OnlyFans: What's the real impact on the people who use it?

The OnlyFans website hosts content from music to workout videos but is best known for soft-porn images, writes Joyce Fegan. What does this mean for the future prospects of young people who see it as a great way to make money?
OnlyFans: What's the real impact on the people who use it?

OnlyFans star and influencer, Lucy Fitz, says the platform is the safest for her: "I've had no bad experience with my subscribers, they're really, really nice people and really respectful."

The OnlyFans website hosts content from music to workout videos but is best known for soft-porn images, writes Joyce Fegan. What does this mean for the future prospects of young people who see it as a great way to make money?

You may have heard of OnlyFans. Maybe you’ve heard of people making tens of thousands of euro a month simply by posting intimate images of themselves on this online platform. Perhaps you’ve heard the stories of Irish people purchasing multiple homes with their OnlyFans earnings and taking in more than €50,000 a month. Or maybe this is the first you’ve heard of it.

So what exactly is OnlyFans and why are people talking about it?

OnlyFans is an online platform much like YouTube or Instagram. Except with OnlyFans, you post exclusive content that “fans” pay a monthly subscription for. This content can be anything from music to workout videos, and it has also become the go-to platform for the exchange of nude and intimate images.

Monthly subscribers can pay a set fee for the basic service, or can make requests for private images from the content creator that are for their eyes only, in theory at least.

Statistics on OnlyFans are hard to come by, but it’s estimated there are over a million content creators on the site, with approximately 50m users. The site takes a 20% cut, and most of those posting pictures earn less than €123 per month from their activities. The American actress Bella Thorne, who has worked in both mainstream and pornographic film, is estimated to have earned more than $1m in her first day on the site.

Many of the content creators on OnlyFans are celebrities or influencers, who realised they could monetise ordinary content about their lives that they had been giving away for free on platforms like Instagram and Twitter. They post home renovations, fitness tips, music or fun videos similar to what’s on TikTok.

Others are influencers from TikTok or Instagram who have progressed from posting bikini or modelling shots to something more akin to pornography, while others again are involved in the “traditional” pornography or sex industry, and have found a safer and more regular income source online since the pandemic. Many are young women, who have grown up in an environment in which sending nudes — exchanging explicit images with prospective romantic partners on messaging apps — is a common practice.

In an Irish context, OnlyFans made headlines here when two content creators revealed how much they were earning through the platform and what it allowed them to purchase.

Matty Gilbert, known as the ‘Irish Viking’, joined OnlyFans at the end of 2020, after making a name on TikTok. He told broadcaster Claire Byrne that he earns more in just one month than he ever made in a full year. He left his job to build his OnlyFans account as his main source of income, where he can make around $60,000 (€49,500) per month.

Meanwhile, 24-year-old Louth woman Niamh O’Connor, who also has an OnlyFans account, revealed in June how she bought her second home in Turkey with her earnings from the platform.

Money and fame aside, there is still the age-old judgement around people taking their clothes off for a living, and that feminist split about whether such a way of making money is empowering or exploitative. And in 2021, there are major privacy issues, with leaks of images and people’s personal data.

There are then the implications a person’s online postings might have on their future careers, relationships and housing situations because of the taboo and stigma attached to anything related to the sex industry.

“It would be an issue for employers”

Many employers these days take the simple step of googling prospective employees to find out if there are any skeletons lurking in their closets. But what kind of impact could the likes of an OnlyFans presence have on a young person’s job prospects?

Margaret Cox, who is director of a progressive recruitment company in Galway, ICE Recruitment, which introduced a four-day week on a five-day salary for her employees, explains that “background checks” are carried out by prospective employers.

“Depending on the job and the appropriateness of behaviour, socialising, and that, companies are doing background checks on social media, not every company does it, not every recruitment company does it,” says Ms Cox.

“If I was to place you in a blue-chip company, and in the interview, I sensed there is something going on but I can’t put my finger on it, you would start doing searches, like on Google, LinkedIn, or you’d look through local newspapers, and then depending on what comes up, it would have a say in the person being put forward to a client,” she adds.

