How a hushed culture of ‘sex positivity’ built OnlyFans

·Contributor
·12 min read
OnlyFans is a paid subscription service website that helps content creators and artists monetize their adult content. A subscriber pays a monthly subscription fee to the creator to gain access to the latter's private videos and photos, most of which are naturally sexual and explicit. (Source: Getty Images)
OnlyFans is a paid subscription service website that helps content creators and artists monetize their adult content. A subscriber pays a monthly subscription fee to the creator to gain access to the latter's private videos and photos, most of which are sexually explicit in nature. (Source: Getty Images)

They say that the universal language is smile; it is a gesture that everybody, regardless of nationality, understands. Later, "selfie" also became a universal language, which is a perfect reflection of tech’s presence in this generation.

When OnlyFans announced a porn ban, the world had a furious backlash.

Apparently, love for porn is also a universal language.

So, what were the UK-based company to do? Less than a week later, they lifted the porn ban, much to the delight of its more than 2 million creators and over 130 million users.

The content creator posts more adult content > they get more paying subscribers > they get more moolah.

For social media virgins out there, OnlyFans is a paid subscription service website that helps content creators and artists monetize their adult content. A subscriber pays a monthly subscription fee to the creator (20% of which goes to OnlyFans) to gain access to the latter's private videos and photos, most of which are sexually explicit in nature that are typically not allowed on social networking sites.

Or, simply: the content creator posts more adult content > they get more paying subscribers > they get more moolah.

While OnlyFans was founded in the United Kingdom, it is currently accessible in many other countries, including those in conservative Asia.

There’s such a thing as ‘sex positivity’

A Filipina content creator who asked to be identified only by her first name, Trisha, said that she has always been "sex-positive" – she always felt comfortable talking about sex despite coming from a traditionally conservative Filipino family.

"I started with posting photos on Instagram wherein I was almost nude – but never fully nude, as Instagram would take it down – because I had friends who did art photography," she shared. "I was very comfortable with my body. When I posted these photos, it was not because I wanted people to objectify me but because I felt sexy in these photos and I thought they looked aesthetically pleasing."

In the business model of websites like OnlyFans, the content creator posts more adult content so they can get more paying subscribers, and, eventually, more and higher income. (Source: Getty Images)
In the business model of websites like OnlyFans, the content creator posts more adult content so they can get more paying subscribers, and, eventually, more and higher income. (Source: Getty Images)

Later, however, Trisha began twitchy with the way things work on mainstream social media. "When guys post photos with nipples, it is okay for Instagram, right? They do not take these photos down. But when girls post photos with their nipples out, they are quick to act against it," Trisha said. "Why is that?"

Trisha then moved to OnlyFans where there is nothing but only fun, she thought.

"It was kind of refreshing to know that there is a platform that would not do what others do; this platform will let you post sexy photos or videos without judgment or anything," she said. "Plus, it was a great bonus that you can actually earn from it."

Living on an island in southern Cebu in the Philippines, Trisha took advantage of her proximity to nature to have the perfect backdrop in her adult content. "I would take photos with my friends on the beach or by the coconut trees, then, voila, I have a content already."

Trisha admits that she is overwhelmed that there are people who are willing to subscribe to her private account, but, she adds, "I am glad that some people appreciate my content but their validations do not really mean anything to me; I have had enough validation from myself alone to post those content in the first place. What the subscribers' comments are to me is just, you know, bonus serotonin."

It was kind of refreshing to know that there is a platform that would not do what other [social networking sites] do. This platform will let you post sexy photos or videos without judgment or anything.Trisha, OnlyFans content creator

Trisha enjoys the free liberty on OnlyFans. "I am not speaking for everyone but I believe there are a lot of people out there who, like me, are just super confident with their bodies and would like to share it in a platform where it is allowed and where it is not going to be taken down. OnlyFans is that platform."

While Emman Caliwan, J.D., a public sociologist, acknowledged that some users are on OnlyFans for economic reasons, he also said that a sector of it is comprised of people who are there genuinely for art's sake. After all, there really are people in the society who want to eradicate the idea that sex is wrong or that sex is taboo – and they can only do it if they will walk the talk.

