With few options for income amid the pandemic, Whitman students turn to OnlyFans

Jessie Brandt, Staff Reporter

Names of content creators have been changed at their request to remain anonymous.

When the pandemic hit and she couldn’t afford rent, Mia Brooks turned to OnlyFans. On OnlyFans, users subscribe to creators’ exclusive content, and in Brooks’ case, she sold the possibility of seeing her nude.

Though not her ideal choice of labor, Brooks had previous sex work experience, and said that OnlyFans was one of her only options. Tips from men garner most of her account’s revenue, and she gets an 80 percent cut of the money earned on her account.    

“I’m pretty satisfied with the income I’ve been making,” Brooks said in an email to The Wire.

Elena Moore also wanted to make money from the safety of her home, and started an OnlyFans account in April 2020. At peak activity she made $200 per month, working a maximum of ten hours a week posting nude pictures and videos.

“I was really excited when I made $100 from a 10-minute Snapchat call,” Moore said in an email to The Wire.

OnlyFans exploded during the pandemic, growing from 120,000 content creators in 2019 to over one million as of last month. Many students, like Brooks and Moore, joined when money was tight.

Illustration by Lily Buller.

“I was at risk of losing my housing, and Whitman had rejected the amount I requested through the CARES act,” Brooks said, referring to the $764,766 Whitman received through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.

According to one Whitman alumnus, the OnlyFans surge reveals deeper patterns exacerbated by the pandemic. 

“The gig economy and the rise in online sex work follows a trend of increasing student debt, the cost of living expenses and a decrease in well-paying jobs with labor protections,” said Mira Skladany ’19 in an email to The Wire, a paralegal who specializes in cases of revenge porn and sexual abuse.

Skladany noted that OnlyFans creators “have protections that ensure their images are protected under intellectual property and copyright law,” in order to prevent the circulation of screenshotted images and revenge porn. If a subscriber-only video was non-consensually posted onto Pornhub, the creator could seek damages. She added that because of how sex work is treated altogether, workers often don’t think to go to an attorney in these cases. 

“Any labor sect that is unspoken about is also afforded limited legislative protections, and instead is policed heavily — whether by the police themselves, by private citizens or by institutions like colleges,” Skladany said.

Women of color who are sex workers often face stigmatization, too. Brooks has experienced negative reactions to her account, even from trusted friends.

“I’ve noticed that white women on this campus tend to receive a ‘pass’ when it comes to exploring or expressing their sexualities while women of color are more quickly labelled and judged,” Brooks said. “It’s quirky ‘fun’ when young white women discuss their experiences with online sex work, but when WOC do they’re treated differently.”

“Sex work is definitely stigmatized [at Whitman],” Moore added. “It is stigmatized all over America and the world.” 

Raechel Anne Jolie, a writer who spoke at Whitman’s Spring 2019 Gender Studies roundtable, credited the flexibility that OnlyFans affords to those with caretaking responsibilities or disabilities, but also warned against romanticizing sex work.

“As long as someone else has power over the worker (such as OnlyFans does over creators), there will be problems,” Jolie said in an email to The Wire. “This is why recognizing sex work as work is so important—so that sex workers have the ability to organize and form unions to gain more power over their lives.”

Destigmatizing sex work also requires a reminder that, “we are all selling our bodies to make money,” Jolie said. “Is a sex worker on OnlyFans selling their body more than a construction worker, for example?” She underlined that all labor that students take on to survive, including sex work, should be accepted as valid. 

“It’s a problem to live in a world where people can post fascist hate speech online without consequence, but can’t post nudes online without being afraid of ruining their chances at future jobs,” Jolie said.

Skladany recognizes that sex workers can find creativity and pleasure in their job, but wishes material safety nets were secured for Whitman students so they weren’t forced to pick up sex work out of financial necessity.

 “Colleges can support sex workers and especially sex workers of color by ensuring that their students don’t need to have an OnlyFans to afford their tuition, rent and books,” Skladany said. 

She encouraged sex work be discussed at Whitman, with the caveat that the theoretical is also always personal. 

In reflection, Brooks said in her everyday life she isn’t as self-assertive as she is on OnlyFans, where she plays with female domination, but there is also a flipside.

“I dislike… the constant reminder that my body doesn’t really feel like my own anymore,” Brooks said.

In May, Moore stopped posting on her account when she restarted her fast food job. Brooks hopes to get off OnlyFans soon.

Brooks said, “I will be deleting my account once I can find something I can actually put on my resume.”