Is OnlyFans empowering or dangerous?

The online platform OnlyFans hit one million content creators in December 2020. Why have thousands moved onto the platform, and what can be done to protect them from exploitation?

OnlyFans hit one million users in December last year (Credit Charles Deluvio).

It’s Saturday morning, Abby* has been studying all week. Today used to be a day spent with friends. The Chinese takeaway and movie was her favourite part of the week. Instead, she gulps down her coffee, sweetened with two sugars, and prepares to create content for her OnlyFans. Abby* is a university student, and like many others, her student finance barely covers her rent. Her waitressing job was her ‘safety blanket’, and the pandemic ripped it from right under her feet.

“One day it hit me that if I couldn’t earn money, I would have to drop out of university,” said Abby*. “I had run out of options, and I was desperate.”

She reaches into her drawer dedicated to the lingerie, masks, and ‘props’ she uses whilst filming. Her separation of ‘normal’ and OnlyFans clothes a comical analogy, she explains, of keeping those parts of her life apart. A poll determined what colour lingerie she would wear today; ‘white for our perfect virgin’ one of her subscribers commented. Last week, the same subscriber requested that she pose with blood on her sheets as if he had taken her virginity.

OnlyFans, founded in 2016 in the UK, has exploded in popularity during the pandemic. Setting itself apart from traditional webcamming sites in its ability to attract ‘vanilla’ users who have never been involved in sex work before. Those such as Emma*, who found being self-employed in the first lockdown forced her hand. Emma* has children to support, so the site’s growth coincided with her need for extra income. The number of creators increased from 120,000 to one million between 2019 and 2020, doubling in March 2020 alone.

“I sell feet pics and I’ve always hated the way my feet looked but apparently these people love them for some reason,” said Imogen. “Now my feet are my money makers.” (Credit Pixabay)

So why are people joining OnlyFans? Well, the answer is clear, money. All nine of the creators interviewed stated money as their reason for joining OnlyFans. Four interviewees revealed how self-employed people have been affected disproportionately more during the pandemic. Kirsty* explained that she started during the first lockdown where she found herself with no income as she was self-employed. Within the most at-risk sectors, self-employed women were the most affected by lockdown measures.

Research from Southampton University in collaboration with Cardiff Business School showed that more than one million of the country’s self-employed workers (22%) were at risk of being affected by the lockdown. With one-third of self-employed women being at risk. This rate was concerningly high among women aged between 16-29 and 30-44. Women who have mortgages and families to support like Kirsty*.

From The English Collective of Prostitutes, Niki Adams revealed in an article that due to the pandemic, there has been a ‘surge’ in women inquiring about sex work for the first time. Niki said: “This is a government saying they are interested in finding routes out of prostitution, but their cruel austerity measures are pushing us into prostitution and trapping us in it.” With the self-employed over-represented in the jobs hardest hit by lockdown measures.

Save the Student found that 22% of students interviewed had tried OnlyFans whilst at university. With two-thirds of students needing to earn extra money to survive. Three interviewees explained how essential OnlyFans is to their education. “I started selling feet pics on Instagram back in March to make some money after losing my job,” said Imogen*. She could “make a little cash on the side” to pay for expensive college textbooks. Men have always demanded access to women’s bodies. “So, what’s wrong with being empowered to use that to pay for my education,” said Abby*

Although it is not representative of every creator’ experience, some find the platform empowering. Creators believe that OnlyFans will destigmatise those who create pornographic content. “I feel like people have such a stigma around the nude body, sexual expression and pornography in general, but it’s really just another form of art,” said Paul*. OnlyFans to him, is more empowering than social media. “There’s a sense of value placed on the work that you do to get good shots or make yourself look good for the camera, and it’s nice to be rewarded with actual money instead of likes which can equal nothing,” said Paul*.

After centuries of male entitlement to women’s bodies, writer Julie Bindle questions how damaging OnlyFans is to creators. Julie wonders why men are so glad to hear women say that OnlyFans is empowering. “If you said to a bloke bend over wave your anus in the air, cup your nipples and roll your fingers around your nipples while sticking your tongue out licking your lips, waggle your willy … and say come on big boy do it to me hard and fast and all the stuff that men ask women to do an OnlyFans,” said Julie. “I don’t think they find it empowering.”

