OnlyFans creators have found unexpected confidants in a lonely world: their paying subscribers

  • Adult-content creators on OnlyFans can face stigma and judgment because of their work.

  • As a result, some build relationships with fans, blurring the line between clients and friends.

  • Despite challenges, many creators said the high incomes they earned kept them on OnlyFans.

When Rae Richmond started posting adult content on OnlyFans, she thought she knew what she was getting into. After all, she'd spent over six months researching the platform and the potential consequences of building a business there. But what she ended up facing was worse than she'd expected.

When one acquaintance from the small Southern town she grew up in found out about her OnlyFans, they doxxed her in a Facebook post, revealing her stage name and real name. (Like Richmond, the creators referenced in this story use stage names to protect their privacy.)

After that, dozens of other people — some of whom she'd known for decades — began criticizing her on social media and messaging her privately. She recalled getting called "a whore, a sinner," and being told she was "serving Satan" and "going to hell."

It was a "mob mentality," Richmond said.

"They really just attacked me personally," Richmond said. "Their idea was that I couldn't possibly have made a business decision to do this on my own, that my boyfriend must have coerced me, or he must have drugged me."

OnlyFans creators can build large incomes with adult content — in 2022, the last time company data was made public, payments made on the platform amounted to over $5.6 billion. But creators often also have to deal with stigma, judgment from their loved ones, and difficulty building real-life relationships. Some of them have reported losing their jobs, being barred from church, and having their children expelled from school.

"The stigma associated with sex work creates massive difficulties for sex workers," said Pani Farvid, an associate professor and the director of the SexTech Lab at The New School in New York. "Workers, rather than clients, bear the brunt of the stigma associated with the sex industry, and are positioned as the social or moral 'problem.'"

Feeling isolated, some creators find themselves building connections with their subscribers, blurring the line between customers and friends.

"There's a degree of human connection and relationship involved in the creator and fan interaction," OnlyFans CEO Keily Blair recently told the FT. "That's what sets us apart from a lot of other platforms."

Despite the downsides, many creators say what keeps them on OnlyFans is the life-changing amount of money that can result from it. But it can be a risky bet. The idea that posting a couple of revealing pictures will make you rich is far from reality.

"A lot of people think they can just start an OnlyFans as a nobody online," said Kaitlyn Siragusa, a superstar gamer and OnlyFans creator known online as Amouranth, who has made millions on the platform. "But OnlyFans doesn't have discovery. You'd basically just be uploading pictures of yourself and no one would be able to see it except the people around you who happen to know. And that's not necessarily a good thing."

"Then your social circle is impacted and potentially your employment situation," she added. "You'll make no money and have fewer options than before."

OnlyFans creator Rae Richmond smiling in front of a wall of leaves and flowers. She wears a pink top.
Rae Richmond said she's faced backlash from friends and acquaintances after she began posting content on OnlyFans.Courtesy of Rae Richmond

Chatting with subscribers is part of the job — but sometimes, fans become confidants

Richmond's loss of friendships due to OnlyFans cut deep.

"The one girl who had been my friend since birth came to me and basically said that I was going to hell," Richmond said.

OnlyFans creators who spoke with BI said that losing friends and even family members was something adult-content creators often had to come to terms with.

"We are so marginalized by society," OnlyFans creator Elaina St James previously told BI. "I've lost a lot of friends. I've lost all my family. My sisters have nothing to do with me because of what I do for a living. So we can be lonely too."

Even beyond adult content, creators face an intrinsic element of loneliness. Like other influencers and freelancers, OnlyFans creators often shoot, edit, and post their content alone at home. This can increase the chances of feeling burned out and lonely.

"This type of business can be isolating," St James said. "We work so much there isn't much time for anything else."

Connecting with fans can be a way to ease the feeling of loneliness. For many creators, a big chunk of the work on OnlyFans is a constant, direct interaction with fans via a chat function. While the platform is known primarily as a subscription service, "microtransactions" — like custom content, direct messages, and tips — are popular ways to earn money, too. Several creators told BI that interactions with fans in direct messages sometimes overtook subscriptions as far as revenue, and that they spent up to eight hours a day chatting.

When creators spend so much time messaging fans, the lines between being at work and messaging a friend can blur. Liensue, a creator known primarily for her cosplay content, previously told BI that she'd come to consider her relationships with some fans "a kind of friendship" built on "the mutual trust of chatting every evening."

"I often seek out my fans to give me advice," she said. "I talk about my insecurities. It just feels right."

Creator Isla Moon said she felt "abandoned" after one of her most regular chatters unsubscribed from her page unexpectedly.

"You build that relationship, and when they leave, it's like, why is it feeling like a breakup? I literally cried over a fan just leaving my page. It was so weird," she said.

