FO is seen as a safe and inconsequential way to sell homemade sex and porn that empowers women. The site has 60 million users and 750,000 content creators worldwide. Content providers keep 80 percent of their revenue, while the company takes the remaining 20 percent. Unsurprisingly, OnlyFans has attracted many new users during the Covid-19 lockdown.

But nothing in the porn industry empowers women. And that’s what OF is – a vaguely sanitized porn set.

I recently heard from Lucy *, a 21 year old woman who signed up to the site to get the attention of men with a penchant for slave / master role play. Lucy has gained over 180,000 subscribers and apparently earns $ 10,000 per month. For her money, she dresses up as a young schoolgirl and films herself calling “daddy” while sucking on a baby’s pacifier. For some, this will be seen as a harmless fantasy, but what is really happening is the normalization of highly abusive sexual behavior.

I have researched and campaigned against the global sex trade for decades and even wrote a comprehensive book exposing the horrors of commercial sexual exploitation. So I know prostitution when I see it, and no kind of sanitized language changes what OF is. The website has a feature called “Strip for Tip,” and during a live video, the more money subscribers send to the provider, the more clothes she has to remove.

Julie bindel

Pornography is only prostitution with a camera, and OF is both prostitution and pornography. It’s part of the new wave of software platforms and business models that are expanding the reach of the porn industry.

Some of the women who provide content end up scared and traumatized. A woman told me that she still couldn’t sleep after a stalking incident two years ago. “My biggest fan,” said Lisa *, laughing bitterly at the irony, “managed to find me at my workplace and actually waited outside for me one day. I was appalled and terrified. Then, there is the “girlfriend experience.” OF offers men the ability to pay providers for a period of time to behave as if they are on a real date and, via messages and notes voice, send instructions saying what is requested to the “girlfriend”.

Pornland author Gail Dines says, “OnlyFans is really just an extension of the sex webcam. It combines the sexual exploitation of mainstream porn with the economic exploitation of the gig economy.

With many brothels closing or going bankrupt due to the pandemic, men concerned about making money by exploiting young women are turning to OF. I have also heard of female pimps on the site, with their income mostly going to their exploiter. Janine *, a 25-year-old former stripper at a London club, tells me that she was approached by a club security guard and could make “a small fortune” if she opened an OF account. “He said we could share the income and he would advertise me on escort agency sites.”

Two young men in Hungary told me that they had opened OF accounts in order to attract paying gay customers. These two men were heterosexual but, as one of them put it, “We give them what they want and they give us money. It’s just fantasy.

A myth about OF is that its content creators are self-sufficient, but I spoke to Alice *, who signed up on the site last year after losing her job as a receptionist. Alice learned that she could earn “a fortune” by posting steamy photos of herself and was reassured that there had been no contact or harassment.

“It was great at first,” Alice tells me. “There was a bit of semi-nudity and I was earning quite a bit, but then I was pressured to film myself in pornographic poses and even have sex with a girlfriend. That’s when I got really upset and deactivated my account.

It is dangerous to pretend that OF is safe. Very little is said about the devastating emotional and psychological effects on women of being bought and sold by men. Being treated like a consumer product takes its toll. OF may have made a fortune for Bella Thorne, but for countless other women it is costing them dearly.

* Names have been changed. Julie Bindel is a journalist, author and feminist activist



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