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‘The lap dance of the Covid-19 pandemic’: Why paid-subscription porn platform OnlyFans is suddenly so popular

‘The lap dance of the Covid-19 pandemic’: Why paid-subscription porn platform OnlyFans is suddenly so popular
As social isolation prevents the pursuit of real-life physical relationships, welcome to our new, “digi-sexual” world. Sign up now, folks!

You may have heard a lot lately about a platform called Only Fans. Dubbed the “paywall of porn” by the New York Times, the site allows people to drop racy photos and videos for subscribers to enjoy in return for a fee ranging from $4.99 to $49.99 a month. And it seems to be having somewhat of a moment in lockdown quarantine, with the HuffPost reporting a 75 percent increase in sign-ups in recent weeks.

“People are currently deprived of opportunities to meet new people, date, many of us are deprived of the opportunity of physical touch and other opportunities for physical gratification,” Wednesday Martin, a cultural anthropologist and the author of ‘Untrue: Why Nearly Everything We Believe About Women, Lust, and Infidelity is Wrong and How the New Science Can Set Us Free,’ told RT.com.

“People are also deprived of tensional outlets for monogamy like having a happy ending massage, seeing an escort, and other things that may be quasi-acceptable ways to attain variety, novelty, and adventure.”

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One might wonder why anyone would choose to pay for nude photos and videos when there is so much free porn available. But while porn is more vicarious, OnlyFans fulfills a different fantasy: that of having a partner who shares erotic content explicitly with you.

“People can feel like they are in some type of a relationship that is more personal than watching a porn star,” Martin said. “People go to strip clubs and pay for a lap dance because they want to feel like they have a personal relationship with the dancer. OnlyFans is the lap dance of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Indeed, Emmy Elliot, a content creator who has been on the site for a year at the behest of her 333,000 Instagram followers, told me that she never sends anything that she would consider “porn,” but rather the kinds of photos and videos you’d send to a boyfriend to make things more “intimate and personal.”

Many of the most successful content creators make videos that are tailored specifically to the user’s desires. 

Albert, another content creator who lives in Asia, explained his modus operandi to me. “I fish people from Twitter with faceless pictures and videos, then they pay to see the face, see the ‘ending’ to videos and then they tip me within the platform to get specialized content like me moaning their username or something else they request,” he said. “A majority of the users do one month and then move on to a new person to follow. Some stay and try to have a special connection.”

Albert joined the platform shortly after losing his job in academia in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and has been surprised to find that the account has provided enough income to pay his rent. To that extent, one might argue that the platform provides a more ethical way of consuming pornography, while also enabling people to receive an income on their own terms during a time when unemployment is at a historic high. It can also be a thrilling and freeing experience for all parties involved.

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“I think OnlyFans initially became normalized due to some desperation at job loss or isolation boredom in quarantine,” Albert, who is in his 30s, said. “It doesn’t feel ‘slutty’ to me so much as liberating. And it’s nice to see people are still interested in me at my age.”

Elliot similarly said that she found the platform “empowering.”

“Life is short, and women using their looks to profit is a great feeling,” she said. “I don't think it should be that deep, just fun and light. But I don’t judge someone for not wanting to have an account. We all have our boundaries.”

Still, the popularity of the platform does beckon some questions as we all wonder what the future holds. We already live in a world where you can hire someone to be your boyfriend, so OnlyFans seems like the logical next step. As Martin notes, “Digisexuality is a very real part of our sexuality now.”

But it’s anyone’s guess if it’s just a useful outlet during a very stressful time, or a sign that virtual reality may really be replacing real-life intimacy. As one tech friend of mine once put it, “Why go through the hassle and instability of a relationship when you can be with a ScarJo lookalike on a VR headset and have complete control over what happens?”

I’m sure Scarlett Johansson would have her own views on that. For me, it beckons a rhetorical question I’ve often thought about: is it better to be happy in a fantasy or miserable in reality? It’s one we’ll all likely have to ask ourselves even after quarantine ends.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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