With most professions, people’s responses when they find out your job can be fairly predictable. But for one particular group of people, it’s anything but.
Last week, the New York Post published an article outing EMT worker Lauren Kwei as an OnlyFans content creator. The piece went viral and led to widespread shaming of sex workers, with Kwei herself writing an eye-opening piece for The Independent chronicling her experience as a frontline worker during the pandemic.
But it brought to light a broader concern: the huge challenge OnlyFans creators face by existing in a sex-negative society ready to “out” and shame them at any point – with potentially horrifying consequences ranging from unemployment and family ostracisation to potential homelessness.
“The concept of sex work sounds liberating to people and they’re more than happy to claim they support it,” says OnlyFans creator cj_official. “But when a sex worker is living in their house or working in their office, suddenly it’s a different story.”
While using the platform, Cj_official, 26, has experienced discrimination from employers, landlords and even friends. He’s not ashamed of the work he does but, unfortunately, has had to come to terms with the stigma that exists in the workforce and society at large.
Since being ‘outed’ as a creator over a year ago, he’s struggled to find regular work as a journalist and worries that he’ll never find a full-time position again.
But, as part of his mission to revive his career while still creating adult content, cj_official has devised a set of strategies to maintain his anonymity.
He’s one of the many young creators protecting their identities from judgemental parties while trying to make money on the rapidly growing platform – OnlyFans.
How OnlyFans became a hub for explicit content
OnlyFans launched in 2016 as a platform for celebrities and influencers to provide exclusive content behind a paywall. It was, originally, a family-friendly site aimed at providing superfans with behind-the-scenes videos and photos.
In 2018, the sale of a significant part of OnlyFans fundamentally altered the culture of the site. Leonid Radvinsky, a porn baron who made his millions in the adult camming world, acquired 75 per cent of OnlyFans’ parent company – Fenix International Ltd. The owner of MyFreeCams.com was now a top shareholder at a formerly PG-rated website.
Following this acquisition, the site became increasingly well-known for NSFW content. It gained a pop culture reputation for being a hive of pornography. So much so that Beyoncé name-checked the platfom in a song. In a remix of Megan Thee Stallion’s TikTok viral song ‘Savage’, Beyoncé raps: “On that ‘Demon Time’, she might start an OnlyFans.”
After Beyoncé’s mention, neew creators flooded the platform in the hope of making some money on the side. In May 2020, when the song was released, CEO Tim Stokely revealed that OnlyFans had been seeing about 200,000 new users every 24 hours and 6,000 to 8,000 new creators joining every day.
Many creators are persuaded to join the website to post explicit content because it’s fairly common to make huge amounts of money in a very short time. Building a large following quickly is attainable and OnlyFans allows creators to keep 80 per cent of their income from subscriptions.
The risk creators run by posting on OnlyFans
Along with a large following comes the risk of being identified by family, friends and employers.
While Lauren Kwei’s story may be the most high profile, there have been numerous examples in recent months of creators being shamed, stigmatised and sacked from their jobs after their accounts were made public.
At the start of September, Dennise Rose, a 26-year-old teacher from California lost her job after her OnlyFans account was discovered. She joined the website to cover her expenses when she was struggling for cash. She started charging her subscribers $5 a month to watch her explicit content. Unfortunately, a student from her school recognised her on the website and it was reported to her school district. She was then fired.
Similarly, in April of this year, a 24-year-old car mechanic from Indiana was allegedly sacked for having an OnlyFans account. Kirsten Vaughn told BuzzFeed News that she was on track for a promotion at a car dealership when she was abruptly let go from her job.
Coworkers discovered Vaughn’s account from an Instagram post and began watching her videos together at the workplace. They then consistently sexually harassed her, but the car dealership appeared more concerned by her X-rated content than the abuse. They proceeded to terminate her contract.
Really a shame they had to fire me for having my only fans page, cuz I got down at my dealership.
Here's me doing a… https://t.co/51ByUGTyTk
For many creators, having an OnlyFans account involves weighing up the potential to make money with the risk of losing their day jobs.
Cj_official, who also works as a journalist, started an OnlyFans account after a publication he was working for didn’t pay him in time. Worried that he wouldn’t be able to keep a roof over his head, he made the leap into producing adult content.
“I was utterly terrified of the impact that the decision might have on my future,” he said.
On OnlyFans, he’s one of the top 6 per cent of creators. But, despite his success on the platform, he’s tried to balance this with maintaining a career in journalism. It’s been a struggle for him.
He said: “There’s two people living inside my head. One that’s unashamedly proud of what I do and the other that battles with feeling as if I’ve ruined any career plans I had for the future.”