On the specific issue of OnlyFans, and a person’s account becoming public knowledge in the recruitment process, Ms Cox said it “would be an issue”.

“I’ve never come across it before, but if I did come across it, it would be an issue, while I might feel really sorry for the person,” says Ms Cox.

On the broader topic of social media and people posting images of themselves drunk or else on the beach boasting about “pulling a sickie”, the recruitment director warned that “your behaviour is judged by the photos you upload”.

“It’s accessible to the world, your behaviour is judged by the photos you upload, do you want a photo of yourself falling around drunk available on the internet for everybody to see?

“I have seen people not get jobs because of this,” says Ms Cox.

“People forget how available social media is.”

Former sex worker Adeline Berry says that she has known people who have been shunned by their families or lost their homes due to engaging in sex work — and online sex work could well have the same stigma.

Reared in Tallaght, Adeline, who is trans, was born intersex, “an umbrella term to describe a number of bodily characteristics that don’t neatly fit into strict medical binary notions of what is male or female”.

Being intersex or trans means people face “inordinate amounts of discrimination”, she says, including not receiving employment and therefore sex work becomes a way to support themselves.

Despite the complex reasons behind a person’s entry into sex work, once their work becomes public knowledge, they face major discrimination.

“I’ve known a few Irish girls who’ve been disowned by their family and blocked by future jobs.

“You can hide your identity as best you can, but it can affect all kinds of things, I know people who have trouble getting into other countries,” explains Adeline.

But with sex work moving online because of the pandemic and the growth of OnlyFans, the PhD student says there are privacy and safety concerns.

Would online sex work be used against you, if you were applying for a job, say, in a bank?

“Of course it would be used against you. There is a girl in New York who lost her teaching job because her previous sex work, which paid for her college tuition fees, became public,” says Adeline.

“My undergrad was paid for by online porn sales and now I am doing a PhD without having to do sex work. But if my past sex work stops me getting a job, I have to return to sex work.”

“The idea that it’s less risky doesn’t hold up”

Mary McGill is the author of the newly-published book The Visibility Trap: Sexism, Surveillance & Social Media.

She says that there can be a “rush to judgement” when it comes to the likes of OnlyFans, but there are “complex reasons” as to why people start accounts on these types of sites.

When it comes to intimate images being leaked online, misogyny has us victim-blaming and pointing the finger at the person who shared their image online, but Mary looks to “big tech” when apportioning responsibility.

“What needs to be emphasised is young women go on to these platforms expecting it to work in the way it’s intended and how it’s been set up, then all kinds of things can happen. Women have been tracked down and stalked and trust has been violated,” says the author and researcher.

She says it has also been sold in the media as this instant and easy way for anyone who wants to, to make large sums of money.

“You have a group at the top end of the triangle who do incredibly well, and everyone under that is just trying to supplement their income. Then the virtual space gets crowded and those smaller content creators are pushed to create more and more content and pushed outside their comfort zone.

“It might be true that it’s easy to make money if you’re a celebrity, but for ordinary women, it might not be that straightforward.”

“Like much of the economic models online, and like with everything with capitalism — you can make it big but that’s the one in a million.”

Mary’s work focuses on the privacy and protection of women in a digital space.

“This idea that it’s easy, it’s relaxed, it’s less risky, doesn’t hold up,” says Mary, as seen in the large data breach of women’s intimate images in 2020.

Thousands of pictures and videos, mainly of Irish women, were shared on forums, mainly the Discord forum, in November last year. Many of the images were taken without women’s knowledge or consent in changing rooms or while they were sleeping, while others were taken from various platforms including OnlyFans, Tinder, WhatsApp, and Instagram.

“There are issues around privacy and the way that material has been taken from the site and distributed elsewhere, and this can have drastic consequences on someone’s life. Someone might choose to go on OnlyFans because they see it as a safer option than PornHub, but when there’s any leak it’s very, very difficult to get back content. There is very little in the way of support when that happens,” explains Mary.

