If you’re under 33 years old – or a regular reader of this website – you’re well aware of OnlyFans and the tentacle-like reach it has with the young adults of the English-speaking world. If you’re over 33 years old, and don’t read this website, odds are you’ve still never heard of the site. I don’t think in all of my time paying attention to social Internet trends I’ve ever seen such a black-and-white cut-off point, including early Facebook and Snapchat. There are no shades of gray when it comes to people knowing or not knowing about OnlyFans.
In a nutshell, OnlyFans is a bulletin-board style website where a user subscribes to a content creator’s page, usually between $5 and $30 per month. Once accessed, the page features photos and videos posted by the creator. The vast, vast, vast majority of these subscriber pages belong to young women making pornography in the comfort of their own home. They can make their content as tame or racy as they want. Creators also have the option to charge additional for “exclusive” photos or videos, and to charge for exchanging messages with users. While the corporate company obviously pushes the platform as a great place for indie musicians, artists and other people who have content to sell the world, it is currently synonymous in young adult culture with pornography.
My latest book (now available on Kindle) was a look at how the first few months of the COVID-19 virus radically changed the landscape of online pornography and how it was going to be the roughest challenge to pornography addiction stats that we’ve faced. I spoke with addicts who faltered in quarantine, those who were doing well, people who were veteran and rookie cam room models on well-established websites and several therapists and professionals. There was one chapter about OnlyFans, but I read it now and am embarrassed. I have learned so much in the four months since I wrote the book as that website has continued to explode. You should still buy the book anyway.
In the book, I focused on the millions of people who were flocking to the site to suddenly see the girl or guy next door get naked online. I knew there would be a bump in consumers, and with the stay-at-home mandate of the quarantine, there would be more people experimenting with making pornography. I had no idea, and would never have guessed, just how big it was going to get.
I think the grim reality of the explosion of the site is far more prominently displayed in the numbers of producers flocking to try the make-it-yourself porn industry. A couple of different sources, mostly notably The Sun newspaper in Britain (August 2020) have quoted 50 million users (up from 8 million in July 2019) it’s the statistics involving new pornography creators that are truly shocking.
In July 2019, OnlyFans CEO Tim Stokely was quoted giving that 8 million statistic. At the time he also shared there were 70,000 content creators. A couple of months earlier, in April 2019, he said that there were roughly 3,000 creators joining the site weekly. If you extrapolate that to when I’m writing this in last few days of August 2020, it means that according to his 2019 statistics, there should have been 174,000 creators by the end of that year. In 2020, up to this point, there should have been another 104,000.
By Stokely’s projections, there should currently be 288,000 content creators on OnlyFans. The Sun reported on August 20 that there were 660,000 creators worldwide (100k being British) and on August 26, Yahoo Money said there are 700,000 content creators. The numbers have been increasing at between double and triple the rates the CEO predicted…and you know he’s always going to present a rosy outlook.
I think The Sun and Yahoo Money statistics may even be under-reported. In April 2020, Stokely told Buzzfeed News that the site had 7,000 to 8,000 new creators every day (double their WEEKLY onboarding just 13 months earlier). That’s 49,000 to 56,000 people – almost exclusively woman in the 18-to-25 age group who have never made porn before – flocking to OnlyFans weekly. Can you imagine going from 3,000 to 50,000 weekly sign-ups in just 13 months?
In early May 2020, it was reported the total creator number was at 450,000. If 50,000 are joining every week on average, and the 450K number was thrown out 17 weeks before I write this, it is more than likely there have been 750,000 to 850,000 NEW content creators who have joined and we are sitting at a number of total content creators at somewhere between 1.2 and 1.3 million. Even if things have slowed down since that May 2020 quote, it’s hard to believe there are under a million total content creators.
Ask somebody in their early 20s if they know about OnlyFans. They’ll laugh and probably admit they know about it. Ask if they know anybody creating content. If they say no, they’re probably hiding somebody’s secret, or they don’t know the secrets of at least one friend. I asked my 21-year-old daughter who has some of the nicest, normal friends I’ve met (although there are probably some on the fringes she hasn’t introduced) and she said she knows three girls creating content, ranging from mostly bikini photos to hardcore pornography. All of them made over $2,000 in their first month, one made over $3,000 her first weekend.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a new genre of pornography – “Hey, I Know that Person! Pornography” is now a real thing. I had a guy living across the hall from me at one of my attempts at college who got very excited when a former high school friend of his was featured in one of Playboy’s college girls editions back in 1996. He was disappointed when the photo was of her in a small bikini playing frisbee with a couple of friends. This guy would have patiently waited for OnlyFans for 25 years.