He continued: “I lost one job because of it already and it was the most mortifying experience. I was actually escorted out of the office.”
Then, after months of struggling to find work, cj_official was finally offered a role at a major broadcaster as a senior editor. He hadn’t disclosed his OnlyFans work because it wasn’t relevant to the job.
One evening, just days before he was scheduled to start work, he received a disheartening call from the company’s HR department.
He explained: “They informed me that my activities outside of work would put the company into disrepute and they could no longer have me on board.”
For him, this was a real blow and crystallised the prejudice that exists in the professional world against those who choose to exercise freedom with how they use their own bodies.
And it wasn’t only employers who shunned him. Once word got out about his OnlyFans, he felt like the whole industry turned on him. “The industry is incredibly cruel and small. I’ve had former colleagues unfollow me and others ignore me at events.”
Across many industries most companies seem likely to refuse to take the side of sex workers for fear of tarnishing their reputation. Be it because of the employers’ own prejudices or their perception of how others would view the hiring of a sex worker, qualified candidates are being turned down as a result of this practice.
Ultimately, it leaves sex workers trapped in a position whereby they wouldn’t be able to find work in other fields should they choose to change career path. It’s a lose-lose situation.
The employers on the right side of history
Supportive and understanding employers do exist, they just might be harder to find.
Emma Brown, the founder of sexual wellness company Knude Society, proudly boasts that her company is a “100 per cent sex-positive employer”. She says that she’d have no hesitations about hiring an OnlyFans creator. She recognises, however, that she might be in the minority.
Brown thinks this is because, like society at large, people in the position to hire often weaponise sex. “If you enjoy it too much, you're seen as somehow morally deficient,” she explained.
She continued: “We're happy for people to sell their ideas, their time, their skills, but when it comes to intimacy or physical contact, suddenly the transaction isn't so edifying anymore. It crosses this made up line of morality of what you can or can't do with your body consensually with someone else.”
But while Brown is vocal from the start about her willingness to support sex workers, many creators are faced with uncertainty and fear if their ‘secret’ is revealed when already employed in a job.
A prominent creator on OnlyFans who goes by Methful shared how his job was at risk after he was ‘outed’ by a stranger.
He explained: “There was an anonymous email sent to my employer with a list of links. It went to an admin person at the company who alerted me and forwarded it to my boss. They said it was a pretty serious issue.”
Methful recalled how, at the time, his stomach dropped because he realised that the future of his job was out of his control. Fortunately, however, he was able to stay in his position. His boss remained “cool-headed” and was “very pragmatic” and offered support to him.
He admits that the experience was “pretty brutal” and caused him to act more cautiously moving forward. Nowadays, he charges people extra to see his face in content. He also pursued legal avenues and issued takedown requests to blogs that were circulating his pictures.
The personal pitfalls of being outed as an OnlyFans creator
If their secret is revealed, it’s not only employers who OnlyFans creators are scared of.
Often, keeping their growing accounts away from the eyes of their family, friends and flatmates is also a major concern.
For some OnlyFans creators, there’s a real fear of being made homeless because of the work they do. For those living in shared accommodation, eviction is always on the cards and the possibility of being made homeless is a perpetual fear.
Cj_official’s nightmare situation came true just a few months ago. He was living in a flatshare and, unexpectedly, his housemates discovered his page. They were incandescent and responded with minimal empathy.
He explained: “I was kicked out of my home during Covid-19 despite the fact that my housemates were two gay men in their late 30s who were otherwise seemingly pretty liberal.”
To him, it reflected an attitude he has come across repeatedly. He referred to it as “the not-in-my-backyard approach”.
That same issuees come into play with friends and family too. Some creators fear that their otherwise liberal or understanding parents might reject them or, worse, disown them upon finding out about their account.
Xrchix, a relatively new creator on the site, struggled with this fear when his father was informed of his OnlyFans. He had never intended to tell his dad but a spiteful ex decided to for him.
Xrchix said: “My most recent ex who I broke up with this year after a lot of toxicity actually sent photos and messages to my dad. I obviously played it down and said the videos were what I sent to him and not to the public and he was just a scorned ex.”
He continued: “I didn't want my parents to come across anything. I don't think any child, regardless of if they do OnlyFans or not, would want their parents knowing what they get up to in private.”
Xrchix was not disowned but it was a shocking reality check as to how content can be used against creators maliciously in ways that disrupt their lives.
OnlyFans and revenge porn
For many creators, the worry that followers may share their content more widely is ever-present.
The sharing of private sexual photographs or films in which the participant does not consent can sometimes be classified as “revenge porn”. Revenge porn, although not strictly a legal term, can give rise to criminal liability.