Julie questions why ‘empowerment’ is only ever attached to women. “You would never hear big businessmen say: ‘I find it really empowering to earn this money and come to this meeting,” said Julie. Empowerment is only ever used to describe something horrible faced by women. This raises why women attach the word ‘empowerment’ to a job that sees them face almost constant harassment.

One of the biggest dangers to creator’s physical and mental health is harassment. Julie explained that she has interviewed women who have felt very secure that there is a computer between her and the customer. Only for him to very quickly find her and stalk her. “Her pornography is his blackmail,” said Julie.

This is a concern of 19-year-old Abby*, who fears one day she’ll ‘slip up’, and someone will blackmail her. “Something like this would ruin me,” said Abby. “I want to be a nursery teacher, but if this got out, my career would be down the drain.” Abby’s* honest conversation of her fears as a creator undermine the stereotype that people go into OnlyFans believing that it is “easy money” without risk. Like all sex work, the potential develops for exploitation, as it is always economically powerful men who demand access to women’s bodies.

The content uploaded on the cloud storage site Mega included both Instagram and TikTok stars who were outraged at the site’s blatant security holes.(Credit: Junior Teixeira)

In February 2020 4 terabytes of data and content from OnlyFans began to surface online, leaked from behind the platform’s paywall. This stolen content shows a larger issue at hand. There are incredible amounts of free porn on the internet, so it is clear that those who leak content ‘get off’ at the lack of consent. Kirsty* said that these leaks have implications for content creators. “My OnlyFans is only £5 a month, do men have such an entitlement to the bodies of women that they can somehow justify taking content from creators without their permission,” said Kirsty*. “It undermines my work.” These leaks show how OnlyFans is missing an opportunity to support creators.

OnlyFans take 20% of creator’s earnings but do very little with that money to protect them. Emily van der Nagel, lecturer at Monash University, explains the mismatch between how OnlyFans advertises itself and the platform’s broader perception within society. The official OnlyFans site explains the site is for ‘tutorials, tips, behind the scenes footage or just endless selfies’, with no mention of pornographic content. Yet the dominant expectation is that the platform is for performers to post explicit content. While the platform does not censor adult content, certain fetishes and words are banned in an attempt to distance OnlyFans from in-person sex work.

“Openly declaring porn performers and sex workers to be core to the business model, listening to the needs of porn performers …, and featuring these content creators as skilled professionals would contribute to the destigmatising of sex work,” said Emily. Julie questions whether this would be in creators’ best interest as if prostitution and OnlyFans is work. To her then by its own logic, are rape or content leaks are merely theft?

* All OnlyFans creators names have been changed for anonymity.

This was written as part of my MA International Journalism.

Geeky tools for geeky students

Technology is a student’s best friend, and the pandemic has only intensified my relationship with online applications. These tools have helped me get through my undergraduate degree and are keeping me organised during my masters. If like me, you love endlessly watching YouTube videos on studying (sometimes more than studying itself), you may enjoy this post. Without further ado, these are the apps, google extensions, and websites that I use and wouldn’t survive university without!

1. Notion

Notion is available for both your phone and desktop and allows you to organise your life better than you have ever before! Notion has great templates for your class notes, reading lists, tasks and assignments, and weekly agendas. I’ve used Notion since August last year, and I use it for everything from keeping track of my work hours to jotting down any article ideas that I have. As a student, you can also get premium for free if you create your account with your student email!

2. Google Calendar

Google Calendar is great because it allows you to access your calendar on any device, as with the Apple calendar, you can only access it on Apple devices. It was great to have my calendars sync between my iPhone and Microsoft laptop.

Google Calendar for your phone also allows you to get a notification reminder 10 minutes, 30 minutes or an hour before a class. It helped me so much in my undergraduate with making sure I wasn’t late for my lectures. Google Calendar is also great for giving your day some structure by planning it out, especially when we’re spending so much time at home!

3. Duolingo

This app may not be essential to every career but as someone who would love to work around the world one day, being multilingual is essential. Language skills can give you a significant advantage in your career as it sets you apart from your monolingual peers. There are also many cognitive benefits from learning a language too. From improved memory, problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, and better concentration and listening skills.

4. Forest

If like me, you are great at procrastinating whilst studying, then this app is for you! Forest plants a ‘tree’ for a specific amount of time that you choose, and if you leave the app, then the tree dies. The more trees you plant, the more coins you get. These coins allow you to buy new species to grow or even plant a real tree on Earth. As of February 2020, Forest has planted more than 1,005,013 trees through its partnership with Trees For The Future.

