The rise of the influencer sex worker

An illustration of a woman in underwear kneeling on a bed, staring back at the foreground, with a phone in her hand.

Platforms like OnlyFans mean people with big followings online can earn money. Where does that leave the sex workers who were there first?

There’s a maxim on the internet known as Rule 34, which posits that “if it exists, there is porn of it.” Rule 34 is typically cited in cases of bizarre noncanonical cultural pairings — smutty fanfiction about, say, Hagrid the half-giant from Harry Potter falling in love with Harry’s owl Hedwig. But there is another, less-discussed rule, one that essentially amounts to its inverse and has only become more apparent over the past decade. Let’s call it Rule 43: If you exist visibly enough on the internet, someone will want porn of you.

When it happens for the first time, it can take you by surprise. “I thought he was fucking with me,” my friend Marie told me a few months ago, recalling her first messages from a stranger who propositioned her for paid, virtual sex work. “I thought this person was going to have this ridiculous conversation with me and screenshot it and put it all over the internet. I was hesitant. And then I did some research.”

Marie — whose name, like that of many sources in this story, has been changed to protect her from the potentially severe consequences of being identified for performing online sex work — has more than 100,000 Instagram followers thanks to a stint on a popular reality show. She’s a born hustler, and has been since we met in middle school — something she attributes to her mother, an immigrant who worked at grocery chains and mall stores to support their family.

She is also very conventionally “hot,” which is sort of a weird thing to say about a platonic friend but is relevant here, in a story about how she became an ur-example of an increasingly omnipresent trend: women who’ve cultivated some sort of identifiable digital persona being sent money by men in exchange for videos, photos, or even just a text back.

The money isn’t always about sex. Maybe the man knows you’re a struggling artist and gets a thrill out of posing as your sponsor. Perhaps he’s grown so accustomed to the system of casually contributing to random GoFundMes and Patreons and Substacks that sending a hot girl $50 over CashApp simply feels natural. The money itself pretty much means the same thing: Hey, notice me.

A lot of the time it is about sex, though. Marie often gets DMs from men asking her to show them her breasts (enough women on the internet have had this experience that it’s become its own meme). Ask any influencer — even, grossly, influencers who have yet to turn 18 — how many times they’ve been asked by strangers to start an account on OnlyFans, the platform best known for paywalled access to nude and lewd images from specific creators, and they’ll tell you it’s a lot. One of my coworkers and I were both approached by the same man on Twitter, on the very same day, asking us to send him photos of our feet for money.

It is not new that many men tend to talk to other people with a sense of entitlement or aggression. What is new is how seamlessly a DM slide can become a business arrangement, how influencers of the Instagram-lifestyle variety and regular people alike have used this as a meaningful stream of revenue. Thanks to a pandemic that left many people at home substituting screens for IRL intimacy and the rise of platforms that merge sex work and social media, vanilla content creators are turning to sex, in all its myriad forms, as a side hustle.

An illustration of a vaguely angelic woman lit by a phone, with others scrambling for attention behind her.

There are those who might view the increasing number of possibly lonely people paying for digital intimacy and those willing to sell it as a tragic consequence of innumerable economic and social trajectories. The concept of the e-girlfriend, who offers a facsimile of love and sex to one or many of her followers, is to some a sign of a rapidly approaching dystopia. But maybe those people just don’t know what they’re missing out on.

“They have direct access to me, and they can ask me for things that they want to see. They’re willing to pay for it,” Marie explains. “And I’m willing to take their money.”

Perhaps this is the beginning of a mutually beneficial ecosystem, one where concepts such as sex work have more fluid meanings and fewer taboo connotations. “Sex” and “work” are already extremely fraught and often nebulous concepts, even more so when combined.

If our baseline understanding of sex work is the consensual exchange of sexual services, not a single sex worker or academic expert I spoke to for this story could give me a hard definition of where the line begins and ends. But if the idea of sex work becomes less stigmatized, will full-service sex workers who are more at risk of legal and physical consequences be subject to less stigma too? Or, as many established sex workers argue, will the influx of influencers on platforms like OnlyFans contribute to the ever-widening gap between creators making a living online and those barely making anything at all?

This work, though sometimes lucrative, is inherently precarious. In late August, OnlyFans announced it was banning “sexually explicit” content from its site in an effort to appear legitimate to major financial institutions, and in what many sex workers viewed as yet another example of an internet company profiting off their labor, then selling them out once it thought it didn’t need them anymore. OnlyFans reversed its statement just days later, but it won’t be the last time sex workers are forced to reevaluate their entire businesses based on the whims of faceless technocrats.

