23 September 2022

The new faces of sex: Meet the NSFW content creators navigating their new-found digital fame

As platforms like OnlyFans and Centerfold by Playboy proliferate through pop culture, creators sharing NSFW content are tackling complicated feelings with their digital fame.

The internet democratised fame in ways we previously couldn’t even begin to imagine. What once took endless meetings with faceless execs and spending exorbitant amounts of money on agents, managers and consultants is now achievable from the comfort of your bedroom. With so many of today’s stars lucking out by winning the proverbial online lottery with viral moments on TikTok, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and even Vine (RIP), it seems that anyone can be famous.

The sex industry has experienced a similar post-internet revolution, with a subsequent post-pandemic boom further propelling change. Whether it’s porn, full-service sex work, stripping or even just sharing raunchy photos, people now have a variety of ways to show up for work, including WFH.

The industry’s past reveals a seedy underbelly with stories of actresses working for pennies, studios horrifically violating performers and men insidiously gatekeeping access to the glossy pages of adult magazines. As one of the toughest and riskiest industries to work in, one that’s unforgiving and comes with a scarlet letter (an S for stigma), most people grin and bear their way through it. So while Pornhub changed how we platformed porn, OnlyFans has gone one step further, giving the power back to performers, creators and sex workers.

SAMMY SINS

OnlyFans – which isn’t unique in its model – is the ubiquitous content subscription service that functions quite similarly to Patreon (and looks just like Twitter). But it’s the company’s liberal guidelines that allow adult creators to thrive. During the pandemic, with more people unemployed than ever before, sex workers and civilians alike flocked to OnlyFans to make some cash. And if you haven’t seen all the Daily Mail articles about how much influencers and celebrities have been cashing in on the platform, then you may be surprised to learn that it’s a whole lot of money.

Dainty Wilder, a former cam girl from Australia, claims she made US$100,000 in her first 30 days on OnlyFans and went on to make $1 million in her first year. Nita Marie, a 46-year-old Christian OnlyFans model, makes $1.8 million a year stripping online in the name of God. Then there’s Belle Delphine: the Londoner gained online notoriety after selling her bathwater for $250 a pop, but now she makes roughly $1.2 million on OnlyFans a month.

Celine Dijjon, an explicit-content creator based in Berlin, has by her own admission been doing “sex work since for ever”, but it was in 2020 that things changed. “I was at this awful desk job for Amazon, working, like, 40 hours a week. That was at the beginning of the pandemic and OnlyFans was starting to grow. It was then that I decided to do it. And at that time I was fortunate enough to have an available penis – which was my ex-boyfriend – with me all the time. So it made sense.” Six months later, Dijjon quit her job and has been a full-time OnlyFans creator ever since. Now that she’s her own boss, she works maybe 20-30 hours a week – “It all depends,” she quips. Dijjon is currently in the top 0.42 per cent of creators.

The OnlyFans ranking system, which is mysteriously calculated based on earnings, subscribers and engagement is worn like a badge of honour. The site updates its rankings daily, though the company is quite tight-lipped about how it comes up with this number. And much like a verified tick on Instagram, your ranking can earn you bragging rights, with many using this to market their accounts across social media. On asking Dijjon if having such an incredibly high ranking makes her feel like a celebrity on the platform, she concedes: “I think so.” At least she does within the “trans girl community”. “We have groups to help each other with tips and advice to benefit from each other’s success. We have a really cute community going on and we’re trying to help everyone grow so we can get even richer.”

However, the New York-based OnlyFans creator Sammy Sins doesn’t give much credence to the rankings. “I’m looking at my statistics right now and I’m in the top 2.8per cent of all creators but I don’t really pay attention to that. I pay more attention to how people engage with my work.” Sins defines themself as a “sexual liberator and a sexual healer”. As an Asian American and first-generation immigrant, “I thought it was important to show myself in authentic ways, centring my pleasure, especially as an Asian person. I saw such a lack of representation of people who looked like me in porn, so it became hard for me to connect with myself.”

Sins, who is now 28, has been a sex worker since the age of 21. Initially a full-service worker, Sins has since made OnlyFans their predominant income stream. Their goal is to prioritise healing and representation, and the experiences of people of colour underscore all of their content, but their ambition also to be recognised for their incredibly thoughtful and time-consuming work is something they’re torn by.

DANNY

“Because there are so many people [on the platform] it can feel like a lot of competition, which has been hard on my mental health. I sometimes get stuck on seeing other people go viral and have a lot of success because of certain privileges they have, and it feels like they don’t have to put as much effort into their work as I have to.”

Sins wants recognition in the traditional ways, to be invited to parties, awards ceremonies, vacations and film clips for gay apps like Grindr, but not for being famous – they want validation for their work. “I want to create more access for my community and impart something in their life that enriches them. It’s sad sometimes when I feel the work I put out doesn’t get as much engagement as I had hoped it would.”

There’s a Catch-22 when it comes to recognition and any subsequent fame digital sex workers often experience. While sex work is being recognised in pop culture more prominently than before, from Beyoncé shouting out OnlyFans on her remix of “Savage” to Cardi B being the creative director of Centerfold by Playboy, another content subscription-based platform, the stigma that comes with this line of work remains.

