I’ve always been atrocious at maths, so it wasn’t too shocking back in October 2018 when I realised that I had miscalculated how quickly I would earn $50,000 (£37k) on my new OnlyFans page. It’s a healthy infusion of cash for someone who grew up in poverty and is used to making minimum wage, living paycheque to paycheque, and getting very little sleep between multiple jobs. One month, three months tops, I thought to myself arrogantly, considering my audience of roughly 65,000 Twitter followers and all of the boys in high school who salivated over my tame thirst traps. The thinking was, I would drop my panties and the money would flow effortlessly for the equipment, research, and employees I needed for my unconventional history teaching platform, Intelexual Media.
I made nowhere near that amount of money in three months, let alone one. It took eight months of blood, sweat, tears, and aggressive marketing — all while receiving hostile slander from my internet peers. It took investing my own earnings into gorgeous lingerie, thrilling sex toys, better makeup, and wigs that didn’t sit like pointy cones on my cranium. It took learning how to properly light the corners of my small 750 square foot studio apartment. It took learning how to edit videos into compelling footage that stands out on social media amongst a sea of boobs, ass, and hardcore pounding. It took cultivating a standard of quality customer service for the ever growing list of subscribers curious about what lay behind the paywall. But landing in the top .5% on OnlyFans took even more than that.
There is no romantic or glamorous reason I decided to turn to sex work. I needed money. OnlyFans wasn't my first trip, either. It had begun with a small, short lived, yet life-improving time on the camsite CamSoda back in 2016. Just eight months shy of graduation, I tacked a leopard blanket over my window and danced seductively in front of the very best, broke college apartment decor two to three times a week. I never broke more than $1,000 (£741) a week, but suddenly I was able to take care of my basic needs.
Back then, my occupation as a sex worker was clandestine, my performances relegated to the shadowy corners of the internet, away from the judgement of peers, friends, and family. After all, I was a Black woman from the Bible Belt, pursuing a higher education. Who could possibly understand me, or embrace my ideas? Fast forward to 2021. I’m just as likely to go viral for marketing my OnlyFans with a graceful twerk to the Game of Thrones theme song as I am for critiquing celebrities, capitalism, and American history on my YouTube channel. As an unconventional history teacher and self-proclaimed pin-up, it’s absolutely crucial for me to have a thick skin while dealing with the aftermath of virality and hypervisibility. Fortunately, being a Black woman prepared me for this role. I’m used to slander, to hatred, to being underestimated, to being undervalued— and yet, my foray into OnlyFans was painful at times.
My former mentor and benefactor stopped talking to me. A few “friends” distanced themselves from me. The man I loved and trusted, who never had a problem with my work on OnlyFans, somehow couldn’t understand why I was upset that he showed people footage of our private sex tape. On one hand, as a mainly solo content creator who has never worked with male talent, I was angry at the novelty of a sex tape being sent out for free. The road to $50,000 (and beyond) would have been much easier if I’d worked with men, but being solo was a boundary that I had set for myself. But more than anything, my ex violated that boundary when he recklessly revenge-porned me. As a rape survivor, estranged from my father and my mentor, I felt wounded and violated by his betrayal. But like I said, thick skin. I cried, I smoked, and I moved on — because the love I have for myself and the dreams I chase outweigh any betrayal, any judgement, any pain. But more than that, my personhood, regardless of a sex-negative society’s mission to erase it, is valid. I’ll never settle.
October 2021 marked my three-year anniversary on OnlyFans and I have long passed my goal of $50,000. Despite the drawbacks of losing people and forever losing the support or interest of Americans who hate sexuality more than they hate poverty and autonomy, I am happy with the choice I’ve made. I made new friends and the ones I already had became my biggest supporters and most aggressive marketers.
With the money I’ve earned, I’ve infused Intelexual Media with precious capital untainted by status quo gatekeepers, meaning I talk about whatever I want, whenever I want. I’m starting a new business and I’ve helped my family with their bills and businesses. I’ve been fortunate enough to financially support numerous causes for Black women, particularly in the areas of abortion access, homelessness, and intimate partner violence. I have a savings account for emergencies, and I have health insurance. And yes, I get to spoil myself with things that strike my fancy. I am extremely privileged. Not everyone who joins OnlyFans (or any content creation site) makes great money. Sex work, like many other occupations, is mired in racism, colourism, and fatphobia.
And yet, people will still flock to sex work in the years to come as long as cost of living continues to outpace earnings and opportunities. This gives the companies benefitting from sex worker labour a dangerous amount of power. This is not so different from the millions earning minimum wage for powerful companies like Walmart or McDonalds, who can’t afford to quit because they need to pay rent or medical bills. Very few companies empower their labourers.
OnlyFans itself did not promote sex workers until after September 2021, when it received massive backlash for deciding to remove explicit content from its platform. I was already in the middle of plotting my exit to be December 2021. I did what I had set out to do. But not everyone has the same alternative options. Plenty of people who had come to rely on the brand-recognition of OnlyFans (shoutout to Beyoncé) scrambled to find better sites with more reliable and tolerant attitudes towards sex work.
Though OnlyFans reversed its decision, it was a wake-up call for everyone to not put all their eggs in one basket. But most importantly, it’s a reminder to others that labour issues impact us all. Many of us are one medical emergency or missed paycheck away from homelessness or GoFundme pages. The math is so simple that even I fully grasp it. From sex work to migrant farming to retail, if we don’t fundamentally root out wealth inequality, cycles of exploitation will continue to affect everyone.
Getting naked on the internet, for me, has laid bare just how crucial it is to set firm boundaries, speak up for yourself, and the importance of saying no. I may see the value in my time and work, but like any worker — sex, retail, childcare, service — employee, I am ripe for exploiting and lowballing. That’s why I live by this cardinal rule and try to impart it onto newbie sex workers and other creatives: know your worth and add tax. It’s a surefire way to discover who’s for you and who was never worth your time.