May 2022

The Nation Reviewed

OnlyFans and the adults in the room

By Jenny Valentish
Illustration by Jeff Fisher
The emerging OnlyFans community offering training and support to adult-content creators

I’m scrolling down one of OnlyFans model Audrey Aura’s Instagram accounts, the one promoting the Audrey Aura Academy. Each square conforms to a rose-hued palette and bears a hot tip for emerging adult-content creators in a winsome font. Many are embedded with photographs of Aura – blonde, glasses and, by her own definition, plus-size – either looking provocative in lingerie or working on her phone in comfy cotton.

One square reads: “So you keep getting denied from ‘OnlyPals’ for a creator account…” I’m flummoxed. Is this a new, PG-rated version of OnlyFans?

I’ve come to Aura’s account via a press release she sent out, which, with a hook of tackling whorephobia, mentioned a masterclass scheduled for May. OnlyFans is the online platform that launched in 2016 to allow celebrities and influencers to earn money from subscribers. It has since become synonymous with sex workers and is worth US$1 billion, with around 120 million users. But it’s difficult for creators to promote themselves within the sprawling platform (which has a search function for names but few filters), or for newbies to learn the lay of the land, so some savvy operators have spotted a gap in the market: adult-content coaching.

When I contact Aura, she explains that “OnlyPals” is a euphemism for OnlyFans. When creators post their less risqué photos as teasers on Instagram and TikTok (and even dating apps such as Tinder), it’s to act as a funnel towards their monetised OnlyFans account, but social-media platforms have strict rules about not promoting sex work.

Aura lives in Adelaide with her husband and child, and joined OnlyFans in March 2020 after losing her job as a receptionist. She describes herself as a mother hen. “Even when I was working in administration, I was always trying to take on more responsibility and teach others,” she says.

Initially, she’d struggled to get her bearings on OnlyFans, which she describes as “glitchy” (for example, she says creators are unable to directly message their subscribers). She’d spent a lot of money seeking out coaches, but their methods were hopelessly unstructured, often just rambling voice notes within a group chat. So, she went deep with her own research.

Back then, she made $14 a month. Now the monthly figure is nearer $40,000. She even made a couple of TikTok videos about her earnings that went viral – getting her kicked off that platform for her troubles.

Her masterclass, “OnlyHustle”, might have been named to thumb its nose at the system. It’s structured in 60 lessons over 12 modules, coaching rookies in things such as setting up a page, making content and privacy essentials, and providing networking tips.

She also includes what not to do. She’s had three Instagram accounts banned, forcing her to start from scratch and painstakingly lure back followers. She now has three separate accounts: one for her academy, one for her modelling (non-explicit but in underwear) and one for her body-positivity advocacy (“a bit more influency”).

“There’s a whole section of the masterclass on mental health, self-care and body positivity,” she says. “A lot of people are surprised when they find out that someone ‘normal looking’ can be successful. OnlyFans is about being attainable. The fans aren’t looking for a porn star. They want someone who looks like someone they could see at the shops, and they want to think that they could get you if they met you in real life.”

Meanwhile in Perth, former corporate banker Lucy Banks (not her real name) has branded herself on OnlyFans as the “girl next door”.

“If I was going to pretend to be something like a ‘gamer girl’, with the alternative look, or the cute girl at the gym, I could do it for five minutes,” she says. “It’s got to be something I can keep up. That allows you to put your real personality on your page, which people like.”

Banks is launching the website Thrill Sell. It’s a “sex-worker hub” with resources for OnlyFans creators, such as 1000 captions that can be used with photos, lists of accountants who are sex-work friendly, and content from creators with varying demographic experiences. It will also promote businesses owned by sex workers – whether or not the businesses are related to the industry – to create the camaraderie Banks desperately needed when she started out.

Banks was doxxed by another OnlyFans creator a few years ago – a woman who lived in the same town.

“She outed me to everybody – my ex-husband, my family. I had people calling my kids’ school. I ended up having to move town,” Banks says. “I knew some people might be offended, but I didn’t expect that.”

Banks realised she was at a crossroads. She could meekly retire, or she could own her decision.

“It wasn’t something I was going to do forever – I just wanted to pay some bills. Now I do it full time. I’m a single mum and I just bought a house.”

Banks decided to embrace the publicity, even allowing herself to be pictured in local papers such as Perth Now, in a story about her making $60,000 a month.

Would she classify herself as a sex worker? “Yes. But it’s a very personal thing, isn’t it? A lot of creators do not like to be referred to as sex workers. Some people will call themselves ‘internet hoes’. I’ve heard someone say that they manage a media company. Others view themselves as unlicensed therapists… all sorts of things.”

Banks and Aura are friends. They met when Banks joined Aura’s mini course on sexting. “And because we’re both Australian and we’ve both got autistic children, we kind of just vibed,” says Aura. “Whenever we have time, we have a phone call late at night where we just debrief… because it can be quite a heavy job sometimes.”

Banks gives the example of a subscriber who recognised the interior of a bar that one creator had posted herself drinking in. He then zoomed in on another photo to read the name on her dog’s collar, and rang all the vets in those suburbs to say he needed to bring in his dog. Soon afterwards he messaged to tell her he knew who she was.

Aura thinks safety has become better handled by OnlyFans of late. But that doesn’t stop people maliciously subscribing in order to then share a creator’s explicit content publicly.

A few weeks before we talk, a “mummy influencer” from Banks’s home town put Banks’s subscriber-only photos up on Instagram, along with her real name and some slurs. This time around, Banks is less phased.

“I’m very lucky that I’ve got support and I’m quite strong mentally, because a lot of things I’ve been through could have triggered mental-health issues in other people. It’s so important to me that people aren’t made to feel bad for wanting more, for wanting to provide for their families. At the very core of Thrill Sell, I want people who are having a tough time to find their tribe. I want them to know, I understand you and I back you.”

Jenny Valentish

Jenny Valentish is a journalist and novelist, and the author of Woman of Substances. Her latest book is Everything Harder Than Everyone Else.

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