Can Sex Work Help Ease The Recession For Men?

Whether OnlyFans or other services, men are finding that digital sex work is just that — work

Photos: Jonathan Knowles/Tara Moore/ALEAIMAGE/Getty Images

Alex (not his real name) would never have considered himself a sex worker. But in early March 2020, around the start of the Covid-19 crisis and after months of prodding from his substantial following on Twitter and Instagram, he set up an OnlyFans account. For $13 a month, those followers could see the dick pics or masturbation clips he’d upload. He did it so informally, you’d think it wasn’t profitable. But it was.

Before OnlyFans’ ascent to meme status, Alex paid little attention to male sex work; like college kids fantasizing about stripping when classes get too hard, he thought of it as a joke, a “what if.” But then came the coronavirus-induced recession — and new concerns about finances. “People always oversexualized me online,” he says, “so it finally hit me that I could make money off of all these people that talk to me like this.”

In his first month, Alex reaped more than $1,000. Posting the content was easy; everything beyond that was not. People complained about the price, about what they were getting for their money. “Dabbling” was what Alex had in mind — and as someone who describes himself as “more reserved in sharing myself and my body with others,” this was turning out to be not dabbling. “The more content I put in, the more selfish people were,” he says. After two months, he left OnlyFans behind.

And as those in so many other professions already know, it’s difficult to monetize a social media following. Despite nearly 35,000 followers on Twitter, zxcrxf still acted in self-proclaimed “desperation” during quarantine in order to attract clients.

Many of my own friends have dabbled in sex work; most were in their early twenties, and nearly all did so out of the belief that if someone is willing to pay you for something you’d do for free, take the money. Someone (often a man) will pay you for dick pics even if your face isn’t in them; someone (often a man) will pay for a picture of feet, or a pitcher of bathwater. Why not go for it?

Yet, this casual sort of one-to-one transaction is more like a spot gig — something that comes your way on social media, a moment’s opportunity for quick cash. What OnlyFans’ emergence has exposed is a truth that many men are now just learning: Sex work is work.

Not many men enter sex work believing that it’s a career path. To them, it’s a lark — not the overwhelming business that professionals on OnlyFans have made it into.

That misconception stems from many reasons. Certainly, heterosexuality has made sex work feel like a woman’s career path, despite the common teenage fantasy of porn stardom. The lunchroom conversations and suggested porn star names (I was Stevie Stix) always broke down once a friend suggested that male porn stars inevitably have to do gay porn. (For the record: they don’t.) It may be because sex work isn’t a field you know you can do until you do commit to experimenting. At first it’s just a little — then, several uploads later, you’re running a one-man marketing team and media distribution center.

For dedicated models on OnlyFans, their other social media accounts tend to become vehicles of customer acquisition: promotional materials, collaborations, endorsements, and fan feedback. Whereas most people see and use Twitter or Instagram as downtime, most people aren’t living under the microscope of a fetishized gaze. If you lose your fan base’s interest, it can be hard or impossible to reclaim that income.

Take OnlyFans model zxcrxf. On his Twitter account — which is now suspended — he goes only by “big z”; his pinned tweet is two simple images of his ass, one in color and another in gray scale. (Another account of his contains enough explicit content that it will surely be suspended as well.) After the pandemic began, he reaped a fair amount of criticism by flouting social distancing and arranging a hookup in order to get content for his OnlyFans account. He defended himself by pointing to the necessity of collaborative promotion: two content creators generating mutual content in order to leverage each other’s substantial audiences and maximize their reach.

It all sounds like business because it is business. Yet, social media marketing requires a deftness and savvy that takes time to learn. Ultimately, zxcrxf apologized, saying that he had “overvalued the importance of my income from OF, and I undervalued the impact of promoting risky behavior on my big twitter account.”

Nico, a 23-year-old model who goes by Nicoaesthetics on most platforms, started in sex work by working as a go-go dancer roughly three years ago. “I actually had to drink a little bit before I got onstage,” he says. “I was still very stiff and uncomfortable, but it was manageable — and people actually preferred that.” When OnlyFans’ popularity surged earlier this year, Nico dismissed it as a fad, even as the traction and fanfare accelerated.

