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What is OnlyFans?

OnlyFans is a popular platform that permits fans to pay to see content from their favourite performers. Anyone can use the site from models to personal trainers to chefs, but it is most widely used for adult and explicit content.

The OnlyFans site is a Covid phenomenon, as many have faced income cuts and had to find other sources of cash. The site grew from 7.5 million users in November 2020 to 85 million in March 2021 and has 1 million creators worldwide, who are receiving over $2bn in commission and subscription fees.

Many OnlyFans creators, mostly women, claim it as a tool of empowerment and the final step in destigmatising sex work. While we hear about many success stories, the reality is that many struggle to make any real money on the platform and live in fear of being ‘found out’.


Growing in popularity

Out of financial desperation, many young people are shifting their content creation from Instagram or Twitter to OnlyFans. OnlyFans is seen by many as an alternative way to make extra cash since the pandemic has made it harder to find other jobs or sources of income.

Recent research about the impact of Covid on students’ finances, and how this is linked to mental health, found that 4% of the 1,000 students surveyed have started an OnlyFans account due to their financial situation being affected by the pandemic, with many more considering it. One student told us:

“There aren’t really any side hustles available at the moment, and the ones that are available would mean there is an increased chance of bringing Covid back home with me. As I am in a support bubble with my last grandparent, I really don’t want to risk it. The only thing I could do is create an OnlyFans account but I don’t think I’m brave enough or pretty enough for that. Still, as the potential for income is there, I do find myself considering making an OnlyFans account more and more often.”

Save the Student’s wide-ranging annual money survey found that some 4% of students had tried sex work while at university, with just over a fifth of those (22%) using OnlyFans.


The risks of using OnlyFans


It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme

OnlyFans is not a get-rich-quick scheme. Yes, it’s true that Bella Thorne made £1.5m in her first week …. but that’s because the top 1% of accounts make 33% of all the money earned on the platform. Thorne, for context, has 24m Instagram and 7m Twitter followers, so she already had a huge, ready-made audience.

The average earnings per creator are in fact £120 per month, with most accounts taking home less than £102 per month.

In order to have a chance of making money on OnlyFans, a lot of work has to be done to build an audience. Creators report that even when they put in a lot of work, the work doesn’t always translate into adequate financial compensation. Plus, there is pressure to keep producing to keep “fans” loyal and engaged.


Digital evidence, long-term risks

OnlyFans can seem less dangerous than other options. In fact, one student commented:

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for you to include OnlyFans and sex work in the same category as ‘dangerous financial activity’ and gambling.”

While OnlyFans is certainly more secure than in-person sex work, there are nonetheless risks of digital sex work in our digital age. Many who are posting photos and videos of an explicit nature may encounter difficulty in securing a professional job in the future: these photos and videos will be on the Internet forever.


Digital harassment

Some OnlyFans creators have been a target of “doxxing”: a form of online harassment in which users publish private or sensitive information about someone without their permission.

In more extreme examples, some OnlyFans creators have also been stalked and received death and rape threats on social media, according to a New York Times exposé in January.


No regulation

When using OnlyFans, you are an independent contractor.

What does that mean? That if or when things go wrong, you are on your own. There is no legal body or regulation to help or protect you.

This may change as the Government puts forward ambitious plans for a new system of accountability and oversight for tech companies through the Online Harms White Paper. But for now, it is unregulated.


Do your research and understand the risks before you decide to use OnlyFans. If you are at uni and are having financial difficulties, please contact your university’s student support services as a first port of call.


Further reading

  • Master your money – A short overview on the basics of budgeting, how to create a one, and how to stick to it.
  • Top 10 money tips – Discover how you can break bad spending habits and create new good money habits, including how to manage money effectively, know where your money is going, create a budget, and pay yourself first.
  • Ten ways to increase your earnings – 10 tips on where to look to make some extra money. Not every point will apply to everyone, but take a look through the list — you’re sure to find some ideas that will point you in the right direction.