Such as in Xrchix’s circumstance, the deliberate disclosure of pornographic content to cause distress is likely illegal. In fact, Section 33 of the British Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 means that those convicted of doing this can face up to two years in jail.
Even though the content on OnlyFans is somewhat public, Iain Wilson, a lawyer at media and litigation firm Brett Wilson LLP, explained why leaking it to friends, family or landlords could still be a punishable crime.
He said: “The fact that images had been disclosed to other individuals via OnlyFans would not automatically mean that the image was no longer private. Individuals can choose who they share intimate information with and this does not void privacy.”
So, while creators risk exploitation and being exposed, there are laws in place to protect them. The reality is, however, that the damage is already done.
What is OnlyFans doing about it?
OnlyFans has a complex and tangled relationship with sex workers. Despite profiting from them, the platform has in the past been accused of mistreating them.
Just a quick look at the OnlyFans official blog and its monthly suggested follows shows that it generally tends to promote celebrities and influencers over its base – sex workers.
When it comes to dealing with revenge porn, OnlyFans said: “Safety is paramount on the site, and we have stringent checks to ensure that all users are identifiable. For site visitors, all content is hidden behind the paywall and not accessible to visitors.”
A spokesperson added: “We have multiple systems in place to monitor for illegal activity on the site and take appropriate action immediately.”
There was no further explanation as to what the systems entail.
Creators get creative
To avoid the aforementioned scenarios, some of which have the potential to devastate lives, OnlyFans creators employ a variety of strategies to try and maintain their anonymity.
There is, however, a tension between the need to promote content on social media but also to hide one’s identity.
The most common way of doing this is by creating an ‘alt’ Twitter account. An alt Twitter account is an anonymous account, separate to the user’s main account, where their name or location is not identifiable.
On most alt accounts, users choose not to include their full name, face in photographs or any other identifiable features.
Xrchix uses an alt account as their main method of growing their fanbase, explaining: “I have created a Twitter ‘alt’ which has not got any relation to my name on it, so if you searched me I wouldn't come up."
"I have retweeted the odd tasteful item onto my main Twitter to get more attention as my main has more followers than my alt. My main account is locked so even if family members were to search me, they wouldn't see anything.”
So far, this strategy has been largely successful for Xrchix. He has a following of almost 2,500 on Twitter and has been able to gain subscribers to his OnlyFans from that pool.
Awnuh also uses an alt account but she described how even that comes with risks. Awnuh included images of her face and details of her name on her alt account and was later doxxed.
Doxxing is when online trolls publish private or identifying information about an individual, typically with malicious intent. She explained: “I’ve had my name doxxed and leaked and some hateful people on the internet were trying to find information about my family so that they could tell them.”
Awnuh continued: “Then, extended family members who were contacted went out of their way to find my OnlyFans, obtain my content and send it to my close family.”
For those fearful of being doxxed, creators can eschew alt accounts and build fan bases by collaborating with other creators or porn stars.
Methful said: “You can interact with bigger accounts. The golden ticket is by doing a collaboration with someone who is already well-known in the adult film industry.”
Methful has found success through this method, having become one of the top-earning creators on the entire platform.
In a blog, OnlyFans itself called collaboration between creators a “tried and tested method for achieving success”.
Addressing the double standard
Of the double standards that put them in this postition, cj-official said: “It’s systemic of the society we live in. Sex work is not shameful. But we are raised in a culture that enforces this ideology from the moment we become conscious enough to take in the world around us."
"Everyone watches porn. Everyone has sex. Everyone has fantasies. But the moment we add money into the equation it makes people wildly uncomfortable.”
He continued: “I’ve been doing this almost two years and yet I still feel a sense of shame and embarrassment about it, and that makes me so frustrated both with myself and society as a whole for ingraining that into me.”
Awnuh added that she thinks there’s an added component of misogyny when it comes to female creators on OnlyFans.
She explained: “It’s unfair but many women in this work believe that staying anonymous is the safest bet. It’s rooted in misogyny. Women are seen as sex objects: only there to provide and not to be provided for.”
There was unanimity from the creators that shame does exist around creating adult content. Whether or not they internalise that shame themselves, they’re forced to deal with the consequences of others projecting shame onto them.
Unlike the vast majority of profesions, OnlyFans creators face the daily challenge of promoting the work they do with the added burden of protecting their identity because of how ubiquitous judgement and prejudice is about sex work.
While, for now, they see the necessity of utilising strategies to maintain anonymity, there was a sense of hope from the creators that this isn’t indefinite.
They hope that more liberal perspectives on sex work will prevail and, in turn, discrimination will become less rife.
In the future, a change in public opinion and the omnipresence of OnlyFans in mainstream culture might finally allow everyone to share their work with pride.