyone in person, so it’s safe. Also if you are disabled or sick and can’t work, these online platforms can be a way of bringing in some money,” she adds.

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