When women are portrayed as sex objects in media, it enforces the idea that women are “less than.” This normalizes further exploitation and harm to women, to the point of sexual violence.
The exploitation of women in media to please the male gaze is an ongoing issue. According to the 2019 Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, in the 100 highest-grossing films of 2018, women actors (even those portraying teenagers) were about four times as likely to be dressed in revealing clothes or in the nude compared to male actors. They were also approximately five times more likely to have their attractiveness commented on in the film.
Some women are making money off this desire for sexualized female bodies. One way they’re doing this is through the popular online platform OnlyFans.
The revolution of OnlyFans sex work
OnlyFans is a subscription-based platform where creators can have their content behind a paywall and fans pay for access. Celebrities and influencers use the site to share their content such as workouts, recipes and art. However, sex workers have been key in OnlyFans’ spike in popularity.
More than 150 million people are registered users on OnlyFans, with more than 1.5 million as content creators. The site was created in 2016, rising in popularity through the COVID-19 pandemic when many sex workers lost their jobs and had to transition to an online platform.
Autonomy and safety in sex work
OnlyFans allows a level of autonomy and safety that is not often guaranteed in sex work. Women are able to choose what, when and how much to share with their clients. They also do not have to meet with any clients face to face.
A British study that interviewed prostitutes found half of those working outdoors quarter of those working indoors had reported experiencing violence from a client within the six months prior to the study. Many strippers experience verbal, physical, and sexual abuse from customers; in a survey of 18 women who stripped, 100 per cent of them experienced all three types of abuse during their time stripping. There are often no consequences for perpetrators of the abuse and there is a mentality that abuse is a “part of the job.”
In the same study, 100 per cent of the women who stripped reported that they had been asked for sex by a customer. I’m sure it is hard to set boundaries as a woman in sex work in a face-to-face setting, where abuse and violence are all too common.
OnlyFans is not without its problems; the website requires workers to attach their legal identification to their accounts, as there have been reports of security problems and leaks. However, it does allow the worker to be physically separated from a client. Plus, they are not subject to additional pressure from owners, staff or managers — like they would be in a strip club or brothel. Thus, online platforms like OnlyFans typically give women the safety and security to make their own decisions and boundaries.
Backlash and slut shaming
Many content creators have other non-sex work jobs and careers, but use OnlyFans to make some extra money. These women are often at risk of slut shaming and losing their job if someone finds out about their side hustle.
Lauren Caitlyn Kwei, a paramedic using OnlyFans as a side job to make ends meet, had her name and place of work released in a New York Post article. This happened despite her wishes to remain anonymous, due to concerns about losing her job. In the same article, another paramedic is quoted saying, “Other EMTs and paramedics make more money by pulling extra shifts, instead of pulling off their clothes.” This paramedic — left unnamed — is clearly slut shaming Kwei.
Kwei’s wishes were completely disrespected and her job was put in jeopardy because of slut shaming. This is not an isolated incident — teachers, nurses, theme park employees and more have been fired or had their careers put on the line due to people finding out about their OnlyFans account.
Women are constantly exploited, with the female body being objectified and sexualized in the media. However, when women embrace their sexuality through sex work and OnlyFans, they are often brutally slut shamed and risk losing any other jobs they hold. As a woman, it is extremely frustrating to see this duality.
We need to reconsider our societal stance on sex work and OnlyFans and reflect on why so many are quick to judge these women. To me, it feels like lingering remnants of a history rich with misogyny and the oppression of women, where any autonomy and embracing of female sexuality by women are scorned. I think if women are comfortable making money off their sexuality, power to them.