Limerick Voice speaks to local women who have been selling provocative photographs and explicit videos of themselves on a new social platform called OnlyFans.com.
*The names of the women have been changed to protect their identity. Their full names are with the editor.
OnlyFans is a website that allows users to create and post content, accessible only to subscribers who pay a monthly subscription.
A recent UK survey of students found that one in 25 undergraduates have tried adult work, including selling intimate photos, used clothing, webcamming and ‘sugaring’ (dating older men for money).
This was double the proportion of UK students who reported engaging in sex work in 2017. An additional six percent of students said they would try adult work if they needed emergency cash.
While there is no data for Irish students, trends on Twitter suggest that the accessibility and widespread popularity of OnlyFans has drawn young Irish women into this new form of sex work.
Subscribers of the site have to pay a monthly subscription which the user sets themselves.
Sarah*, a Clare native and former Limerick School of Art and Design (LSAD) student, is just one of thousands of women using the site.
“I just wanted to make money. That’s all I wanted to do”, the 20-year-old said, speaking to Limerick Voice.
Sarah’s 67 subscribers pay €15 a month to view her explicit content, leaving her with €800 after OnlyFans take their 20 percent cut.
Her friend Aisling (20),* charges €17 a month per subscriber: “More than a Netflix subscription!”
The subscription,however, isn’t the most lucrative element of the platform; “I make all of my money off tips,” Aisling explained.
Tips are paid by subscribers for additional explicit photos.
She told Limerick Voice she posts “suggestive pictures” or “snippets of videos” on her profile, with men having to pay extra to see more; “I’d sell a two minute long video for about €80, so if there are three people looking for that video… that’s €240.”
Both women take requests from subscribers, but insisted they don’t do anything they’re not comfortable with.
“I do draw lines,’’ Aisling said.
What started as a gig to earn a little extra money while job-hunting, quickly became a source of steady income for the women.
“When I saw how much I could make I thought, ‘I’m very comfortable doing this. I don’t want to get another job.”
However, the women’s motivations for using the site have changed over time.
“When I started doing it, it was just for the money. But now that I’m doing it, I actually enjoy it” Aisling admitted.
“There’s a little bit of validation that comes with it,” Sarah added.
Some subscribers become very attached to the women they follow. Aisling said one man has “easily” sent her €400 or more in the last few months. “He’s just in love with me for some reason,” she said.
One of the most controversial aspects of the site is that subscribers can remain anonymous. While both women admitted to feeling unsettled by the anonymity afforded by the site, in some ways it protects the users too.
“I’d rather it be anonymous, because I’ve no idea who it is, it could be someone I know but I’ve no idea,” Sarah said.
“It’s not as personal when it’s just a few numbers coming up,” Aisling continued.
The anonymity may make it less personal for the girls, but the intimacy of OnlyFans is what they feel makes it popular in an era of free and widely available porn.
“When you’re watching porn, you don’t know the person. Now everyone knows a girl who’s doing an OnlyFans. If it’s someone you know, or it’s a girl in your area… it’s so much more personal,” Sarah said.
The way the young women paint it, the idea of swapping your part-time job for taking topless selfies can seem enticing, but it’s not without its downsides.
“I’ve had like four maybe five people say they want to rape me, just because I wouldn’t do what they wanted,” she confided.
Both girls are inspired by a Belfast based user who claims to make between €2,000 and €3,500 a month on the site.
But as her popularity and income skyrocketed, so did the negatives, the Belfast girl warned.
She also revealed how she had been contacted by one user who said that he could send her photos to her father for just $15.
The Belfast girl said it put her off, but didn’t stop her; “I didn’t post anything too bad on the account for about a month after that… kind of just risque underwear pictures and whatnot.
Nothing ever came of it.” Her father still doesn’t know about the site.
Meanwhile, Sarah decided to tell her mother after she grew suspicious of her daughter’s source of income.
After a few weeks of avoiding her mother’s questions she came clean; “I asked her; ‘What’s the one thing you wouldn’t want me to make money off of?’ and she said ‘Drugs.’ I said ‘No, something else to do with my body…”
After explaining her line of work, her Mam told her she was “disappointed but [she’s] not ashamed” of her.
Sarah doesn’t regret telling her Mother about her work; “I can pay the rent and I can buy the shopping for my sisters. I can help them out, I just wanted to tell [my Mother] that I can support her.”
The Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) said while social welfare remains low and rents remain high, many young people will take up this type of work to make ends meet
“Increasingly, support from SWAI is sought around issues in this area,” they said.
“This is ideal for students who already are strapped for time due to their studies.”
SWAI said they will be hosting a drop-in in Dublin on December 6th where users can meet each other, share knowledge and get support.
Limerick Voice 2019 newspaper is available today in all copies of the Limerick Leader.