“Sites like OnlyFans trade on the belief that people have control over what they post, technology by its very nature undermines all our control,” says Mary, referring to any person being able to take a photo or a video of what they see on a screen in front of them.

Mary McGill is a researcher, journalist and author of The Visibility Trap, which is in all good bookshops now. She can be found on Twitter
@MsMaryMcGill

A ‘more acceptable’ form of sex work?

Caroline West is an Irish sex educator whose PhD on porn helped shift the public conversation
around sexuality and sex work in Ireland.

 Caroline West: “Some people who use the platform don’t see themselves as sex workers as they are not having sex with people, but it is a form of sex work." Photo: Moya Nolan
Caroline West: “Some people who use the platform don’t see themselves as sex workers as they are not having sex with people, but it is a form of sex work." Photo: Moya Nolan

While many OnlyFans creators who post sexual imagery do not see themselves as engaging in sex work, West says “sex work” is an umbrella term that includes the likes of stripping and escorting.

OnlyFans has been lauded by some as a more “acceptable” form of sex work. And in this conversation, the idea that OnlyFans is “empowering” for women as they make money on it, on their own terms, as opposed to being “exploitative” of women is front and centre.

But Ms West says this “binary” view of sex work is “useless”.

“This binary of empowering versus exploitation is a useless lens to frame sex work through. There are so many different experiences in between those two opposites, and no job is ever 100% empowering all the time — but for some reason, we insist on viewing sex work through this framing.

“Many of us take jobs that aren’t necessarily personally satisfying but they put food on the table. Instead, we need to look at sex work by listening to the people who do this kind of work and create safer ways for them to do so, and exit plans if they wish,” says Ms West.

“In a capitalist society, we often don’t have a lot of choices and a lot of people live in poverty and are quite vulnerable, so in order to address the reasons that people engage in sex work, we need to address the causes of poverty and precarious employment.”

Lucy Fitz: "If I wasn't accepted into a job because of this I wouldn't want to work for that company"


For influencer and OnlyFans content creator Lucy Fitzgibbon, 20, social media has always been her sole source of income. Five years ago she started her Instagram account showcasing make-up tutorials and in the intervening years, she has amassed nearly 100,000 followers.

Lucy Fitz, influencer and OnlyFans star. The platform has given her a steady income which helps her to build her own brand.
Lucy Fitz, influencer and OnlyFans star. The platform has given her a steady income which helps her to build her own brand.

The internet has given her the freedom to live and work anywhere she likes and last year she moved to Barcelona.

"I moved on my own, I'm fairly independent and I do love being in my own company. Before I moved here I was renting on my own for 10 months," says Lucy, from Askeaton, Co Limerick.

The move coincided with her joining OnlyFans "I set up an OnlyFans account in January 2021, I was thinking about it for a while and just decided to do it. I'm very open minded, I don't understand the judgement around it," says Lucy.

The subscription-based app gives the public access to exclusive content from people they follow for a monthly fee. While users could post anything from work-out videos to photos of their feet, many OnlyFans content creators use the app to host nude or intimate images and videos of themselves.

"I was very strict with my boundaries, I started off posting pictures and videos that I was extremely comfortable with," explains Lucy.

While steps are taken to ensure the privacy and safety of users, leaks of images and videos, or the screenshotting or screen recording of their content is never far from her mind.

"My content may be leaked - I'm always of this mindset," says the Limerick woman.

Her family knows that she has an account, but there has been no judgment of her work online.

"I would say I grew up in an open-minded family, my family are very supportive, they haven't disowned me, but growing up in rural Ireland they're not used to this line of work," says Lucy.

OnlyFans has been around since 2016, but it found a much larger audience in 2020, when sex workers and strippers had to move online because of the pandemic. And people who had never done any sex work before, found themselves drawn to the site for extra income too.

