You’ve heard of social media “influencers,” but the latest breed of online celebrities are “sex influencers.”
They use subscription platforms like OnlyFans to successfully post sexual content online, but still face the stigma surrounding traditional sex work.
OnlyFans is a subscription-based social media platform where users can 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 dissertation, said sex workers use social media in the same way as other influencers.
“Sex workers are, in many ways, like sex influencers in the sense that they…take advantage of social media, but also the internet more broadly,” she said.
“I hung out with food influencers. And soon after, I hung out with porn performers. And really, what they do is very similar.
“They use social media extensively, they create a huge following online globally and they have a brand.”
The popularity of subscription sites, such as OnlyFans, has exploded throughout the pandemic, with more than 130 million people now on the platform.
Even celebrities, like American rapper Cardi B and actress Bella Thorne, are creating 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 vicious 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 was bullied online daily.
“Someone online always has something to say about it,” she said.
“Another good thing is that I’m uneducated, I’m too stupid to be able to do anything else.”
But it’s not just anonymous trolls discriminating against people like Diddly.
She said she also encountered obstacles trying to secure branding deals for her non-explicit content.
“Usually when 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 sex worker advocacy group, found that 96% of sex workers experience discrimination because of their work.
Chief executive Jules Kim says there is still a lot of work to be done to reduce stigma, including online, with sex workers still having to explain themselves.
“We have to somehow justify why we do what we do,” she said.
“Most of the time, people have ready-made answers about why they might work in sex or sell photos, videos or other content online.”
A flexible life for online sex workers?
For Perth-based sex worker Fei Luna, becoming a “sexfluencer” has changed her life.
Ms Luna is a stripper at a club in Perth and creates content for subscription site OnlyFans.
“I can be with my daughter a lot more than I could when I was working 40 hours a week and earning part of what I was earning,” she said.
“I can live in a nice house, I spend a lot more time with my family…I also spend a lot of time with my friends.
“Working at a club full of women is such a bonus.”
Over the past three years, Ms. Luna has gained thousands of followers on several social media platforms by sharing her life as a sex worker.
“I post just about anything. I have a lot of people asking for customization, so I can do whatever they want if they have a certain niche or a certain inclination…” she said. declared.
“But yes, I do stuff with boys, stuff with girls, I have all that.”
She said people underestimated the amount of work it takes to create 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’ve gained about 10,000 subscribers just by being open and showing that human side to me and the mother and sex worker.”