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.

#THECRAFT: 6 Things Artists Need to Know About Social Media

By: Steven Underwood

What’s Güd?

A lot of you guys have been asking me for advice on this pro-art thing so I decided why not turn this into a series?

Today, we will be covering social media in this steadily rising landscape. All artists know that exposure is important, but how to use it is kind of a hit-or-miss. What’s SEO? Are metrics important? Should I have a high follower count?

Read sweet babies. Let me guide you.

  1. Twitter vs. Instagram: social media platforms are as diverse as they are specific in execution. The main question artists ask is what they should be on? Maybe you know you should be on social media, but you’ve heard conflicting success stories about both. Essentially, it’s important to look at these mediums for what they prioritize. Writers have gained a lot of success on Twitter due to its idea and written based format; careers are literally defined based on how successful your thoughts are and that’s why it’s so important to apply this to your work. Instagram is far more visual. Just think about it, we’ve all heard the term IG model before, not Twitter Model. Brands and clients pay more attention to what they can see on a platform designed to make what you see better! Graphic designers should pay special heed to this, but not too much. Twitter has a need for Design as a form of meme generation and gif processing. I hear the older folk asking “What about Facebook?” Eh… Facebook as a brand is good for getting news out, or posting updates, but you can get better reach with these other two. It has a use, but as a support to these other two formats.
  2. Network Groups: Networking is 80% of the job. If you don’t know anyone, you won’t get far– no matter your talent. In writing, this means you should be hunting for the DM group chat on Twitter and doing whatever you can to stand out and participate. This includes online Forums and FB groups. Keep your name in their mouthes and betaread! Giving criticism and doing reviews for other writers will not only get your name out, but that translates into more Social Media advocacy. Followers are closely watched by publications. They matter! What matters more is if your posts are being shared by others who might have a larger network than you, or if you’re interacting with someone who has a better standing socially. This doesn’t mean be fake, or lie about what you review, but authentically these people share the same passion you do. The rest is simple to iron out. Visual Artists on IG should go to Meet-Ups, and frequent groupchats as well. Also, don’t be afraid to spam!
  3. Metrics/Avoid Purchasing Followers: This is a big one, and it isn’t top priority because now most people know its bad. Essentially, your follower count is only as good as a Thesis statement in an essay: it’s vital, but not as good as your body paragraph. Metrics are fat superior. For Example, my twitter account @Blaqueword, boasts a pretty 1k in followers, pretty average. However, my impressions range into the 40,000s. How? My followers are frequent and avid users and my tweets “go in”. Basically, more of my followers interact and share my content AND they have a larger follower count than me (boasting 100 active followers with a blue check mark works out soooo well). As long as I use this, my posts and shares will always guarantee me an upward trajectory! However, purchasing followers works out worse for you. If your followers are all not interacting, clients/brands will notice and hold it against you. It makes you a creative catfish. Sure, they should be interested in you because they like your work, but that’s not a good bottomline. They want someone who can guarantee sells or interest. You just don’t. Organically generating followers always works out.
  4. Scheduled Posts: This is probably the most difficult feat. Staying on top of your social media is important and draining. Sometimes, there just isn’t enough hours in a day. Well, not postinf frequently enough in one day can drastically harm your impressions and therefore your metrics. If every 10,000 impressions gets you 2 followers and they afford you 300 bonus impressions with whether they like/share your posts, you miss out on a lot of potential reach. But, being online limits how much art you actually get to do. Ergo, scheduling. For @Blaqueword, I use Hootsuite. It allows me to not only schedule posts, but knowing my analytics, I can better understand what I should be posting about via knowing my audience. CMS (Content Management Systems) is an important factor in all of this. Know your tools of your craft (or pay someone else to).
  5. Analytics: SMM or Social Media Marketing is all about knowing what your numbers are. This is categorized in so much. For instance, my IG: @Blaqueword holds a humble amount of followers. However, I can increase my range of likes and follows by applying posts at the time specific audience members interact. Most of my followers are from Columbus, OH and like Culturally mindful content on Fridays at 9 PM. So, I post those things at the exact time AND include hashtags to appeal to those groups! Starting off, this is difficult and requires a lot of base-setting. You’ll end up using random hashtags just to see which stick and which do not, but it is a necessary step, so if you’re self-concious about a step, feel free to delete and try again. After all, if you failed that means no one saw, right? (Wrong, god and Beyoncé saw, but they forgive you)
  6. Hire a Writer: Not a self-plug, though I do run several Social Media accounts for brands at a retainer fee. You need to know your medium well enough to pull this off and most of it involves proper writing technique. Writers thrive on social media because we can coordinate our thoughts for the platforms. If you can’t, it’s going to take a lot of footwork to get Followers to fall in. And, honestly, that means you’re depending solely on luck. Don’t do that. If you are incapable of reading trends and knowing what to say at the moment, you probably won’t get a tweet that sticks like grits. Take it from me, a man with 7 viral tweets under his belt, knowing when to say the right combination of words is key!

If this all sounds very business-like, welcome to Art: it’s 60% business. You just got to know how to play it to your advantage. If

Any more questions? Comment! I’m happy to answer.

Steven Underwood (@Blaqueword) is a writer from Columbus, Ohio, where he reigns supreme as the original Urban Bohemian. He received his Bachelor’s in English: Creative Writing and now wanders fiction shelves employing his academic powers to investigate where it says exactly that Black kids can’t be wizards.