OnlyFans: Empowering Or Exploitative?

Unpacking the debate around the “soft porn” streaming platform.


Founded in 2016 by Timothy Stokes - OnlyFans is an over 18s paid subscription service, in which creators are free to post whatever content they choose. 
Hollyoaks star, Sarah Jayne Dunn, had appeared on the site for just a month before Channel 4 bosses told her to stop - or risk being axed from the show. During a heated debate on Good Morning Britain, the actress defended her decision to continue posting X-rated photos on the site, claiming that “it’s the kind of pictures I’ve done all my life”.  
Accused of “glorifying prostitution” by commentator, Dominique Samuels – the public debate has sparked a discussion about whether the controversial platform is empowering or exploitative for women.  
Following the soap star’s involvement with the site, and subsequently being booted off the show - Channel 4 bosses have spoken out, emphasizing the “responsibility” that they owe to their “young audience”. They claim that they had hoped to reach a “resolution” with Sarah, that would enable her to return to her role as Mandy Richardson – an integral character that she has played on the soap for over 25 years. 
However, for Sarah, OnlyFans is about “taking back control” and “having full power” over her choices. With reports that the TV star earned a staggering £7,200 just a week after joining the site – financially, the site seems like a lucrative idea, right?  
Though, then comes the agile question of what users really do to earn all this money. Surely, it’s not as simple as posting some sexy pics that you might see on Instagram - there must be more to it than that? Indeed, while users on the site are free to monetize their own content, fans can offer creators “tips” for more personalized, “exclusive” content. While the platform itself only takes a 20% cut of users’ earnings, the temptation to increase revenue by posting racier content is undoubtedly a slippery slope. 
The pandemic has had a major effect on the sex industry. Countless lockdowns and open-ended restrictions have sparked an increase in people wanting to fulfil their needs via sex apps and digitized platforms. After the initial lockdown back in March 2020, OnlyFans garnered a 75% uptick in creator sign-ups. With employment rates at a standstill and income rates at an all-time low – for many people, OnlyFans has become a vital coping mechanism for staying afloat. 

However, the site is synonymous with an indefinite stigma. Creators on the platform, who are predominantly female, are often slut-shamed and stereotyped for partaking in the site. While a small number of creators are male, most of the consumers who demand explicit content, and contribute to the production of pornography are men. Often, the creators will receive requests that encourage them to step outside their comfort zone

Whether it be posting nudes or performing sex acts – when women compromise their own values to appease the demands of the consumer, they lose their agency and control over the situation. For people that solely rely on the site for their livelihood, this puts them in a particularly vulnerable position. 

No participant on the site – man or woman, should feel the need to compromise their own boundaries to make a living. Once those boundaries are initially crossed, it is difficult to know when to draw the line – resulting in many pitfalls, that can cause long-term emotional affects. 

While the idea of owning your body and controlling your content seems empowering at first, the truth is – there is a double standard in the sex industry that puts women in a different category to men. We’ve all heard it before – you’re either too kinky, and berated for your sexuality, or not sexual enough, and labelled too frigid. Quite frankly – women can’t win. On top of this stigma, there is no guarantee that the content posted on OnlyFans will not be leaked or exploited in the future. 

Thereby, while some celebrate the site for its “liberating” concept – if the content is merely monetizing male desire, are women truly being empowered

The question of whether OnlyFans celebrates women or objectifies them is by no means clear-cut. However, one thing for certain is that female empowerment comes from within. To truly feel liberated, you must love your body, honor your boundaries, and make unapologetic choices that put you, and your needs first. 


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