Beyond the Glamour: The Psychological Strain Of OnlyFans Success
There are significant psychological and sociocultural risks associated with making a living selling explicit content to fans.
By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | April 23, 2023
The Covid-19 pandemic led to a change in how sexually explicit content is produced and consumed, with OnlyFans emerging as a prominent platform in this conversation. To grasp the impact OnlyFans has had on our culture, think about the last time you heard someone say something like:
- "My pay raise is so meager. I might have to resort to starting an OnlyFans to make ends meet."
- "She makes so much money on OnlyFans. Maybe I should start one too."
- "OnlyFans is so empowering to women. You aren't being exploited by men like women in mainstream porn are."
While some of these statements may be made tongue-in-cheek, they reflect a shift in how we think about sexually explicit material. OnlyFans and similar platforms have been touted as a symbol of empowerment for content creators, many of whom are female.
With so much attention being paid to such platforms, it's important to consider the benefits and drawbacks of this new trend and understand the psychology at play.
Here are three research-backed insights to help gain perspective on OnlyFans and its place in modern society.
#1. Female creators on OnlyFans face harsher consequences compared to male creators
A 2021 study found that society perceives women who are engaged in sex work in a more negative light than their male counterparts. Specifically, the researchers discovered that a woman's choice to involve herself in sex work made her a target for harassment, dehumanization, and prejudice.
The study found that these sentiments were echoed by both women and men, but men were more likely, compared to women, to dehumanize female content creators.
To drive this point home, in 2022, a 20-year-old man drove to an OnlyFans creator's house and broke in to film her as she slept. When he was apprehended, he claimed that she "wanted a man to be obsessed with her and stalk her."
Although we don't know all the details, the line between reality and fiction is deliberately blurred on platforms like OnlyFans, where the perceived intimacy is easily misconstrued as reality by the fans.
#2. Sex work is linked to a higher prevalence of mental health issues
Creating sexually explicit material for an income is sex work, and the mental health challenges that come with this line of work are well-documented.
A 2022 study published in Sexuality and Culture found that sex workers were likely to internalize the stigma associated with sex work and feel lonelier as a result. The participants of the study, mostly women, also had low levels of mental well-being.
Although external stigma may potentially be lower for creators on OnlyFans and other platforms compared to in-person sex workers, loneliness and poor mental well-being are not linked to external stigma alone. Based on the transactional nature of creating sexually explicit material, it is possible that the stigma associated with producing such content seeps into the creators' everyday lives, isolating them and worsening any symptoms of anxiety and depression.
#3. OnlyFans content creators may be under pressure to create sexually explicit content
A 2021 report released by The Avery Center, an NGO that aims to empower victims of commercial sex trafficking, found that 30% of the OnlyFans content creators they surveyed had received emails and notifications from the platform informing them that their profile would be taken down if they didn't post new content.
Six percent of the respondents disclosed to The Avery Center that they felt they had very little control over what they created and how the material was used, as they had traffickers who managed their accounts for them. And, more than half of the respondents felt that the platform was not doing enough to screen the accounts of creators and subscribers.
Moreover, 34% of the creators surveyed said that they experienced negative physical or mental health consequences. According to the report, some of the common mental health outcomes of the pressure to create included anxiety, depression, shame, fear, and low self-esteem.
OnlyFans is a platform that blends social media with pornography. While such platforms have become normalized in our society, we may not fully understand their psychological impact on content creators and society as a whole. While there is a range of content available on OnlyFans, it's primarily used as an intimate, personalized pornography medium. It is important to consider all of the implications before embracing it as a mainstream vehicle of female empowerment or dismissing it as a destructive result of the tumultuous year that was 2020.