So You Want To Start an OnlyFans

I’m not the only one who hears jokes about selling feet pics or needing an online sugar daddy, right? These remarks have become more common due to a few shifts in our social context: greater prevalence of non-traditional ‘gig’ employment; increasing financial strain; and (limited) destigmatization of online sex work to name a few.

But what does starting an OF or other online sex work endeavor actually mean in 2024?

I’m joined by lifestyle dominatrix, FemDom content creator, head of creator relations at YouPay, and friend, Victoria Silver to talk about this exact topic. I did online sex work in 2015, but my insights are limited because I left in 2017. Victoria’s here with the up-to-date knowledge we crave.

Sex work is work

The most common misconception about online sex work is that it’s easy money. Casual remarks about wanting to sell worn panties or feet pics miss the mark on sex work. It’s work. It’s a freelance operation with startup costs, administration, and labor requirements. Victoria says that, “we’re our own marketing team, hair and makeup, customer service, directors, editors, lighting directors, script writers, and stars. I’m running a one woman show, even if I make it look effortless.”

People often think the work is easy because of survivor bias and marketing. Sex workers market our lives as desirable and worthy of attention to promote ourselves. She notes that, “While much of the client-facing marketing may make it seem easy, luxurious, and lucrative, the reality is that for many people it takes effort and consistency to build an audience.

As with adjacent industries like streaming and content creation, the reporting bias favors those who make it. Even stories about sex work going badly fixate on the wild earnings from sex work compared to mainstream employment while exploring very real risks like ostracization and firing.

In reality, the median OF user makes approximately $180 per month (pre-tax). Which is way better than over 99% of MLM sellers who actively lose money. Still, $180/month isn’t exactly living large when you’re working multiple roles in a profession that is fireable on a good day.

Ultimately, online sex work is more akin to starting a small business than making easy money. You’ll wear many hats, pull long hours, and give away piles of emotional labor. If things go well, you’ll make your investment back and even find success.

The startup costs are substantial

In material terms, all you ‘need’ to start is a smartphone and an internet connection. Many people get their first experience when someone on a dating app solicits paid nudes. This fuels the impression that it’s easy to get into, but success is commensurate with investment.

The infamous ‘top 1%’ on seller sites budget hundreds on camera equipment, lighting, travel expenses, beauty, and AirBnB stays to keep their content fresh. And the top 0.1% are often crewed operations with paid camera operators, editors, and on screen partners. They won’t tell you how much investment is actually involved because our image is that of a candid and intimate experience. Clients are drawn in by the direct attention and parasocial relationships we present and it’s in our interest to not discuss the inner workings.

The most pressing startup costs are invisible. Victoria lists them as follows: “Potentially, your relationships, your housing, your “vanilla job”, your family and friends, and adds that “The cost of an 18 inch ring light, some Amazon lingerie, and a fresh set of nails doesn’t really compare to what you could lose if you’re doxxed. Unfortunately, I’m speaking from experience.”

Committing to online sex work means giving up some of our social safety. Each layer of protection we add (not showing face, limiting our audiences, manual verification) only improves privacy, but doesn’t guarantee it. As Victoria puts it, “Take everything with a grain of salt, and take every precaution possible.

Before starting, it’s imperative to consider the social and emotional risks of sex work. Victoria and I both take the out-and-loud approach that speaks openly and advocates for the profession. This places our employment prospects, relationships, and emotional well-being at risk. Being stealthy and upholding the secret isn’t free of costs either. But the decision is ours to manage.

Would you like to know more?

If you’re still here after the mythbusting session, then do have positives for you.

Online sex work is an accessible industry. The material requirements for starting up are low and scale up with your ambitions. The last few years have seen massive destigmatization of our profession and the gig economy isn’t going anywhere. The industry is a regulatory battleground, but we’ve never been stopped from working — just hindered.

There are also many avenues to starting out. Some of us began by posting nudes on Reddit/Twitter for fun and fielding requests for ‘custom content’. Others are solicited on dating apps and start after working through the initial revulsion of someone cold-calling us like that. Online personalities whose work emphasizes their appearance sometimes convert their followers into the first round of OnlyFans/Patreon clients.

No matter the starting point, the job is social and energy intensive in nature. Victoria says, “Not everyone is going to have the bandwidth or desire to interact with their followers and fans in the way this work often requires. Not everyone will want to promote their content on seven different forms of social media.”

I see the truth in that statement. The times I was most successful were the times I treated it as running a business. Coming at it from an organized angle helped me separate the work from my personhood. That’s imperative when your work is tied directly to who you are and what you look like.

The core tenets of freelancing are also necessary. In Victoria’s words: “It’s not a 9/5 with delineated roles and expectations: availability often translates to income, and luck plays a major part.”

And lastly, always find your herd. There’s always pressure working against us — even after we leave the industry. Making friends and being part of a community can give you a big safety blanket of expertise and comfort.

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Summer Tao

Summer Tao is a South Africa based writer. She has a fondness for queer relationships, sexuality and news. Her love for plush cats, and video games is only exceeded by the joy of being her bright, transgender self

Summer has written 38 articles for us.

1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this! I started online sw after in-person clients kept asking me to. It’s become fun now! Shameless plug, if it’s allowed:

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