SAMMY SINS

The UK-based sex worker and DJ Danny, who never earns less than $6,000 a month through OnlyFans, has a complicated relationship with the recognition they’ve received from promoting and publishing content on the platform. While they have a documentary in the works with ITV, throw parties in Leeds, openly promote their work on Instagram and are ranked in the top 1 per cent of creators, they aren’t out to their family.

“I think now that I’ve been in this for a few years, the online fame… I’m used to that now. It was scary at first, especially hiding from my family.” Despite acclimatising to being recognised at clubs and even having their name shouted at them from moving cars, Danny laments that “having so many people know lots about you is scary. People have found my address and some are really obsessive.”

Stigma casts a shadow over many workers’ success. Sins tells me that while they’re quite public about their work, they were previously quite private about their full-service work as they aren’t out to their family as a sex worker. “I experienced self-stigmatisation around sex and felt shameful. I thought if people knew that about me they’d only see me as a sex object and this would invalidate everything else that I am – an artist, a creative, a lover, a healer.”

CELINE DIJJON

OnlyFans says it has paid out about $8 billion to creators since it launched in 2016 – that’s $3 billion more than the company said it had paid out in 2021. While celebrities and influencers boast to tabloids about their earnings, workers like Dijjon and Sins are left to toe the line between seeking validation and protecting their peace. The proliferation of OnlyFans has resulted in the arrival of similar platforms like Centerfold by Playboy, Fansly, Unlockd, Fanvue, iFans, just to name a few. This means a new seemingly grey area exists between sex work and NSFW content.

Earlier this year, Amanda Rome West was asked to join Centerfold by Playboy as a creator. Since moving to LA at 18, West has become a rapper, podcaster, producer, actor and even an extra in Jordan Peele’s film Nope. Helming a successful Patreon, West came to the attention of Centerfold by Playboy, which now hosts the raunchier content she wishes she could just post on TikTok and Instagram.

“When you’re mid-size and a curvier woman, these apps are really going to crack down on your account and act like you’re doing sex work when that’s just how you look. As an actor, some people have told me that I need to have less boobs, and it’s just like, ‘That’s how I look. There’s nothing I can do about it.’”

AMANDA ROME WEST

West tells me she’s pro-sex work and doesn’t intend for the lane she’s carving out on Centerfold by Playboy to impede on anyone else’s. “I don’t share nude photos or anything like that. I’ve been getting a lot of subscribers and I’m planning on posting two to three times a week and doing photoshoots. But it feels like such an honour to be chosen by Playboy. I own my sexuality and want to inspire people through my music and work.”

The BDSM model and author Ariel Anderssen thinks that as more non-sex workers use these platforms and gain fame from their content, things could get better for sex workers online. “On balance I think that the more acceptable sex work and online sex work generally becomes, the better that will be for both sex workers and the people who use our products,” Anderssen says. “At the moment I feel we’re in the ludicrous situation of 50 per cent-plus of adults consuming our work but almost everyone is unwilling to admit to it because of the stigma associated with doing so. I’d like to see both producing and consuming sex work become less stigmatised because that makes us all safer.”

However, Venusian Angel, an OnlyFans creator and sex worker, doesn’t share Anderssen’s hope. Angel found sex work when she was unemployed, homeless and struggling with addiction at the age of 18. But when she got the job, she completely turned her life around. Since then she has become a cam model and today shares content on MyFreeCams and MFC Share and began using OnlyFans in 2019. She’s out to everyone she knows. But when it comes to celebrities using it, she thinks they should stay far from the platforms sex workers can exist on. “Most of us can’t exist on social media at all without being shadowbanned or erased constantly.”

AMANDA ROME WEST

Dijjon has had six Instagram accounts deactivated in one year. Angel has had three accounts deactivated. Meanwhile Sins and West have had their accounts recently deactivated and are in the process of rebuilding their followings.

This year Bhad Bhabie claimed she made more than $50 million on OnlyFans. Cardi B reportedly earns about $8 million per month on the platform. The former Disney star Bella Thorne made $1 million in one day and crashed the OnlyFans site.

Initially, Thorne promised to deliver nude photos for $200 subscribers but didn’t make good on her pledge. Thousands of people requested refunds and called their credit card companies to reverse these charges, leading to the company issuing a $50 cap on pay-per-view messages and a $100 cap on tips without warning. Most people on OnlyFans make the majority of their money using these methods. The sex workers on the platform were furious.

“Mainstream celebrities should stay off of sites like OnlyFans, and I know many of my sex worker friends feel the same way,” Angel says. “I think it’s great that it’s becoming more normalised, but I think society still has a long way to go in respecting and treating us equally.”

VENUSIAN ANGEL

There’s no doubt that all of these platforms come with compromises for the people who use them. Companies can take a healthy 20 per cent cut from earnings, while video piracy becomes increasingly rampant, especially for popular users. Recognition comes with a cost for many of these workers, and while influencers align themselves with sex work, many of them are reticent to advocate for laws and rights. However, as safety, agency and respect rise for workers – slowly but surely – it begs the question: are we ready for sex workers to be celebrities? “I think sex workers are stars,” Danny says. “I hope that, one day, we’re respected enough to have our voices heard.”

This feature comes from HUNGER 25, the celebrity issue — purchase here

  • Writer Kish Lal

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