5. Merriam-Webster app

The Merriam-Webster app offers you a ‘Word of the Day’, weekly challenges, and word games. I can’t promise that you will use half of the words you see in the ‘Word of the Day’ section, but this app is great for building your vocabulary. My sister and I both have the app and love trying to use the Word of the Day when texting each other. I have received some incredibly confusing texts thanks to her, but I love it!

6. TweetDeck

TweetDecks allows you to manage all of your Twitter accounts and read through your lists, such as the ones I have curated you can see in the above image. This one may be journalism specific, but Twitter Lists have been vital in finding stories for my Masters. My TweetDeck has allowed me to find potential article ideas and connect with interviewees far easier than it would have been from scrolling only through Twitter.

7. Dark Reader

If you spend all day staring at your computer screen, I strongly suggest you get the Dark Reader Chrome extension. Dark reader allows you to have all of your Chrome tabs in dark mode. Having your screen darker, especially at night, is believed to lead to decreased eye strain. The extension allows you to adjust brightness, contrast, dark mode, font settings and sepia filter.

The extension can be turned on and off via the Chrome extensions tab at the top of the page.

8. Weava

The days of copying and pasting all of your research onto a word document are over! The Weava extension helps me highlight straight from websites and pdf documents, saving them into folders for each topic. Weava allows me to not only break down the research into each essay or articles but also the subsections within it.

I discovered many of these apps and Chrome extensions through YouTube videos. Here are some of my favourite ones:

Charity is not a currency

“We don’t assume that the people we work with need something, there’s a communication there. It’s not us unknowingly assuming and giving them stuff they don’t really need, it’s about that communication, that relationship, that exists between both parties.”

Martha (far right) on a shoe box trip in 2019

The theory of toxic charity is not a new one, it follows work from authors such as Robert Lupton. In his book aptly named, ‘Toxic charity’, he has raised the question on whether some forms of charity (often from religious organisations) do more harm than good. As an individual involved in charity work in Romania, it is something I always try to be aware of.

As mentioned by Lupton in his book, charity work mustn’t not lead to dependency. As non-sustainable charity, often involving one-way giving, tends to make those who receive aid ‘objects of pity’. This dependency damages the receiver’s work ethic and becomes equally unhealthy for both the giver and recipient.

As Martha explained, she doesn’t want to be involved in one-off giving that creates dependency and turns into a very toxic form of charity. We discussed future projects and, “if the opportunity comes up where somethings sustainable and a less toxic form of charity, then I’m game for that.”

Martha (far left) has been involved in the work of CASA Grace since 2015

White saviour complex

The white saviour syndrome has been discussed a lot recently following the Stacey Dooley controversy in which she posted a picture of a child in Africa with the caption ‘obsessed’.

When our discussion led to the white saviour syndrome, Martha reiterated that she often thinks of it. As she believes it often stems from one-off giving.

“I also think that we are working with a small charity over in Romania, and we’ve built relationships with this charity for over ten, fifteen years. Working with the same people and families that we work with, it’s like a sustainable model of giving,” said Martha.

Martha reiterated that when you buy into the idea that the work you are doing is a selfless gift, that you are constantly the giver, that is when you run the risk of participating in the syndrome.

“Because we become the almighty givers who are kind of controlling the monopoly,” said Martha. “Whereas if you see it as something that is reciprocal, then we’re equal, there’s not a hierarchy in the two parties involved.”

This is extremely important to mention because, often especially when you’re with a group, such as the Roma, that already face so much discrimination and inequality in Romania.

You never want what you are doing to be viewed as an act of pity, as this will only facilitate a one-dimensional view of the Roma. Perpetuating existing stereotypes of Roma that will only work to undermine them and their inequalities.

“Being conscious of that fact that we don’t want to fall into the trap of the white saviour complex ever,” said Martha. “It’s something you have to maintain in the back of our mind that this is a possibility, so you have to watch out for it.”

Martha on a CASA Grace camp in July 2018

Advice to someone getting involved in charity work

Towards the end of the interview, Martha discussed advice she would give someone who was considering getting involved in charity work.

Martha said: “If it’s a sustainable charity and you’re willing to put in the hours and the time to build these relationships, then definitely it’s a life-changing thing to do for both you and those you’re working with.”