"A creator joining OnlyFans for artistic expression is no different from a creator who joins for monetary gain," Caliwan said. "Both of them are there because they seek a goal, whether artistic or monetary. That is just a perfectly human behavior; all of us work for something that we want to achieve."

In this photo illustration, an OnlyFans logo seen displayed on a smartphone. (Photo Illustration by Sheldon Cooper/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
OnlyFans content creators like Trisha argue that there are people who are "sex-positive," or people who are very comfortable with their body and sexuality. As sex talk remains a taboo in many countries, especially in conservative Asia, OnlyFans is the platform where they can display their sex positivity. (Photo Illustration by Sheldon Cooper/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The discussion of "freedom" or "liberty" may also vary based on many factors such as a person’s personality and upbringing that shaped their principles. So, there are people like Trisha who see nudity as a form of it. As Caliwan explained, "Some people feel freer when they are naked or when they take off the layers that the society had put on them that hide their true selves.”

Caliwan added, "In the psychoanalytic-sociological lens, we understand that people have different perspectives. The people who want to remove the stigma against sex work are normal people. They are not sick or anything. Their views and opinions are valid."

Is sex work real work?

Several pieces of literature dating as far back as the 5th century B.C. show that sex work is probably the oldest profession there is, as this was being done even way before other professions were created. "We cannot deny that sex work is still around, in many forms, but they are still the same: there is the same element in which the body is used as capital," Caliwan noted.

Sex work thrived through centuries and is present until today, although it is seen as deviant behavior that goes against normative rules, understandings, or expectations of social systems. These rules are unwritten, making them technically informal, and yet people follow them.

Along with generational turnovers also come the changing or developing of mindsets, including how people view sex work.

Photo detail of laptop showing Google web search related about child caring of pornography information and warning adults only. (Source: Getty Images)
Sex work thrived through centuries and is present until today, although it is seen as deviant behavior that goes against normative rules, understandings, or expectations of social systems. (Source: Getty Images)

"Older generations see it as something immoral because most if not all of them are very loyal and faithful to their religion – something that probably cannot be said equally to the younger generation," Caliwan noted. "As we are now in the Information Age, the younger generation is having more access to much other information where they can base their beliefs in, whereas the older generation had nothing but the Church."

Caliwan also pointed out that the job market is highly competitive; in most industries, you are required to have an exceptional educational background and work experience to qualify – unlike in a business model like that of OnlyFans, you can become a creator regardless of your social status, most especially if you are attractive.

“The qualifications that are typically looked after by employers are irrelevant in a site like OnlyFans. This makes OnlyFans even more appealing to people because here, they can be accepted right away,” he said.

Caliwan refers to this attractiveness qualification on OnlyFans as "erotic capital," which, according to British sociologist Dr. Catherine Hakim, is the combination of "beauty, social skills, good dress sense, physical fitness, liveliness, sex appeal, and sexual competence” that women, particularly, can leverage on to "get ahead." So, if other people can rely on social and economic capital, other people, then, can rely on their erotic capital.

The qualifications that are typically looked after by employers are irrelevant in a site like OnlyFans. This makes OnlyFans even more appealing to people because here, they can be accepted right away.Emman Caliwan, J.D., public sociologist

This leads to another discussion that OnlyFans raises: the feminist discourse. Do websites like OnlyFans promote women’s empowerment?

Caliwan said that even feminists are divided by it.

"On one side, Hakim theorized that women's erotic capital is higher than that of men's. So, in this sense, women's erotic capital is something they can use to their advantage in a patriarchal society, where men set themselves as the standard of strength and power," he said.

However, as in any other discourse, there is another side. Caliwan said, "There are those in the feminist movement that see sex work as oppression. They say, 'Why do you need to flaunt your body to get ahead? Men and women are equal so do not do that; you are relegating yourself to being a second-class citizen because you are doing this just to be able to control men.’”

