[1/19/20] – OnlyFans and Normalizing Sex Work

Millions of Americans are unemployed, and even more are underemployed resulting in a generation of workers seeking something more. In the modern gig economy, picking up a 2nd (or 5th) job to support yourself and your family is hardly unique. What is unique, however, is one opportunity that (given the stigmatizing nature of the content produced) is generating a great deal of backlash among Americans. OnlyFans is a site where anyone can produce and share content with subscribers. Typically, the content is explicit and once made public can generate a host of negative outcomes for the creator. Lauren Caitlyn Kwei is one of those creators and last month the 23-year-old paramedic living in NYC was doxed by the New York Post, but she is hardly the first and certainly won’t be the last. In our 1st Lecture Spark, we turn our attention to virtual sex work, economic instability, and stigmatization of sex work(ers) and use sociological concepts like deviance, stereotypes, and meritocracy to unravel the social tapestry that facilitates the prejudicial treatment of people trying to make ends meet during a pandemic.

Download the PowerPoint Lecture Spark for OnlyFans and Normalizing Sex Work

Learning Objectives

LO1: Discuss how the pandemic has changed norms surrounding and guiding normative work habits and roles. 

LO2: Analyze the role of stereotypes related to sex work in guiding public response to OnlyFans performers being doxed.

LO3: Summarize arguments for and against engaging in OnlyFans performance as a means of survival in American culture. 


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Onlyfans is a membership platform that allows users to pay and subscribe to their favorite influencer/adult performer. Since its inception, professional and amateur performers have flocked to the site in an effort to capitalize off of their homemade sex tapes and nudes. Meet Jose. Jose is a student and sex worker who uses his OnlyFans account as a way to make extra cash while working his way through school. In the beginning, Jose used social media as a way to explore his sexuality and to find ‘like-minded freaks.’ However, he soon realized how to use his platforms to break stigma and advocate for others like him.

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OnlyFans is a platform that has gained mainstream notoriety and attention this past year. It’s an online platform that allows creators to get paid directly for their content, whether they’re an artist, sex worker, entertainer, chef, etc. But does having an OnlyFans account affect your life if you already have a full-time corporate job? And why are people signing up for the platform if they’re already employed? Is the mainstream popularity of the app (+ harmful laws) hurting sex workers who rely on camming for money? We explored the answers to these questions in this episode of Bustle Docs.

Discussion Questions

Who has the power to determine what is deviant in an anomic social setting? When the rules of social order and normalcy are in flux, who determines what attitudes and behaviors are appropriate and acceptable responses to foreign stimuli? Why might some Americans cling to traditional views of attitudes and behavior as a coping mechanism through times of uncertainty?

What are the limits of the meritocratic ideology in American society? What groups can avoid negative labels and degrading public commentary about their participation with OnlyFans? Why might some groups be targeted with more intensity by critics of OnlyFans as a platform for men and women to share content with their followers?

Why might sites like OnlyFans be seeing a reported 75% increase in participation among performers? What does this trend say about potential acceptance of virtual sex work(ers) in the future of American society? How does American culture need to change in order to accommodate a new norm of virtual sex work?

What are some stereotypes that you are aware of related to sex workers? How many of them are positive? How does the stereotype of sex work(ers) complicate the lives of OnlyFans performers who also work a traditional and/or socially acceptable career? How long must someone be engaged in sex work before the stigmatizing labels are applied? How can they be removed?

How comfortable would you be seeking professional guidance or support from a doctor, layer, medic, police officer, professor, or otherwise authority figure who is also an OnlyFans performer? How does the knowledge of their dual identity cause changes to interpersonal interactions? Why might some people find it challenging to take them seriously?


_______ is a negative label that is socially constructed and applied to individuals and groups related to deviant identities, attitudes, and/or behaviors.

a. Stigma
b. Prejudice
c. Hate Crimes
d. Discrimination

A sociologist using the _______ paradigm would likely be interested in investigating how a platform like OnlyFans works to provide stability for people experiencing economic uncertainty.

a. Symbolic-Interactionist
b. Conflict
c. Functionalist
d. Rational-Choice

A sociologist using the _______ paradigm would likely be interested in investigating how people alter their comfort speaking with others when confronted with the knowledge that they are an OnlyFans performer.

a. Symbolic-Interactionist
b. Conflict
c. Functionalist
d. Rational-Choice

Photo credit: iStockphoto.com/Prostock-Studio

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