Only Fans: Empowering And Savvy Or Exploitative And Dangerous?
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Three years ago, a friend of mine joked that she was so skint after shelling out on a flat deposit, she might have to join OnlyFans.
At the time, we all laughed. But I wondered, if she'd made the same gag in 2021, would we have immediately assumed she was joking?
Dubbed 'Instagram with a paywall' OnlyFans - launched in 2016 by Brit entrepreneur Tim Stokely - allows 'creators' to charge for their content via a subscription, which ranges from $4.99 (£3.50) - $49.99 (£35) per month.
Content ranges from fitness, to cooking, to - what it is most commonly known for - porn.
But content on OnlyFans is set for a massive shake-up, with the site looking to ban sexually explicit photos being uploaded on October 1st - which could prompt difficulties for sex workers.
People will still be able to post nude content on the site, but it would now have to adhere to OnlyFans' new policy guidlines.
However you feel about OnlyFans, there's no denying that attitudes are changing.
Over the last year, fans on the site have rocketed from 20 million to 50 million. And creators - many of whom have been out of work due to the pandemic - have increased by more than threefold, with the likes of Bella Thorne, Cardi B, Chloe Khan, Megan Barton Hanson and Kerry Katona signing up.
The latest celebrity to join the platform is 26-year-old British model, Demi Rose, who charges £2.22 a month and tells Tyla she sees it as 'empowering'.
"I'm just doing something I've always felt comfortable doing," says Demi. "I'm just being me, being a woman. It's nice to connect with my fans and show them a different and more intimate side of me."
"I know the people who sign up really want to see me and they want to put some money behind it. In terms of my own content, I'm going to see how it goes but I'm not going to do things I'm not comfortable with. I've always done artistic nudes so ill stick to what's true to me."
Supporters argue that OnlyFans is empowering, works towards de-stigmatising the sex industry, and allows users to exercise control over their own bodies. After all, if you're posting content on other platforms, why not charge for it?
Demi says she feels safe on the app, adding that to her it's "no different than Instagram" in that sense.
Referring to the stigma surrounding the platform, she adds: "Some people might have a feeling towards it, that it's downgrading, but that's just because some people are more comfortable than others showing what they want to show it doesn't necessarily mean everyone is doing the same.
"I feel like I can take back creative control in an intimate way, I feel very powerful."
Billie Quinlan, co-founder and CEO of Ferly - a mindful sex app aimed at women who have negative relationships with sex and traumatic experiences - believes the negative connotations of OnlyFans can often come from a lack of understanding.
"People with these views fail to understand the motivations that lead creators to develop adult content," she says. "For example, some may have experienced childhood sexual trauma which left them without autonomy over their bodies or their sexuality, so creating this type of content allows them to explore their pleasure within their boundaries allowing them to take back control.
"Others may create content from a desire to explore their sexuality and the platform gives them a fun and engaging way to do this. Then there are those that do it through financial necessity and shouldn't be judged for doing whatever they can to support themselves and their families."
For some creators, however, there's a dark side to the platform. In fact, over the last couple of years there's been reports of revenge porn, stalking and even death threats. There's also the uncomfortable prospect that a percentage of creators could be vulnerable - or underage - having joined the app in a desperate bid to make money.
Despite Bella Thorne allegedly making $1million (£705,000) in her first 24 hours, many argue the site isn't as lucrative as it claims to be; according to reports, average earnings sit at around $180 (£127) per month.
Worryingly, last year one creator revealed to The Sun on Sunday that a subscriber had DM'd her an image taken outside her home address.
"Since being on OnlyFans I have been stalked and had many death threats," she said. "I had a stalker for over 18 months... She harassed me online every single day, multiple hours a day."
And as with posting any images of yourself online, there is the risk that content could be re-shared by subscribers on other platforms or porn websites.
But perhaps most concerning is an investigation by the BBC earlier this year, which discovered young girls aged under 18 had been successfully setting up accounts using fake IDs, including a 14-year-old who used a grandmother's passport.
The broadcaster also reported that a 17-year-old had been able to sell videos of herself performing sex acts and using sex toys.
"It is increasingly clear that OnlyFans is being used by children," said chief constable Simon Bailey, UK child protection lead.
While Tyla has reached out to OnlyFans for comment on the above claims, the site has previously said it "uses a combination of state-of-the-art technology together with human monitoring and review to prevent children under the age of 18 from sharing content on OnlyFans.
"This is something that we take very seriously. We constantly review our systems to ensure they are as robust as possible."
Could OnlyFans be simultaneously empowering and dangerous? Arguably it depends on each creator's personal experience; empowering for some and undoubtedly dangerous for others.
Billie adds: "There is no obvious right or wrong and is really dependent on the individual's lived experience. I believe we need to protect all sex workers, this includes creators on OnlyFans that are producing adult content, and from what I've read, the platform is failing to provide adequate safeguards for it's community.
"On the other hand, culture has an important role in shifting society's perception and OnlyFans could have a positive impact on showing women that their sexuality is something to be celebrated, explored and owned by them."
Tyla has contacted OnlyFans for comment.
This article was originally published on 13th June. It has been updated on 20th August following the news that OnlyFans is banning sexually explicit photos.
Topics: Life News