Sex work goes online

With clubs and other venues closed, web-based erotica steps in.

As clubs and venues have shut down in the wake of COVID-19, sex workers are turning more and more to online sites such as OnlyFans.

Photo courtesy of PickPik

As the COVID-19 pandemic worked its way across the country and business everywhere began to shut down, sex workers, like everyone else, were left struggling to find new ways to earn an income.

As clubs and other erotic gathering spots closed their doors, sex workers began turning to an online subscription website, OnlyFans, which continues to gain traction with both the workers and their consumers.

The website has gained 14 million registered users and over 300,000 content creators since this time last year, according to its official Facebook page. And although, some on the site produce fitness videos, much of the content consists of personalized erotic material.

“I make smutty content that’s incorporated in dancing — pretty much what I do in the club,” said @lovemelulu, a 21-year-old exotic dancer turned content creator.  “[Since] the quarantine, I spend the whole day making content, maybe like six to nine hours,” she said.

@lovemelulu said while she does have some income, it is substantially less than before the quarantine. She said she made between $1,000 and $2,000 a week working three to four nights before the pandemic, but has only earned about $1,000 since the clubs closed.

“It wasn’t hard at first because I had asked my customers from the club to subscribe. But as time went on, my subscribers stopped spending as much and I had to get more creative,” she said.

Like many, @lovemelulu said she began her journey into sex work after hitting rock bottom. Unable to provide for herself after a mountain of student debt, she found solace in rich older men, realizing the world she was entering was lucrative and promising.

Eventually her job as a “professional sugar baby” with agencies specifically targeted at arranging these types of relationships led her to working independently at an exotic dance club because they took “less percentage cuts,” she said.

OnlyFans allows people to produce content independently while taking a 20 percent cut.

For young women dealing with the repercussions of the COVID-19 virus and the quarantine it has caused, the online platform has become more and more enticing, with top earners showing off their accomplishments on Twitter.

Single moms like Ari, 21, say they use the platform as a means to provide for themselves and their families, though the decision to go online hasn’t come without judgement.

“I think the fact that I work online makes it easier for others to have an opinion and judge since it's more accessible than physical sex work. Some people think I don’t respect myself or my family which I don’t agree with at all,” she said.

In fact, Ari said her job shouldn’t be a negative reflection of her.

“Sex workers deserve the same respect and recognition as any other worker. We all have families and social lives outside of our work and that needs to be respected. We are people just like everyone else, our jobs don’t change that,” she said.

Unlike @lovemelulu, Ari said she has seen her income increase since more people have been browsing the web during the pandemic.

“Before quarantine I relied on pretty much the same income as I do now, but I’ve managed to maintain the same revenue and even increase it,” she said.

As jobs disappear and people find themselves faced with the harsh realities of needing to provide for themselves or their families, the platform has gained a substantial amount of content creators, leaving women who were not sex workers before susceptible to scrutiny.

Ari said the site used to be more friendly to new creators, but has become more competitive as more people have joined.

“When I first started out, other workers were supportive and helpful, but over time it's become more and more competitive,” she said.

While sites such as Pornhub are free to consumers, OnlyFans charges for services. While each creator sets their own fees, typical costs are $5 to $50 for a subscription, with added fees for private messages, videos or other services.

And even though other sites are free, consumers keep returning to OnlyFans. Erotic dancer Kaylee, 32, said she knows why.

“People look for intimacy. They want personal relationships. That’s why dancers who can’t engage in a conversation don’t make as much money,” she said.