NetWatch Analyst Jess Allen breaks down what you need to know here having spent time researching this rising phenomenon.
With student debts rising, and students feeling the pinch more than many, it is no surprise that a number have turned to some form of sex work to top up their income or to make ends meet. But they are not the only ones – there appears to be a new kind of sexual revolution happening in millennials. When it comes to their view of their own bodies, and their attitude towards a monetary transaction for sexual content, the plates are very much shifting.
One way in which a number of young people attempt to boost their income is through selling intimate photographs and videos, on sites such as OnlyFans. These subscription services allow clients to purchase monthly subscriptions of between $5 and $50 for content, with further payment for one-to-one messages. The worker sets their price and keeps 80% of all monies made. OnlyFans, which is based in London, claims to have 12 million users worldwide.
NetWatch research found that those who sell content on sites like OnlyFans can make hundreds, perhaps even thousands of pounds per month depending on their success – and can either use this to supplement or become their main income, sometimes alongside other sex work. Moreover, they are encouraged by the site to promote themselves on social media, with the majority flocking to Twitter to promote their service.
In recent years, Facebook and Instagram have cracked down on the publication and distribution of any explicit content – with account limitations for mentioning sexual terms, or removal of photographs which include a female nipple. Nevertheless, Twitter has continued to be relatively open to those who wish to publish such content, with the only caveat being that they mark any potentially explicit content as ‘sensitive’, so that a user consents before viewing it. As such, Twitter has become a ‘safe haven’ for people to advertise their sex work, and seek out new clients, including uploading provocative photographs to entice those interested. Not only that, but those successful in their endeavor often take to social media to let the world know how much money they make on a weekly, monthly or annual basis from the sale of photographs, videos and more. Instagram’s Stories feature also appears to be a popular method of promotion of such accounts.
The benefits of an OnlyFans account seem clear – if you take photographs or videos of yourself anyway, what is the harm of monetizing them? Some may also view it slightly differently to other sex work such as escorting, as it is done solely behind a camera or screen and can therefore feel more distant and impersonal. You can decide what content to create, when to share it, and your own limits, all from the comfort of your own home. And with the possibility of making thousands of pounds, clearing debts or affording a better lifestyle, it’s easy to understand why so many think it’s a no-brainer.
OnlyFans is not the only method which people are using to sell sexual items online. AdultWork, a website used by the majority of escorts within the UK, is also a way for people to attract business. They provide metrics such as their shape, height and clothes size, as well as answering general questions regarding the services they offer and a price list including a ‘Girlfriend Experience’ (GFE) and ‘Porn Star Experience’ (PSE) for hundreds of pounds. Many escorts on this website provide email addresses and contact numbers, which NetWatch investigations have found to be linked to different social media accounts, which often further promote their services, similar to those who promote their OnlyFans work. A few escorts on the website state that they are students, and despite sex workers being of all ages, there are a significant amount of young people aged between 18 and 24 on the website in the United Kingdom.
But a service which almost actively markets towards hard-up students strapped for cash is Seeking Arrangement, a website which aims to connect older, wealthier people (known as Sugar Daddies) with younger people for financial benefit (known as Sugar Babies). Sugar Daddies can ask to meet once a week – often with the implicit suggestion of a sexual relationship – and will offer a ‘salary’ to their Sugar Babies. Some Sugar Daddies will also offer ‘mentorship’, though this is not expanded upon, so it is unclear whether this is intended as professional development. NetWatch research suggests that this website is not as popular in the UK as it is in the US, where tuition fees are higher.
The ways in which NetWatch can help to identify those involved in sex work are many, and these sites are now actively being located within our profiling products and services. Profiles are being found which workers are using to seek business, and these often provide good evidence towards financial circumstances – especially if they are freely publishing information regarding their income from the platforms. Many services are advertised through temporary stories, and through capturing these we can also advise on the nature of the work the subject is undertaking.
There are many instances in which it would be important to know if a person is undertaking this kind of work, both from a business risk perspective, to adequate vetting being performed, and even when looking at fraudulent insurance claims.
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