Despite all that, there are still those who seem to have the hustle figured out. In April, after being approached by foot fetishists on Instagram, Marie launched an OnlyFans account devoted to pictures of her feet for a monthly subscription fee of $12.99. She says she made more than $1,000 in the first few days. You meet enough people making it work — earning money from those who worship them yet avoiding the potentially awkward or messy or, above all, risky reality of having sex with another person — and it starts to feel like the American dream.

In their earliest days, cam sites and online porn were considered to be, as the stereotypes went, for losers. As one California alt-monthly noted in 1998, the most fervent consumers of cam sites were (wrongly) considered “just lonely geeks in rooms dimly lit by flickering computer screens paying $5.99 a minute to watch sweaty, silicone-injected women strip and slither to their keystrokes.” And yet business was booming; cam sites like Babes4u were grossing as much as $60,000 per month by charging users $19.95 for 20 minutes of personal interaction. Porn was “one of the few industries actually making money on the Internet, and lots of it,” the Associated Press wrote in 1997. Perhaps that’s because porn has almost always been the quickest to adapt to technological innovation, from the portable camcorder to home televisions to, by the late ’90s, livestreaming.

It’s easy to argue that the ’90s were the perfect time to be a porn star. Promising performers could land lucrative deals with studios like Vivid Entertainment or Wicked and partake in relatively swanky shoots, seamlessly coordinated by a network of distributors, advertisers, and agents. But by the late 2000s, websites like Pornhub, Brazzers, RedTube, and YouPorn — all of which are now owned by the Canadian company MindGeek — disrupted the studio system by hosting videos (many presumably pirated) in central libraries and offering most of them for free. Much as the internet did for all other culture industries, it forced the porn establishment to cut costs anywhere it could.

Today, as Shira Tarrant explains in her book The Pornography Industry: What Everyone Needs to Know, most online porn is amateur, unscripted, low budget, and hardcore. Wages have fallen: Tarrant estimates that a female performer who films three anal scenes a month would make about $40,000 a year, while a single anal sex scene could net an actor around $2,000. In the ’90s, it was far more common for performers to sign multi-film contracts; one talent agent estimated that in the year 2000, the average female porn star could make around $100,000 per year.

Something else happened around the same time that would affect the kind of porn people wanted to watch. Expensive-looking scripted films starring well-known actors were out; instead, people wanted to see porn that made them feel like they could be watching just anyone. Developing parasocial relationships with porn stars or celebrities is as old as celebrity itself, but social media has helped bridge the gap between fantasy and reality, teaching us to value a creator’s perceived authenticity over all else.

It’s not a coincidence that social media has risen alongside the desire for DIY porn. In 2019, “amateur” topped Pornhub’s list of most-searched terms. In the years since, dozens of celebrities — Cardi B, Tyga, The Real Housewives of New York’s Sonja Morgan, and Dorinda Medley — have joined platforms like OnlyFans to show off slightly more risqué bikini pics, or anything only their most fervent followers would bother looking at, for a price.

Social media forced everyone, from the most uninteresting nobody to the planet’s biggest stars, to learn how to offer themselves up for digital consumption. Those who were particularly adept at this skill necessitated new terms like “influencer,” who seemed to make money just by being themselves. The transactional nature of the relationship between influencer and follower has become only more explicit: Sending casual tips to creators is now encouraged on Twitter, Twitch, and Spotify, and with link optimizers such as LinkTree, anyone can make their Venmo, CashApp, or OnlyFans accessible without directly advertising it. The leap to online sex work — if you think sending a few pictures to a follower who sends you a bit of cash in return “counts” as sex work — isn’t a difficult one to make.

OnlyFans launched in 2016, and by 2019 it had 60,000 people posting content. That number is now more than 1.5 million. Though it has long been favored and populated by sex workers, nude models, and porn performers, the company takes pains to advertise itself as a platform for the more palatably generic “creators.” Log on to, and you’ll be greeted by a rather boring-looking white-and-aqua interface, which suggests you follow people like fitness mentor “Coach Lindsay” and cooking expert “Baked By Josie.” The only way to get to the good stuff, per se, is by searching for a particular user or, more commonly, by following a link in their Instagram or YouTube profiles. Converting regular followers into paying subscribers could theoretically be as easy as adding a “link in bio.”

Microinfluencers who leverage their relatively small followings to make money on OnlyFans often fill the role of e-girlfriends for their most devoted fans, providing mutual intimacy between muse and patron. This increasingly popular dynamic is not without its critics. One writer on Medium described it as “tricking your brain into thinking you have female intimacy and affection … into thinking someone cares about you romantically, and gaining a sense that a woman values your existence.”

