OnlyFans: Not your typical part time job

Courtney Garcia
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Erin Levinson said she began stripping at an all-nude gentlemen’s club in 2019, following a six year career in health care. 
“I was completely drowning before,” Levinson said. “Living paycheck-to-paycheck was an understatement.” 
Levinson said her new career paid her bills in advance and gave her the financial freedom to go back to school and receive her nursing degree. But when COVID-19 hit America and the club she works for shut down, she said she started an OnlyFans account. 
“I would typically do live shows one or two times a week. Often, with another girl featuring,” the 23-year-old said. 
She said the live shows were profitable but the real money was in her monthly subscriptions and the pay-per-view videos and pictures she sent through the direct message feature.
“Pay-per-view is exactly how it sounds,” Levinson said. “I take a video or picture, usually nude or sexually explicit of myself and mass send them to my subscribers. The image or video is unviewable and blurred until the subscriber pays for it.”
Levinson said sex work in 2020 is insteresting. While societal norms are shifting in America to be more progressive and accepting there are a number of people who are trying to police women’s bodies. 
“If I post nude content on a site, such as OnlyFans, which I have, why should that disqualify me from performing any other tasks?” She said. 
Local logistician and artist, Christopher Branch, said OnlyFans is forcing society to look at sex work being a viable way of making income and is safer than other forms of sex work but other than that is a generally bad thing for our generation. He said while the income stimulates the economy the hypersexualization aspects of OnlyFans are apparent.
“What is being produced out of sex work is the main question,” he said. “It’s not like when people work in fields like these that it yields new physics theories or any avant garde innovations to the world. It produces money, that’s about it, but it doesn’t produce anything of substance on its own.” 
Branch, 26, said influence work on social media is entertainment but does not do much in terms of moving society forward. 
“Don’t get me wrong entertainment and adult entertainment is good for giving the working masses a break,” he said. “The problem comes when too many people are looking at being some kind of entertainer, influencer or sex worker as careers they want to shoot for.”
Branch said one of the reasons OnlyFans has become so popular in the past couple of months is tied directly to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said quarantine and isolation cause sexual angst. 
“Some people, this just exacerbated their anti social behavior and they delved deeper into pornography. But this time they weren’t able to hang around the few friends they have for social comfort,” Branch said. 
Branch said the popularity of Onlyfans is representative of how increasingly lonely people are feeling in the digital age. 
“Parasocial relationships are becoming more and more prominent, to the point of people craving social interaction in their pornography sites, even if they have to pay for it,” he said. 
He said parasocial relationships make me feel like they have a connection with a person solely based on their media presence. OnlyFans allows subscribers to directly message the people they follow, creating an illusion of genuineness. 
“Let us be clear, parasocial relationships don’t fill the void of face to face communication,” Branch said. 
Ben Gholson, 22, said he created an OnlyFans page in June but ended up deleting his videos and subscribers after three months. The instant technological connection can lead to a false sense of belonging between a subscriber and content creator.
“You can message and interact with the person you are subscribed to. But it’s not necessarily genuine because it’s a business transaction,” Gholson said.
He said the site provides an intimate way of creating and viewing sexually explicit activity than other forms of porn and sex work.
Emily Kirsten said she has had her OnlyFans profile for over six months. Some of her most popular videos are her having a conversation with her subscribers and doing everyday things while on topless on video.
“They feel like I’m there,” Kirsten said. “A lot of the people just want to consume it for the porn. But there’s a good half of them that I would say want to consume it for the girlfriend experience.'” 
Kirsten, 24, said she chose to join OnlyFans for the convenience of being in charge of her own work schedule and the content she created.
“I am my own boss,” she said. “But at the end of the day, OnlyFans could shut down tomorrow and I would be fucked.”
Kirsten said her profile evolved as she gained more control of the site. She said because she had already been modeling nude for years she already had the confidence and the drive to pose naked in front of the camera and post it for people but now she’s getting paid for her content. 
“I now get the freedom to post whenever,” Kirsten said. “But I get the income that is enough for us to live, be able to afford an emergency surgery for my cat. Be able to buy myself a nice camera or get my nails done and little things like that.”