So who cares? Technically, in April 2019 there was one model for every 21 users on OnlyFans. Today, there is only 1 for every 50 users. Couldn’t an argument be made that demand is not keeping up with supply? From a strict economics point-of-view, perhaps, but from a public health standpoint, I think we’re looking at a new can of worms.
We can conservatively estimate that 10 million of OnlyFans’ 50 million users have some kind of issue, if not full-blown addiction with pornography. The skewing of younger users makes me feel very confident at putting a 20% figure on this assumption based on the data about addiction rates that have been out there for years. This many addicts is a scary, scary thought. The fact that probably 95% of them never had any warnings about developing a porn addiction before it happened is downright tragic. I feel their pain and it’s a big reason that I’m out there writing books, doing podcasts and spreading the word as much as I can. But this is not about them.
There are a lot of reasons people have been giving for decades about why others shouldn’t watch pornography and while they are almost always extremely valid, I’ve yet to see one that truly works. The reality is, the consumers of pornography don’t care if the performers are using drugs to get through a scene. They don’t care if the performers are being trafficked. They don’t care about statistics regarding feminism and objectification. Porn consumption figures would have dropped over the years if these were effective arguments. The figures have gone the other way. Addicted consumption or recreational, we’re looking at more porn than ever.
These arguments are also going to receive bigger blows to their impact because of the people who are joining OnlyFans. I have no idea how many people work in what’s remaining of the real California porn industry, but I know it’s been dropping mightily over the years. If I were to guess, there’s probably a couple thousand “professional” pornographers left who are the ones stacking the shelves with DVDs at the adult bookstore. They are an endangered species is our online DIY porn world of 2020.
The stereotype of the drug-addict, dead-behind-the-eyes kind of woman with daddy issues who becomes a professional porn star is quickly being replaced by the waitress, bartender or administrative assistant who is making porn as a side hustle. We’re now in the world of the gig economy and many people have 3-4 part-time/independent contractor jobs. It gets more difficult to lament the poor women who are basically forced into porn when you’ve got thousands willingly joining the ranks who are well-adjusted normal people from middle and upper class families every day.
Aside from the pandemic, how did this happen? From talking to a few people who have OnlyFans pages to better understand, I’ve come to a simple conclusion. The under 30 group, the ones that grew up with the Internet and a level of pornography access unimagined by previous generations simply don’t have the stigma attached to nudity and/or pornography of those who didn’t come of age online.
When I was in high school, there was no sexting. We didn’t have cell phones so nude pictures weren’t circulating. We didn’t have Instagram so you didn’t know what every girl or guy looked like in their skimpy beachwear. I graduated in 1994, not 1974. I’m only 44 years old now. The evolution of pornography access and attitudes has been at warp speed.
And now, I’m hearing all of the typical “What happens when those pictures resurface?” rhetoric directed at the content creators, but I wonder if that’s going to actually matter in 20 or 30 years. If hundreds of thousands of young adults joining the ranks of the make-it-at-home porn world becomes the norm, will it even be a taboo thing that somebody can find a picture of you without clothes out there in 2040?
No, I’m not worried about the photos resurfacing. I’m worried about what we don’t know, and my biggest question of the last few months is – if pornography consumption can become an addiction, could pornography creation? Is there going to be a segment of today’s 25-year-old OnlyFans creators who are still making the stuff at 45, or 55, because they can’t stop? When somebody is told they are beautiful and are given money, it’s just a business transaction for many creators – for others, it’s affirmation. Some of the cam girls I talked to in writing my last book talked about how great the money is, but how they feel like better people now because of the ego boost it has given them. How is that not just a shot of dopamine? I’m guessing the thinking goes something like: I want to be called beautiful. The people who call be beautiful have seen all of my content. I must make more, so I do. They call me beautiful and give me $10 each. Dopamine hit.
I always say that we have been mostly reactive to pornography addiction in the interviews I give and we need to be proactive. We now have 20-25 years of data of what Internet pornography consumption can do to a population and we’re just scratching the surface of learning the fallout. We have no data on pornography creation. It’s only really a few months old as a mainstream phenomenon.
And what about those who do stop? Could they develop PTSD, disassociation, depression or other mental health issues years or decades after they’re no longer making porn? Will we have a significant percentage of future generations walking around with regret and shame for what they did? Could this be a cause of future trauma? It seems likely…but we just don’t know.
I miss interacting with real people at libraries, schools or other places that I’ve given presentations about pornography addiction, but I’m seriously wondering if I now have to start throwing the idea out there that pornography addiction could potentially extend to the creators. I offer no judgment, shame or any negative feelings to anybody who consumes or produces pornography, but have we just simply discovered the other side to the porn addiction consumer coin?