It is certainly true that the advent of the internet has coincided with a crisis of loneliness. A 2018 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 22 percent of US adults said they often or always felt lonely or socially isolated. The average household size in the US has also declined, leading to a 10 percent increase in people living alone. While groups such as incels or the Cancel Porn movement like to blame feminism or the mass accessibility of porn for this, experts see the culprit as our culture around work, achievement, and individualism.

Elizabeth Bernstein, professor of women’s studies and sociology at Barnard College, says that in her decades of studying sex workers, a common characteristic of male clients is a stressful or demanding work schedule. “They would eat alone, live alone, and spend all day hunched over a desk,” she says. “You have a culture of overwork, and the pandemic is only accelerating that.” Recent research shows that people put in more than two additional hours per day when they’re working from home.

Whatever the causes, more people are looking for connection online. “The conventional forms of how we used to think about romance and intimacy are on the decline, and the pandemic has escalated that dramatically,” explains Phillip Hammack, a professor of psychology and director of the Sexual and Gender Diversity Laboratory at the University of California Santa Cruz. “A lot of people who used to be reluctant about what I could call digital or networked intimacy were like, ‘Well, it’s not safe for me to develop a dynamic in person, so I’m going to go for this.’ I think what a lot of people have found is that they still get a lot of meaning out of those dynamics. They feel seen; they feel like they can express a part of themselves more freely, perhaps more than they ever knew they could.”

It’s a typical Friday night, and Chloe (not her real name) finally closes her laptop after finishing the workweek. Then she takes off her shirt and starts taking pictures. “I’ll be like, ‘Okay, I have to do this before I can be in weekend mode,’” she says.

She’d already been thinking about starting an OnlyFans account for a year when, one night in January 2020 — two drinks deep and in possession of some really good, recent selfies of her ass — she thought, “fuck it.” She’d often been DMed by men on Instagram, where she’d already built a small but loyal following of dudes who were enamored by what she calls her “online hottie” persona, asking if she’d ever join OnlyFans. Once she did, she figured OnlyFans could be another way to build her platform as a writer. “I hook them with a thotty pic, and hopefully they’ll stay and read my work,” Chloe says. She posts on her account once or twice a week, and says she makes about $1,500 each month (and for the record, she says, some of the men did stay and read her writing).

An illustration of a woman with a phone and notifications popping up with dollar signs.

Her setup is often fairly bare-bones, though sometimes she’ll turn on her ring light or use a small tripod to capture a good angle. Whenever a new, sexy outfit comes in the mail from inexpensive online fashion brands like Shein, she’ll snap a few more pictures. “They’re super casual, just taken on the front-facing camera on my phone,” Chloe says. “I think a lot of subscribers really like that because it’s not polished. It’s the fantasy of a girl who just took this picture for you really quick and sent it to you.”

After a record 22 million Americans were laid off at the start of the pandemic, unemployment peaked at 14.8 percent in April 2020, with the brunt of the effects concentrated among women. One March 2020 survey found that 52 percent of gig workers worldwide had lost their jobs, while another 26 percent had their hours decreased. A Pew Research Center study conducted in January 2021 found that two-thirds of unemployed adults had “seriously considered” changing their careers to something potentially better-paying or more stable. The creator economy, composed of a growing number of people monetizing their own digital content, was waiting to scoop them up by promising an audience so willing to watch you be yourself that they’ll literally pay you for it.

That’s what happened to Helena, a 24-year-old in Denver, when the restaurant where she worked closed due to the pandemic. She’d tried her hand at standup comedy, as well as a few stints on cam sites, for years. But it was on Twitter where her surreal, internet-speak jokes landed her a cult following.

Guys would often slide into her DMs, asking if they could buy her a virtual drink. “I’d be like, ‘Over Venmo? I’m gonna spend that at like, Target,’” she says with a laugh. Normally, she says, it was only 10 bucks or so, but it felt worthwhile to keep her Venmo handle in her bio.

Helena had previously done some camming on sites like MyFreeCams, where users can choose when to stream themselves and cater to their viewers’ tastes for cash. On OnlyFans, her monthly subscriptions cost $10, and the content is “80 percent pics and videos of my ass” plus JOI (jerk-off instruction) videos, where one talks into a camera and tells the person on the other end how and when to masturbate. She says 1,500 people signed up on the first day.

“It was probably, like, the most money I’ve ever made in one day,” Helena says, even after the 20 percent cut that OnlyFans takes from every creator. “I felt insane. I remember being in my apartment thinking, ‘This is fake, and I’m gonna get arrested.’” She’s now financially stable, she says, and has good health insurance for the first time in her adult life — all thanks to her OnlyFans.