And Cherie DeVille, who had been a mainstream sex worker for a decade before joining OnlyFans, said the relationships she'd built with her subscribers on the platform were unlike any others in her previous work. When she found out a loyal fan had died from cancer, she couldn't contain her tears.

"OnlyFans is really different; it's really real," she previously said, comparing it to her other adult-content work. "You get to know people."

Elaina St James
Elaina St James said she'd lost relationships with family and friends due to her work on OnlyFans.Courtesy of Elaina St James

A customer, a boyfriend, or a bit of both?

Amber Sweetheart doesn't have a boyfriend. What she does have are four paying online "boyfriends" she chats with on OnlyFans. On any given day, the creator spends up to eight hours chatting with them, discussing anything from her plans for the day to more intimate conversations — in exchange for a fee.

Sweetheart previously said over half of the millions she'd made in OnlyFans revenue came from direct messaging, and that her job left her little time and motivation to engage with potential partners outside work.

"I think a lot of men would struggle with it, the money situation, the content that's out there. I just want to save the hassle," she previously said. "If I dated in real life, it would be hard to not be viewed as some sort of porn star, or a sex kitten or whatever."

Like with other types of sex work, navigating OnlyFans can be difficult in a traditional monogamous relationship. A 2022 study surveying over 200 sex workers found that many of them faced negative consequences in their romantic relationships because of their jobs. Some of them even kept it secret from their partner.

"It can be pretty tricky for women sex workers to navigate a typical committed relationship with a man," Farvid said.

Sweetheart said the connection she'd built with some subscribers was enough to keep her going without a real-life partner.

"I get some sexual interaction, I get some emotional interaction, I get some support," she said. "Maybe if I didn't have that, I would be more keen to date someone in real life."

Farvid and Marie Lippmann, an associate professor of psychology at California State University, Chico, both said there's a lack of research on the types of connections creators can build with their subscribers on OnlyFans.

"A lot of sex workers are very clear about their boundaries, and even when they're socializing or talking to clients on social media, they see this as a form of immaterial digital labor," Farvid said. "If the intimacy is happening outside of the purview of the job, that's interesting. It may have to do with the mainstreaming of OnlyFans, which attracts diverse people. OnlyFans is also more similar to social networking, which probably offers greater opportunity for intimacy building."

What's clear is that there's a commercial aspect incentivizing intimacy. Ultimately, the relationship is built on a monetary transaction. Creators told BI that they prioritized chatting with the fans who spend the most money, most regularly.

"It's complicated, it is a big thing," Liensue said. "How would I name those relationships? Are they friendships, are they not? How do you actually classify them? It gets messed up with the financial part behind it."

OnlyFans creator Liensue sitting on a furry blanket.
Liensue, a creator known for her cosplay content, said she's built relationships with her fans that she considers akin to friendships.Courtesy of Liensue

The money is what makes OnlyFans 'just so worth it'

Many creators said money was the key factor that kept them on OnlyFans despite the stigma. At the end of the day, it's work.

"This is one industry where women earn a lot more money than men and have that capacity to get a lot of economic capital under their belt," Farvid said. "Being a sex worker is hard work. But if it's lucrative enough, I think many of us can see why one would put up with the challenges or could put up with the challenges."

Isla Moon, for example, has set a goal for herself that she feels justifies the work: $100,000 a month. In 2023, her revenue was $4 million, meaning she more than doubled her monthly goal.

"That amount is just so worth it," she said.

For those with children or families to support, money earned on OnlyFans can help create college funds and build a more stable future.

"I can finally envision retirement and giving my son a better life, with a chance of leaving him an inheritance after I'm gone. I had none of that before OF," said St James, who is 56 and had made over half a million dollars on the platform as of 2023, after a lifetime of white-collar jobs.

Just how much money is enough to justify the judgment from society is a personal consideration. For Emme Witt, an author who quit OnlyFans after a few years of posting, the $4,000 a month she was making didn't outweigh the fear of the stigma her children would face if someone found out about her adult content.

"I spoke to one creator who makes $500,000 a year on the platform. It's just unbelievable. She's totally out. And I'm envious. That's great money, but I'm not envious of her life," Witt said. She added she wanted to avoid situations where her kids would say, "Oh, my friend saw your porn, mom."

For some, it's fundamentally a question of how high their earnings go. Siragusa made over $57 million in gross revenue on the platform between 2020 and 2024.

"There's a certain amount of money where people are just impressed," she said. "They stop looking at it as, 'Oh, you're just a slut.' They're just like, 'Good for you.'"

"That money is what changes people's perception of it," she continued.

Read the original article on Business Insider