You’ve heard of social media “influencers,” but the newest generation of online celebrities are “sex influencers.”
They use subscription platforms like OnlyFans to successfully post sexual content online, but still face the stigmas that surround traditional sex work.
OnlyFans is a subscription-based social media platform that allows users to sell and buy original artistic and entertainment content – including sexually explicit adult content.
Users can pay a monthly fee to follow their favorite creators.
Sophie Pezzutto, a PhD student at the Australian National University who became a sex worker while writing her thesis, said sex workers use social media the same way other influencers do.
“Sex workers are in many ways like sex influencers in the sense that they use … social media but also the internet more broadly,” she said.
“I’ve spent time with food influencers. And shortly after that I was hanging out with porn actors. And really, what they do is very similar.
“They use social media extensively, they’re building a really large, global online following, and they have a brand.”
The popularity of subscription sites like OnlyFans has boomed throughout the pandemic, with more than 130 million people now on the platform.
Even celebrities like American rapper Cardi B and actress Bella Thorne create content on the platform.
The stigma of sex work remains
While subscription sites have increased the visibility and accessibility of online sex work, content creators still face malicious online trolling for what they do.
Diddly began posting Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) videos on YouTube and sexually explicit photos and videos on OnlyFans after struggling to find work while in college.
She said she faces online bullying on a daily basis.
“Someone online always has something to say about it,” she said.
“Another advantage is that I’m uneducated, I’m too stupid to do anything else.”
But it’s not just anonymous trolls who discriminate against people like Diddly.
She said she’s also faced obstacles trying to get trademark deals for her non-explicit content.
“Usually if a brand doesn’t want to work with you, they just don’t respond,” she said.
Diddly’s experience is common for sex workers.
A recent survey by the Scarlet Alliance, Australia’s largest sex worker advocacy group, found that 96 per cent of workers have faced discrimination because of their jobs.
Managing Director Jules Kim says there is still work to be done to reduce stigma, including online, as sex workers always have to explain themselves.
“We have to somehow justify why we’re doing what we’re doing,” she said.
“Often there are these ready-made answers that people have about why they might be doing sex work or selling photos, videos or other content online.”
Flexible life for online sex workers?
For Perth-based sex worker Fei Luna, becoming a “sex influencer” was life-changing.
Ms. Luna is a stripper at a Perth club and creates content for subscription site OnlyFans.
“I get to be with my daughter a lot more than I could if I work 40 hours a week and earn a portion of what I earn,” she said.
“I live in a beautiful house, I get to spend a lot more time with my family… I also get to spend a lot more time with my friends.
“Working in a club full of women is such a bonus.”
Over the past three years, Ms. Luna has garnered thousands of followers on multiple social media platforms by sharing her life as a sex worker.
“I post pretty much everything. I have a lot of people who ask for custom so I can do what they want if they have a specific niche or kink…” she said.
“But yeah, I do boy stuff, girl stuff; I have all of that.”
She said people underestimated the amount of work that went into building an online following.
“You have to post on Reddit, you have to post on Twitter, you have to have all these different accounts… it’s a lot of work,” she said.
“I gained like 10,000 followers just for being open and showing that human side of me, and the mom and the sex worker.”