Kirsten said it’s freeing to own herself. Throughout the past few months she said she has been more willing to say no to things she is uncomfortable with or cross her boundaries.
“This job has taught me a lot of saying no because I’m in control of this. Instead of where someone else is my boss, I’m the fucking GM. They can listen to me. So, it’s pretty nice,” she said.
Kirsten said she has wanted to be a porn star ever since she graduated from high school.
“I wanted to be on Brazzers, be on Blacked, be on I’ve genuinely always wanted to do it,” she said. “But now that I’ve taken it into a way that’s mine, I wouldn’t want to sign to an agency and then have some editors in a fucking room editing the video to how they want it instead of me editing it to how I want it.” 
Kirsten explored other sites when starting out, but found they did not have the large audience reach that OnlyFans does. 
“I really like the site because I could say to anyone on the streets, OnlyFans, and they would know what OnlyFans is,” Kirsten said. 
Kirsten said in total she has had almost one thousand subscribers but different types of subscriptions cause her income and follower count to constantly fluctuate. She said people are able to subscribe month to month and sometimes do not continue to subscribe after the first month. 
“I don’t hold too much claim on my percentage or subscriber amount or my likes. As long as I’m making money, I’m happy,” Kirsten said. 
She said she gets a lot of inspiration from the women she subscribes to on OnlyFans.  
“It really drives you to make better content,” she said. “You’ll get a really positive comment from them and you’re just like ‘Damn dude, we’re in this together,’ because at the end of the day you know they’re getting crazy-ass messages too.”
Kirsten said she didn’t realize how tight-knit and supportive the sex worker community is and how quickly members of the community will stand up for each other. 
“There’s no one else to back you up than each other,” she said.
Levinson said all sex workers can attest, the general public does not approve of their work. When she first posted about her line of work on social media six months ago, she was afraid of how people she grew up with would react.
“I can’t even tell you why because most of them didn’t like me much growing up. Why would I care if they didn’t like me now?” Levinson said. 
Instead, she was shocked to receive an overwhelming amount of support and love from friends and acquaintances. While this was a pleasantly shocking surprise and showed societal norms shifting towards a more accepting environment of sex workers, she said it is no secret the majority of sex workers are vastly under-protected, if they are protected at all.
“The criticism from others hasn’t really been a massive damper on me,” she said. “If anything, the idea that people don’t see us as actual people, and treat us accordingly, is what really upsets me.”
Gholson said sex sells and in a patriarchal industry that profits off the sexual exploitation of women. Women will continue to be objectified and consequently demonized. But he said OnlyFans can bring autonomy and freedom of expression to the former opposed to big and sometimes abusive porn companies.
“The subscriber is quite literally subscribing to the idea that women deserve money for their services,” Gholson said. “So in that regard positive but I don’t think it does shit for objectification, if anything worsens it. For example ‘She’s an internet whore,’ or ‘All she has to offer is her body.'”
Kirsten said OnlyFans helps women take claim of their bodies back from a male-dominant society. 
“I’ve always taken nudes and I had my nudes sent around the school to the point where I knew all of these fucking boys, when I walk in the lunchroom, they all have my nude on their phone,” Kirsten said. “And I cared because I was like ‘That’s not fucking fair. I didn’t send that to you.’ But now if a dude has a nude of me on their phone, you either paid for it or you illegally got. In that way it feels like I have the power back.”  
She said if someone were to release her nudes tomorrow, the only thing that would change is her follower count and the amount of exposure she has. 
“I posted these on the internet already. I think I look hot. You probably think I look hot,” Kirsten said. “I’ll be okay because I own that. That’s mine. I’ve never owned myself more in my entire life.”
Levinson said there while there were plenty of ways this was encouraged while she was growing up there were times when she was shunned. When she turned 21 and began her career in stripping, she started to find herself. It wasn’t until then that she became completely comfortable in my skin.
“It completely allowed me to recollect the spunk I was blessed with since birth, while also being a compassionate, loving, and empathetic person,” Levinson said. “For the first time in several years, my soul felt peace.” 
“It was more than empowering; it was liberating,” Levinson said. “I started to realize nobody can use my body against me unless I give them the power to. And for the first time in my life, I had the power.”