Despite having more than 40,000 followers between Twitter and Instagram, he still hasn’t succumbed to OnlyFans’ siren song. “Either you’re already popular and you transfer into sex work — which would be easy money,” he says, “or you have to grind from the bottom up, which would make things a lot more difficult, and a lot more easy to burnout.” There simply aren’t enough clients to feed a niche, and there’s no insurance you’ll be able to keep them when a new flavor of the month pops up in OnlyFans’ model portfolio. The male gaze isn’t just demanding; it’s fickle, too. That’s a particular of concern for sex workers like models, who are acting independently of the protections, agents, and contracts of conventional adult entertainment.

Granted, digital sex work has its benefits: less immediate health risk, more physical safety. But there are drawbacks, too. “A lot of the money is temporary,” Nico says. “There’s not always a guaranteed source of income, especially if you don’t take off. Sex work still holds a heavy stigma. There can be business world repercussions if things are found out.”

And as those in so many other professions already know, it’s difficult to monetize a social media following. Despite nearly 35,000 followers on Twitter, zxcrxf still acted in self-proclaimed “desperation” during quarantine in order to attract clients. Alex’s short tenure on OnlyFans may have pulled in $1,000, but his paying followers amounted to less than 1.5% of his total audience.

“I think it’s made me more knowledgeable of the act of sex work,” Alex says. “The experience itself hasn’t really affected me negatively or positively, other than financial gain. I see it as a way to get myself out of rough spots financially — but it’s not something I would recommend to everyone, or something I would do on the day-to-day.”

OnlyFans is showing no signs of losing momentum, though — despite a user experience that is often slow, prone to crashes, and offers a viewing experience that I can only describe as optimistic. Sometimes you can watch a full video; other times, you’re better off closing the screen and moving on. The company nonetheless seems thrilled with its precipitous growth: OnlyFans COO Thomas Stokely recently told BuzzFeed that subscriptions were up more than 50% in April alone. And models are unlikely to care, so long as someone has committed to their subscription fee. Whether it’s pocket change, or a come up, there will always be men interested.

Even during a pandemic.

Bisexual Fathers Can Undo the Damage We Inherit From Our Dads

Owning your sexuality — and recognizing that fatherhood doesn’t need to be about hardness — presents a necessary alternative

Photo: Maskot/Getty Images

Joseph Guthrie came out as bisexual when he was 32. Acknowledging his sexuality didn’t unravel his sense of himself as a man or as a father. On the contrary: It only seemed to embolden his sense that no single perceived trait could define him. His family, though, felt differently. His queerness, in their eyes, disqualified him as a man — and, thus, as a father. “I haven’t spoken to my father for four years now,” Guthrie says. “When you cut the toxic people out of your life, it makes a massive difference: You’re happier.”

Much of what we consider “toxic masculinity” — bullying, homophobia, aggression toward women — is rooted in patterns typically learned from a father or father figure. However, for many, fatherhood remains the core determinant of masculinity: who can be a father, who should be a father, and what authentic fatherhood looks like. And in many Black families of any nationality, masculinity is such a rigidly defined concept that anything threatening that rigidity must be eradicated. Like Guthrie’s ability to be a father.

There is no real way to understand how common bisexuality is because bisexuality itself is a catchall concept for so many variants of sexual identity. While moonlighting as an adult bookstore clerk in 2018, I found myself talking with a sixtysomething Black grandfather and war veteran who frequented the private club room during our heavier business hours. “No one can know how common your weird is,” he said, “if you strive to keep the weird in the dark.” Five minutes later, the grandfather, filled with his own wisdom, politely offered me $400 for a blowjob. (I politely declined.)

Over the course of the two months I worked at the bookstore, I saw an assortment of fathers walk in and out; he was the most frequent of them, and we talked often. His generation had lent him a conservatism, even with regard to his own sexuality: He didn’t think his interest in both men and women should be a thing spoken of at all, let alone with as much candor as he discussed his work in the church or his military career. To him, everyone in the service was fooling around. He recalled open sex acts in showers and barracks and clear affection between “brothers-in-arms.” Most who survived the service, he said, went on to be fathers.

In the eyes of too many, we simply cannot be like our fathers; our queerness makes it impossible. The thing is, though, we wouldn’t want to be even if given the chance.

“Y’all are just so open with it now,” he once said to me with mild contempt. I couldn’t help wonder how that could be a bad thing: Could a bisexual father’s openness ever be anything less than the healthiest form of masculinity?

For bisexual men — Guthrie, me, and others — masculinity often just feels like another closet, a performance of what you think the world will accept. However, in pursuing happiness in defiance of those constraints, they also give themselves a chance to remake fatherhood into something altogether healthier.

