Issue 10

Commodification of Female Passing Bodies in the Age of OnlyFans

Madhulika Agarwal

With everything getting digitalised, sex work too is moving online, offering more liberty to the content creators of the same. However, a lot of conversation regarding online sex work focuses only on the progressive aspect of it, choosing to ignore the dangers that come associated with the same.

With the rise of on-demand services like Netflix for movies, Spotify for music, and Amazon for shopping, it was only a matter of time before similar services rose to occasion for adult entertainment. Unsurprisingly, paywalled platforms like Only Fans (OF), that provide content, including X-rated content, on subscription have witnessed a rise in their popularity. Sites like OF, that let creators regulate and keep 80 percent of the money earned from the viewership of their content, come as a fresh breath of relief in the porn industry that feeds off non-consensual streaming of videos. 

It is this reason that mainly adds to the appeal and makes OnlyFans one of the most popular source with sex workers, influencers, celebrities, and ordinary people alike, who consider it to be a more ethical outlet for the consumption and exchange of pornographic content. In this era of the gig economy, Only Fans might seem tempting as it has built a safer platform for providing nudity and selling sex related services, however, it is only liberating on the surface level. Services like OnlyFans are not as empowering as they seem. They encourage the commodification of women’s bodies under the pretense of providing the creators with the autonomy and agency of handling their own content. 

The fact that non-male passing bodies are treated as cashable objects is not news. Capitalism works insidiously and keeps innovating ways to keep monetizing bodies — services like OF not only perpetuate commercial commodification of sex and sex workers, but take it up a notch. The accessibility that OF provides normalises the idea of non-male bodies having to sell off their bodies in a way that adheres to the standard male gaze: in a survey collected by researchers Joshua Nichols, Marina Orrico, and Zahrina Jimenez, it was found out despite there being male content creators, it is only female passing bodies that are in greater demand, and sold at higher rates. OnlyFans has become so popular that it is now constantly referenced in pop-culture in passing. Even further popularised by celebrities like Cardi B, Beyonce, Megan Thee Stallion, and Belle Throne, Onlyfans’ growing fame and user base know no bounds. However, but it becomes especially harmful when teenagers on social media are being groomed on the internet to open an account the minute they turn 18. They are growing up in anticipation to come off age to be able to earn money using their pictures online. Normalisation of services like onlyfans perpetuates the idea of viewing one’s body as a money-making source. Teens have been lured to go out of their way to break and mend laws and post up their pictures online. 

An analysis by Facial recognition technology revealed that around a third of the users on different social media advertising explicit pictures of themselves are under 18. They generally use hashtags “nudes4sale” or “buymynudes”, as found out by the investigation. Of all the 7,728 profiles under these hashtags, more than 2,500 of them were of minors and people below a legal age of consent. The number has only grown since what was last calculated and explored in the new BBC three documentary, nudes4sale. This increasing number is dangerous to the underaged who are falling prey to cyber sexual harrasment. Pedophiles leech onto such sites, and force both adults and minors into indulging in pedophilic festish like dressing up in school uniforms and sexualising oneself. Teens have also become a target of pedophillia on Snapchat, another social media app, whose policies are lax when compared to OnlyFans.

One of the main reasons why OF is tempting is because of the convenience it allows. Onlyfans is open to any and every kind of service, it is mostly popular with X-rated content creators because it gives the impression of being a non-consequential, non-exploitative, and safe forum. Amy Brozovich also mentions this in her piece, that talks about the marxist ideas of prostitution. She says, that “contemporary sex work is born from and result in the same alienation and objectification from which capitalist wage labour is born.” By calling it a source that offers both sanity and assurity, two things that are one of the biggest criticisms of the porn and sex-traffiking industry at large, OnlyFans sets itself apart as a site that presents you with the opportunity of creating content from the comfort and privacy of your own bedroom, without having to worry about the shadiness of the situation. During the covid pandemic alone, the site saw a boom in its users by 75% globally, in its already existing 17.5 million user base and over 70,000 content creators. The “easy money” aspect and the appeal of the gig economy in a crisis that saw massive job losses only helped the matter. 

Sites like Onlyfans hide the labour and the usual conditions present for sexwork, in order to take that harassment online. OnlyFans and explicit content websites use marketing strategies appeal to the third wave feminists that equate sex work to wage work. This makes it easy for the general public to ignore and never acknowledge the vulnerability of the service.

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