Hannah* had it all planned: The 22-year-old Torontonian was going to spend the summer working in a clothing store to pay down her student loans and save some money to go back to college. Then, COVID-19 hit. Like thousands of post-secondary students in Canada who lost their jobs because of the pandemic, she was left with very little income. “I was getting scheduled for four-hour shifts twice a week and that wasn't going to cover my living expenses. I knew I needed to find a second job until it blew over,” she tells Refinery29. “It never blew over.”
To help make ends meet, Hannah started camming: performing intimate sexual acts broadcasted over a webcam or phone camera to an online audience. She joined the platform OnlyFans, a video-sharing site that’s popular amongst sex workers and social-media influencers alike: subscribers pay money — from $5 to $50, more if they want private content — for monthly access to photos and videos.
Pre-coronavirus, the site, which was founded in 2016, had millions of subscribers tuning in to watch hundreds of thousands of X-rated influencers, like Dannii Harwood and Monica Huldt. Numbers skyrocketed in March when 60,000 creators and over 3 million new viewers signed up. “A lot of us are stuck at home right now and have bills to pay,” says Hannah, who lives with her mother, but helps pay their $1,200 (£705) rent and chips in for groceries. Since she started, Hannah has posted 13 videos and 19 photos of explicit self-pleasuring content and amassed nearly 75 subscribers, earning up to $1,500 (£882) a month, depending on tips. She’s also receiving the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit.
Refinery29 spoke with Hannah about her decision to start camming, what she loves (and hates) about it, and how COVID-19 has affected the future of her generation.
What did your job hunt at the start of the pandemic look like?
I was working in retail. Once we started losing all of our customers and my hours went down because of coronavirus, I was open to working at any other store that would remain open, but I live with my elderly mom who has COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease] so I didn’t want to work and possibly bring something back to her. And, I was also posting [this kind of] content for free on Twitter as a form of self-expression since 2016, so once most stores closed down and I knew I wasn't going to be working for a few months, I decided to finally start making money through this hobby.
How many hours a week do you spend on your videos?
No more than five hours a week. I only post once or twice a week, so I pre-record most of my content. It usually takes a couple hours to get ready. I shower, shave, apply tanner, and do my hair, makeup, and spend some time trying to put together new outfits. On top of that it can take another few hours to decide on some new concepts, get good shots, flattering poses. I shoot content myself with my own sex toys. If I'm doing actual nudity, I don't show my face. But if I'm giving just a teaser, which is where I film content that is less sexually graphic, I put my face in it. I recently got a ring light, which helps a lot, and I plan in the future to get someone to shoot for me.
I create my own rules, I express myself the way I want to, and it's not extremely time-consuming. If I do get called back to work, I plan on doing OnlyFans and work at the same time.
What do you enjoy about camming?
I've always found myself to be a bit more liberated than my friends or peers. I was never the type of girl to be afraid of showing off skin or being open about my sexuality. It's a thrill. I feel so badass and sexy. I love it so much. I love getting dressed up. I love getting pretty. I love all the compliments, shooting in itself is so fun because it’s all pleasure. And then getting to see how much other people enjoy it. That is my favourite part.
Is there anything you don’t like about it?
How much people expect from you. It can be a very demanding line of work and there's no way you can make all your followers happy. I also am not a fan of the negative comments I receive from other women about the choice I've made to be a cam girl. There is still a chunk of people who disagree with the idea of OnlyFans, so I have received and expect to receive more negative reactions.
Some of those critics may say camming is exploitative or anti-feminist. What’s your response to that?
I don't really get how it would be anti-feminist. I’m a feminist. The whole thing about feminism is that you're fighting for your rights to do what you want with your body and with yourself as a woman. That's the most important thing to me. Men were always allowed to express their sexual desires, in the sense that they were never judged for it.
Have you told your friends and family?
My friends and my co-workers know, and nobody had any negative opinions. Most people nowadays are more accepting towards things like this, which has made this journey a lot easier. My sister was indifferent. She didn’t say, “go for it,” or “I'm proud of you,'' but she understood it, considering what’s going on. My dad doesn't know, but my mom knows. Again, it was more of an understanding. It’s a difficult line of work to support your child through. If I had a kid I would support them no matter what, but I'd still want them to choose another path because so many people bring you down and dehumanise you. But it brought out a confidence that I didn't have before, so I think that makes them happy for me.
How do you ensure your interactions are safe?
Subscribers are paying money to see your content, so they don't intend on sending it out so others can have it for free. Your subscribers are very loyal and you find that you can trust them. There are always bad apples though, so I tell most girls not to include their face in their content or post anything personal if they are nervous about it. You are able to block users, and you don't have to converse with other users at all if that's what makes you feel safer.
How are your friends handling the economic fallout from COVID-19?
Most of my friends are doing summer school because it’s easy to go to class [online] when there’s nothing else to do. Most of them have applied for the Canadian Emergency Student Benefit. I have other friends who were trying to keep saving, so they could move out and start a life, but because COVID happened, they can’t. It’s holding everyone back. People are struggling...It’s also a mental-health thing; my friends are not as happy as they were.
Can you see yourself maintaining your OnlyFans account after the pandemic?
I definitely see myself doing this for a while no matter what comes next. Although it's a job, it's a fun one that makes me feel beautiful. It gives me a chance to be creative and be my own boss. I create my own rules, I express myself the way I want to, and it's not extremely time-consuming. If I do get called back to work, I plan on doing OnlyFans and work at the same time.
*Name has been changed for privacy. This interview was edited for length and clarity.