Lucy's subscribers pay $19.99 a month to access her content, 20% of which OnlyFans take. Fans can also "tip" content creators, or give additional money for "pay-per-view" images or videos.

While online abuse is rife nowadays, something which Lucy has been vocal about, she says OnlyFans is the safest platform for her at the moment.

"OnlyFans is the safest platform for me. I've had no bad experience with my subscribers, they're really, really nice people and really respectful. You might get a few who will demand things from you and you just stick to your boundaries," says Lucy.

With OnlyFans, the content creator can have full control over the direction of their images and videos that they are charging people to access - this is what makes Lucy respectful of her subscribers.

"People who pay for OnlyFans and pay for porn, I have a lot of respect for people who pay for porn, because you don't have to.

"And let's be real here, who doesn't watch porn? It's been around for so long, it's the most natural act - pleasuring yourself, I don't understand the hush hush," says the Limerick woman.

While she won't be drawn on exactly how much she has earned through the platform, she admits it has given her a "steady income" and allows her to plan for the future too.

"I wanted the funds to start up a brand and that brand is in the works so the money has been great. But you do have to work on OnlyFans [constantly create content] to make a lot of money - it has given me a steady income and pays my rent," says Lucy.

One issue she is explicitly vocal on is moral judgment around sex work.

"I don't see where the judgment is coming from, sex workers and the sex industry - it's one of the oldest industries there is. Sex is so natural and one of the most natural things in the world. OnlyFans does not mean that this subscriber owns this person, they don't own the rights to an image.

"I completely understand why people wouldn't feel comfortable doing it, and the most important thing with anything is you're comfortable," says Lucy.

"But, if there's a woman reading this at the moment, and they look down on sex workers, or think that's it wrong, or if it's a man thinking that, why do think it's wrong? Really in theory and on paper it's not wrong, this stigma and judgment around it needs to be lifted. Ireland is behind in terms of accepting sex work, people are entitled to their opinion, don't put people down," states Lucy.

But when it comes to the issue of the judgement actually impacting her future choices in life, such as work, family or a run in politics - does she feel the same?

"If I wasn't accepted into a job because of this I wouldn't want to work for that company, I don't want to work for a company who wouldn't accept this - I feel very strongly about this point," says the Limerick woman.

"And I don't think I'd ever go for politics, but if I did I would 100% own it, I would use it to make a change," says Lucy.

As for any future children she may have, she would rear them to feel no shame around the body.

"If I have children it'll be a very open-minded household, there is no shame in bodies and sex," says Lucy.

But as a 20-year-old, soon-to-be 21-year-old woman, Lucy's career and life plans involve her building a business and she's using her OnlyFans income to that end.

"My goal is the same goal I have had since I was 15 - it's to have my own brand. I would be so happy and grateful if I had a well-established brand by 25, it would be a brand to empower women and make women feel better about themselves, a feel good brand.

"Right now OnlyFans is a great source of income, and if you can have a source of income why would you stop it?" states Lucy.

Lucy is on Instagram @lucyfitz 

Jasmin Rouge: "It’s the autonomy of OnlyFans that is appealing, I call the shots on the content"


Jasmin Rouge started work as a stripper a year after she moved to Dublin for university.

“I’m 22 and I’ve had five-figure savings since I was 20,” says Jasmin.

It was work she enjoyed, she felt safe doing, it paid her rent and it made her college degree course more tolerable.

Jasmin Rouge plans to emigrate to Australia with the money she has saved from OnlyFans.
Jasmin Rouge plans to emigrate to Australia with the money she has saved from OnlyFans.

However, when the pandemic hit and the strip clubs could no longer operate in-person, Jasmin turned to OnlyFans as a source of income. But before she discusses her experience of OnlyFans, she explains how she entered stripping in the first place.

“When I came to college I ended up hating my course by the start of second year for moral reasons, and I said: ‘OK, let’s stay with this course, let’s stay with college,’ instead of changing course. But by the end of second year I was miserable, and I said to myself: ‘let’s find a way to survive within capitalism’ and so I started stripping.