However, in the six years Martha has been involved in charity work in Romania, she has met people who have gone on the trips with seemingly good intentions. Yet, if they had been honest with themselves deep-down, they were sadly there for the wrong reasons.

We discussed red flags that you should spot when you get into charity work. The main one we discussed was the reason you’re going in your heart. As before you go on any trip, it is essential to sit down and be honest with yourself about your intentions.

Are you going to ‘enjoy a different country’ or as something to put on your CV? Or are you going because you genuinely want to get involved with this charity?

As I have had people say to me, especially when I was younger, that ‘this will look good on your CV’. It would always upset me when people said this. Helping those less privileged than yourself shouldn’t be just something you do to just write on a piece of paper.

If you want to find out more about anything I’ve mentioned in this article, here are some relevant links!

Toxic Charity by Robert D. Lupton

More information about the CASA Grace in Romania

Many thanks to Martha Morton for her time and insight into her experience with charity work!

Meg is on a mission!

‘Yes, it helps having inspirational people in my life, but I think I always wanted to be a part of mission and I believe that is God’s plan for me’ – Megan Reeves

Meg (central) delivering shoe boxes in Romania in December 2019

When we speak of mission in Romania, we use the metaphor of sowing seeds in children’s lives. However, in the case of sisters Rachel Lee and Jane Jones one seed was sowed far closer to home. As far as following in the footsteps of your family goes, Megan Reeves (formerly Lee), shows how young people are shaped by influential role models in their life.

It was touching to discover in her own words how Meg has been shaped by those in her life who are passionate about mission, her mother Rachel Lee and her auntie Jane Jones. Rachel has been involved with the Romania CASA camps since the get-go coined as ‘Mother Tereasa to the children’ by Megan. With her auntie Jane having worked for ‘Eurovangelism’ as TEN was formally known. They have given Meg an incredible outlook and inspired her from a very young age to think of those less fortunate than herself. Raising her with a passion for mission and developing in her words ‘a more caring and giving heart’.

Meg and I in Romania in 2015

Through Meg’s 25 trips since 2007, she has developed a deep love for the CASA Grace team, returning every time with the feeling that she’s coming home to family. CASA has brought joy to so many families, reflecting in their actions God’s overwhelming love and grace. Anyone who has met Meg can truly see how she too tries to replicate that in her own life, following the CASA team in spending each day working for the Lord.

COVID-19 has affected every aspect of our lives and the CASA Grace Camp in August is no exception. Like the rest of the team, Megan is gutted that she will miss what is to her the highlight of her year! ‘Not seeing the children’s faces and not being able to hug the CASA team, is so hard to comprehend’, but next year promises a camp full of renewed vigour and excitement!

Exploring the city of Oradea (Photo taken by Martha Morton)

Previously published in the TEN Connect Magazine, October 2020.

Welcome to the Lucy Hynam Blog!

Hey there and welcome to my first ever blog post!

Helping others has become a defining part of my life. Those I have met and (hopefully) helped throughout the years have in all honestly given far more to me than I could ever give to them. They gave my life a sense of purpose when I couldn’t find one and the relationships built have helped me grow into the person I am today. So, this blog will aim to show how helping others has, in fact, helped me. Which I hope will encourage you to actively think of ways to enrich the lives of those around you or possibly the lives of those you have never met!

Some of the amazing team members in Romania in 2018

Throughout six years or nine trips to Romania, I have accumulated a vast number of stories of those I have met along the way! As well as experiencing things myself that have shaped me throughout my teenage years to the person I am today. So, I hope for this blog to become a platform in which I can finally share these stories that I have carried with me in the last six years. Although many of my readers may not be Christian, I also hope that those who are not can relate to many other parts of my blog! Connecting if not through faith, but through a love for those less privileged than themselves.

The shoe boxes being delivered that day being loaded into the back of the van.

The environment is another passion of mine, so I plan to use this platform to share the ways I am trying to be more aware of my impact on the environment. As well as highlighting the ways I have altered my lifestyle to be more sustainable. I have recently graduated from Aberystwyth University, so I also hope to share all of the tools and skills that helped me throughout my degree in International Politics and Global Development. As I have already mentioned, I have had the pleasure of working with incredible people throughout the years. So, this blog will also be publishing guest blogs as well as hosting different activists and personal inspirations, whom I can’t wait for you to meet!

So please stick with my whilst I create insightful articles surrounding all that I am passionate about!