I am not a father. However, I do serve some fatherly roles for a lot of younger boys as a mentor — and, most importantly, I was a son influenced by his father in the wrong ways.

Most of Philadelphia knew him as Bones. For Bones, womanizing was an enterprise no matter where he went. Bones would haunt women until they relinquished everything to him: their bodies, then their money, and eventually their homes. These women would only free themselves from Bones after he ripped their trust out of them — their trust or a child. To Bones, a child was inalienable proof that he meant more to the world than what anyone could take away from him: He was a father. He wasn’t a good father, but he had successfully created a child. And that fact alone earned him respect from other men in his life.

Once Bones forced me onto my mother, there was little concern from him to be involved with me on an individual level. Any facet of his personality that I know, I’ve learned secondhand — he was stubborn, smart, and jovial, and he pursued satisfaction by any means necessary. (These are all traits that I possess, even though men who approach me in my daily life assume they come from my mother in some way.)

Still, on every Father’s Day, Bones received a gift, a phone call, and a proud pat on the back solely on the merit that he fathered a child. My Uncle Silk defended him until his own dying day in 2017 — which happened to be the same day that Bones stole valuables from his home before Silk’s grieving children could return from the hospital.

Bones may have been a parent, but he wasn’t a father. Yet, as a straight man, he claimed those privileges by virtue of little more than ejaculation — and, by extension, claimed authentic manhood as well.

Mike Lowery, like Joseph Guthrie, holds no such emotional distance. He loves his two sons fiercely, cries openly, currently runs a Mixer gaming channel as a streamer, and formerly worked as an amateur adult model who filmed scenes with both men and women. Lowery is fighting a different battle: one against expectations about his masculinity.

Lowery, who came out at 26, currently boasts nearly 25,000 Twitter followers. On the chat platform Discord, where we talk, he runs a community for hundreds of exclusive members — members who also engage in Discord’s many other NSFW subchannels, where on any given day, porn is as popular a topic as gaming tips. Most of them are men who engage other men sexually regardless of their stated orientation, and a good portion of those men are fathers.

Lowery’s time on this forum is limited; by day, he works a conventional marketing job, and at other times, he’s caring for his two young sons, neither of whom knows he is bisexual. (Why would they? The concept of sexuality hasn’t even materialized for them yet.) He is also navigating a romantic life too often burdened by assumptions and misunderstandings based solely on his sexuality. One relationship ended when the idea of Lowery’s openness about his sexuality was misconstrued as a betrayal — no matter how much he tried to explain about how he identified.

However, there is little misunderstanding of who he is as a father. Lowery advocates for crying, compassion, and, most importantly, transparency that didn’t exist for him when he was a child. “It all comes down to teaching a generation to love more and judge less,” he says. “We men, especially Black men, need to show love to our bruthas, no matter who they are.”

Guthrie’s daughter also doesn’t know her father is bisexual, though she’s old enough to understand; she lives in Florida with her mother while Guthrie lives in Delaware. He cannot imagine why her mother hasn’t told her — but that doesn’t mean he wants to tell her himself. “I want her to ask me of her own volition,” he says. Regardless, he hopes one day she does: “If I can be the first person she knows who’s queer, that’s a pretty good launchpad for when she eventually meets other queer folks.”

In online forums and message boards, I routinely see discussions of how fathers have unwittingly (or, more tragically, intentionally) passed their own suffering along to their sons. Isn’t that how the pitfalls we call toxic masculinity came into being — reenacting our fathers’ bad habits because we think we have to be exactly like them?

In the eyes of too many, Lowery and Guthrie and I simply cannot be like our fathers; our queerness makes it impossible. The thing is, though, we wouldn’t want to be even if given the chance. We have broken the generational chain of hypermasculinity that shackles so many men and perpetuates the cycle of pain so needlessly.

I’m convinced that my father, Bones, wasn’t happy with being a father. And even if he was, it was largely because he was taught by his own father to keep a phone call’s distance away from his children. For him, that’s what being a real man was all about. For that gentleman in the adult bookstore, masculinity could accommodate queerness but only in secret. Yet, there’s a third option as well — one that Mike Lowery and Joseph Guthrie are already embracing. If they, like so many others, can step into their own as fathers in a generation that no longer reduces the concept of a “real man” down to a single simple thing, that’s the best outcome we can hope for.