Man sitting in bed and paying with credit card for something using laptop
While there remain arguments about whether or not sex work is real work, some people -- particularly content creators on adult websites like OnlyFans -- are paid for their sexual and explicit content.

While Trisha said that she signed up to OnlyFans not for monetary gains (she had a full-time, good-paying professional job when she created an account), she also could not deny how it had helped her financially.

"I took a break from my job and lived on an island so I guess you can tell that I did not need the money; I was not depending on OnlyFans alone – I had my savings already – but I still found it quite helpful when it came to paying my monthly dues," Trisha said.

She pegged the amount of subscription to her private account at $45 per month (the amount changes, depending on her preference) and had an average of 15 subscribers monthly, making her earn around $675 or around P34,000 in her country’s currency. “It was not a big number but it was impressive for me already, knowing that I never really hugely promoted my account the way other people do.”

There is probably no absolute definition of what "real work" is, although contributors in a Quora forum titled "What is a 'real job'?" had some different definitions of it; some say that a “real job” is something that is salaried and taxed, has employment rights such as sick pay and leave entitlement, has regular work hours, is usually on a full-time basis, is a permanent position, and leads to career advancement.

Sex work, typically, does not fall in any of these definitions.

Woman using phone late at night in bed. Person looking at text messages with cell in dark home. Hipster online dating or texting with smartphone. Sexting or cheating concept. Smart device screen light
The Philippines's Bureau of Internal Revenue had recently emphasized that all influencers and vloggers, or essentially all content creators who get any monetary gains from their online work, must pay taxes. (Source: Getty Images)

Except for the “taxed” part, according to Philippines's Bureau of Internal Revenue.

Recently, they said that whether or not sex work on OnlyFans is real work, all content creators should pay taxes.

BIR Deputy Commissioner Marissa Cabreros said in a Rappler report that "RMC (Revenue Memorandum Circular) 97-2021 clearly refers to all taxpayers, individuals or corporations, receiving income in cash or in kind using online platforms,” emphasizing that all influencers and vloggers, or essentially all content creators who get any monetary gains from their online work, must pay taxes.

The ‘role’ OnlyFans plays

At least in conservative Asia, it might be odd to think that OnlyFans has some role to play in society.

But in fact, there is.

For one, it serves as a private haven for many members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

"In a society where our desires are controlled and dictated (that is, a man should be attracted to a woman, and vice versa), people who cannot openly express their desires resort to platforms like OnlyFans,” Caliwan said. “This, of course, includes the LGBTQIA+ folks who feel repressed in society but feel open and welcomed on sites like OnlyFans. Here, they can get the gratifications that they seek but cannot easily get in the outside world."

People who cannot openly express their desires resort to platforms like OnlyFans. This includes LGBTQIA+ folks who feel repressed in society but feel open and welcomed on sites like OnlyFans. Here, they can get the gratifications that they seek but cannot easily get in the outside world.Emman Caliwan, J.D., public sociologist

For Trisha, OnlyFans is important to people who want to have a platform where they can display their sex positivity and their talent for adult content creation.

"For other creators, they really take the time and effort to produce their content. OnlyFans gives a lot of independent individuals a room to improve their craft and opportunities to discover more about themselves," Trisha said. "OnlyFans is a platform that acknowledges that this kind of talent exists."

If other people have a problem with the very essence of OnlyFans, they are not forced to accept it, but, Trisha said, "they should not deprive the people of a platform to be who they are. There are simple people who are doing content on OnlyFans because they need the money, so why shame them? We are all just trying to make a living out of something. If OnlyFans is their way to earn, then let them be."

When OnlyFans lifted the porn ban, users rejoiced. OnlyFans’s tweet, after all, perfectly captured the message that their patrons want to hear: "OnlyFans stands for inclusion and we will continue to provide a home for all creators."

For people like Trisha and the 2 million other content creators on the site, that is all they want: inclusion.

Juju Z. Baluyot is a Manila-based writer who has written in-depth special reports, news features, and opinion-editorial pieces for a wide range of publications in the Philippines. He covers societies, cultures, and gender.

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