Editor's note: This article contains offensive language.
Nora, a 19-year-old sophomore studying sociology, has earned over $80,000 in just over two months.
She moved in early February into her own apartment overlooking the always buzzing Mill Avenue. After having to live with her parents, Nora seemed ecstatic to only share her new home with Winnie, her potty trained bunny.
Her pink hair matches her bright personality and her pink couch. Her job? Running a successful channel on the social media site OnlyFans. The site’s subscription-only platform hosts a multitude of creators, from fitness trainers to comedians, but has become most known among internet communities for one thing: adult entertainment.
Since its launch in 2016, OnlyFans has become a burgeoning social media site with over 12 million registered users. It has made sex work safer and more accessible for college-age students seeking sole or supplemental income, but its design requires users to create and maintain their own brand and heavily market themselves on social media. Constant online presence can be exhausting and mentally challenging.
OnlyFans, unlike other social media sites, has few restrictions on what types of content can be posted. Even among adult content, Nora said there is a lot of variety. Some creators upload semi-clothed photos while others publish more explicit 'boy-girl' content. Subscriptions can range from about $5 to $50, with additional money being spent as tips or for special requests.
The site received major media coverage in January when Twitter user Kaylen Ward, or the Naked Philanthropist on Twitter, pledged to send a nude image to anyone who donated at least $10 to any fundraiser for the Australian wildfires. Her pledge has allegedly raised over $1 million.
“That’s a scary feeling to be that vulnerable and exposed to the world. But I did it because I wanted to do something good,” Ward said in a tweet.
OnlyFans differs from traditional adult film companies because workers have control over their channel.
Sex workers who work for production companies are contracted to perform and receive a set amount of money, while 'tube sites' like Pornhub profit off the ad revenue of the content. But OnlyFans creators can continue to profit off their content through regular subscriptions.
“It's a huge problem within the industry because (the content is) stolen, and the tube sites are aggregators of a bunch of different links and clips, and they are very often pirated or stolen,” Shira Tarrant, a women’s, gender, and sexuality studies professor at California State University, Long Beach, said in a 2016 interview with The Atlantic.
Many of the top tube sites are actually owned by a single parent company called MindGeek, making it very difficult for creators to take legal recourse when they have significantly fewer resources of their own.
“The mainstream tube-site conglomerate is almost like fast food,” Tarrant said. She described how only consuming content on tube sites is the “sex equivalent of eating all our meals at McDonald's.”
Nora referred to an interview conducted by The Washington Post in 2019 with Mia Khalifa, one of the most popular adult film actors, who had received only $12,000 for around 12 shoots. But tube sites are still streaming and profiting from Khalifa’s content.
Nora wants to use her platform to promote better treatment for sex workers, especially after experiencing the same behavior herself.
“They’re worth respect, they’re human beings. They’re doing a job, just like you are,” Nora said.
Nora said she has frequently been called a “w-----” and a “s---” on Twitter, even recalling one instance where one man told her she deserved to die. Comments like these initially bothered her, but she learned to ignore them.
“It was difficult at first … I couldn’t wrap my head around it,” Nora said. “Now I’ve come to the point where (it) ... happens so often that it doesn’t bother me at all ... Or I f--- with them.”
Nora joked that the more numbers following someone’s Twitter handle, the easier they are to ignore.
“I have a lot of people all the time feeling entitled to their opinion,” Nora said. “But they don’t deserve it.”
The Naked Philanthropist also experienced poor treatment after her charity work for the wildfires. She said in a later tweet, “My (Instagram) got deactivated, my family disowned me, and the guy I like won’t talk to me all because of that tweet. But f--- it, save the koalas.”
Nora said she has had moments of frustration and wanted to walk away from Twitter after negative comments were directed at her. She said she feels like she has to stay with it after starting an OnlyFans account in order for her channel to be successful.
“I feel like I walked into a contract I didn’t know I was signing,” she said.
ASU alumnus and OnlyFans creator @jakebrighton, who requested anonymity due to the explicit nature of his job, said in an interview with State Press Magazine that a supplemental social media site is a necessity.
He said the hardest part of being a creator is, “getting the following and keeping the followers. You’ve got to always be making content to keep people interested.”
Followers have become a form of currency as social media culture has grown. This is not a new concept. Instagram influencers and YouTubers get paid to promote products in their content due to the large following they have. Etsy artists are able to sell their products online because influencers direct other users to their content.
Dar Meshi, an assistant professor at Michigan State University researching media psychology, has found that one motivation behind social media use is obtaining social rewards.
Social media can boost people’s image of themselves, but Meshi said it depends entirely on what their value system is.
“If someone wants to obtain a lot of social reward, they can promote themselves,” Meshi said.
What’s different about OnlyFans is that there is no internal service that allows users to explore what other channels have to offer. There is not a way for subscribers to look into other channels without subscribing.
“There needs to be more of a social media aspect to OnlyFans,” @jakebrighton said.
Apps like YouTube and Instagram utilize algorithms to optimize their users’ experience. The algorithms suggest accounts or posts that a user may like based on content they’ve consumed in the past. OnlyFans doesn’t have a feature like that.
Nora agreed that being present on other social media platforms is necessary to have a successful OnlyFans channel and @jakebrighton said that people who already had a large social media following have a leg up.
While OnlyFans puts power in the hands of the creator, it is also responsible for ensuring the safety and legality of the employment process. Nora said there are a lot of steps to start an OnlyFans channel. These include submitting identification proving one’s age and appropriate tax forms.
OnlyFans takes 20% of the money from the creators’ profits as their cut, but the creators don’t seem to feel like they are getting the short end of the deal. @jakebrighton said he enjoys having a supplemental income to his main job.
“If I were just earning a few hundred dollars a month, I would probably not do it,” Nora said. She said she believes she could be in the top 1% of 19-year-old income earners on the platform.
Nora plans to continue with her OnlyFans channel at least through college. “I'm able to pay for my tuition and living on my own,” she said.
Editor's Note: Nora's last name was removed for protective safety measures Aug. 19, 2021.