“Of all the jobs I have ever done it is my favourite way to earn money, it’s cut and dry. When I walked into my strip club the first question I asked was: ‘What are the safety measures, where are the cameras?’ The bouncers were fantastic, there is constant surveillance and no touching, if it does happen you snap your fingers and they’re out, and you always have the choice of whether you want to take up a dance or not,” explains Jasmin.

“And meeting other amazing women, because civilians care so little about sex workers, there is so much solidarity amongst the women,” she adds.

Because this was offline work and happened in a physical space in Dublin, Jasmin couldn’t see how her family would find out about her work. She kept going with it and it paid her rent and she saved the rest.

“I learned on the job from other women, I started off with Youtube tutorials and in my first week I made a grand. I was going into work for tops five hours a night. You could come home with €150 or €250 or €350, you could rake in €800 a week — that is more than doable. It’s more than double the minimum wage for half the hours,” says Jasmin.

But then Covid hit which meant her college work placement was cancelled too.

“I was stripping at that point for six months, and I was really happy, I no longer felt I was relying on college for everything.”

She waited until August of 2020 before she opened an OnlyFans account. Stripping allowed her anonymity but taking that online meant much of her privacy would be compromised.

“I knew for an absolute inalienable fact that people would find out if you do online work, you need to market with your face, when you become a sex worker you take on that taboo. I waited until August 2020, just to open an account. I said: ‘This is my choice, this is it, this is going to be an irrevocable decision and I’m ok with that’, because I knew my strip club wasn’t going to open,” explains Jasmin.

There have been dramatic headlines of OnlyFans content creators earning hundreds of thousands of euro and being able to afford two homes in the space of a year, but has it been that lucrative for Jasmin? “You could make $40 in a day, or $150 in a day,” she answers.

The people making hundreds of thousands of euro from selling intimate images and videos are in the top “0.1%” says Jasmin.

Many content creators set their monthly subscription fee at $19.99 and some go higher to $50. At her busiest, Jasmin had 300 monthly subscribers, but OnlyFans took 20% of her earnings, she points out.

Jasmin explains that different images and videos have proved more lucrative than others.

“It’s lucrative depending on what you’re doing. I was doing mainstream solo stuff, explicit stuff — it’s essentially porn, but it feels different to stripping. I also did collaboration with other women and you meet up, film together, and have the craic. Collaborations are great money makers, you can constantly sell them and you constantly have people subscribing,” she adds.

But it is not just the money she can make, it’s the independence that she appreciates too.

“It’s the autonomy of OnlyFans that is appealing, I call the shots on the content.”

However, what it provides in autonomy it takes away in privacy, as her family found out about her online work, when they did not know about her strip club work.

One family member, without judgement or any probing questions, simply asked Jasmin if she was “financially OK” and told her “to never worry about money”.

“And that was it, there was no: ‘Why are you a sex worker?’” says Jasmin.

Family aside, is she concerned about the impact her online work, if it became public, would have on her career choices or housing situation?

“There is of course the stigma, personal safety and landlords. Landlords will look for any reason to deny you accommodation. Plenty of people from college have already requested to follow me and I’ve rejected them, you have to come to grips with the idea of your mother knowing or your father knowing, and the stigma.”

In terms of career prospects, she plans to emigrate to Australia with the money she has saved from OnlyFans, and return to in-person stripping for the remainder of her 20s.

“I’ve saved a five-figure sum since August — I’m happy out with that. I’m emigrating as soon as I can and there is no way I could go to Australia without OnlyFans or have paid my rent, I’m happy with the run I’ve been having with it.

“In my 20s that’s when I want to be hustling and working, so I’ll have something built by the time I’m in my 30s. I’ll have passive income from investment in my 40s and retire by the time I’m 50,” states Jasmin.

“They say sex work is the most effective way for working class women to funnel money from upper-class rich men,” she adds.

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