Neither Helena nor Chloe — both of whom are white, cis, thin, and able-bodied, and therefore more likely to be rewarded by algorithms that exploit their users’ biases — have particularly huge followings; none of their follower counts go beyond 100,000 on any social media site. What they do have, however, are legible and largely consistent personal brands across platforms, along with the privileges afforded by conventionally attractive bodies. Even before they joined OnlyFans, which helped mainstream the concept of the e-girlfriend, their followers already cared about them more than they would a woman in a random Pornhub-video thumbnail.

This, naturally, gives them an enormous advantage on OnlyFans, which has a mostly unusable search function and does not suggest NSFW accounts on its homepage, making it extremely difficult to build a following on the site directly. The only real way to do so is by starting somewhere else — such as on Instagram or Twitter, or by using commonly searched-for terms to boost their personal profiles on Google — then converting a fraction of those people into paying subscribers.

As Charlotte Shane points out in her excellent New York Times Magazine feature on OnlyFans, “Newbies aren’t precluded from accruing a large base of followers or developing smaller groups of die-hard fans, and some manage it well. But attracting paying admirers for one’s self-created work doubles the amount of labor required to get paid anything at all.” Meanwhile, as the creator economy has skyrocketed, the money it generates continues to concentrate at the very top. Algorithms that exploit our existing biases toward white, thin, wealthy women make it far easier for those who fit these standards to profit from their bodies.

OnlyFans is notoriously tight-lipped about how much money its creators earn, but one data scientist estimated that the median OnlyFans creator makes $180 per month, with the top 10 percent of active OnlyFans accounts making 73 percent of all the money on the site. Other creators have guessed that those in the top 1 percent earn between $5,000 and $9,000 per month. This ignores things like tips and one-off payments for extra photos — Marie used to send a mass text to her subscribers every day, with a link to a paywalled photo of her feet they could choose to buy for anywhere between $5 and $100 a pop — but the subscriber numbers alone reveal a deeply unequal spread of wealth.

The pay gap between white and Black sex workers also exists online, just as in the real world. Actress and sex worker Erika Heidewald has explained how Black sex workers are discriminated against by social media algorithms that often reward white people and light-skinned people. “There’s just a discriminatory stereotype of how much different sex workers can charge based on their looks,” she told Okayplayer in 2020. “If you’re Black it can be harder to fight for the higher prices that you deserve.”

An illustration of people staring at a computer and browser windows with pictures of women.

There’s been a consistent, vocal backlash to the influx of celebrities leveraging their fame to dip their toes into sex work, especially when it’s debatable whether they’re doing sex work at all. Abby, a 21-year-old Scottish sex worker, told the New Statesman that her OnlyFans subscriptions drop every time a new celebrity joins the platform, pushing her and other existing creators down in the pecking order.

When those same celebrities and influencers then boast about the amount of money they make, it strikes sex workers as harmful and insensitive. “If ‘sex work’ is just another layer to your edgy public image, if you can leave the industry *any time* without that work EVER negatively impacting your future, if you’re like ‘lol here’s my tits’ without a care in the world abt losing custody or housing then seriously stfu,” former sex worker @JuniperFitz wrote on Twitter.

Perhaps no backlash was more fierce than when former Disney Channel actress Bella Thorne joined OnlyFans in August 2020 and made a million bucks in a single day, which rose to $2 million within the week and broke OnlyFans’ previous records. “To witness a celebrity gentrifying a platform and making obscene amounts of money without acknowledging the plight of sex workers is truly a slap in the face,” OnlyFans creator Aussie Rachel told Rolling Stone. Yet the ability to boycott OnlyFans when it turns against sex workers, such as when it announced (and later retracted) a new policy banning porn, is itself a privilege many can’t afford. For many Black, POC, disabled, plus-size, and queer sex workers, OnlyFans simply holds too much of the market share to risk losing the business.

The rise of the “influencer sex worker” is only the latest example of what some have referred to as the “gentrification of sex work” facilitated by the internet. Yet even as cam sites have been making certain types of sex work less physically dangerous since the ’90s, this sort of gentrification has less to do with the internet and more to do with changing economic realities. For an essay published in the journal Sexualities, Barnard College’s Bernstein studied class-privileged sex workers from 1994 to 2002, many of whom graduated from college but still couldn’t find jobs that paid livable wages. She found that neoliberal economic squeeze — decreasing wage stability, a lack of access to health care — was changing the class profile of who did sex work.

When performer Savannah Solo (her professional name), a 22-year-old from the southern US, joined OnlyFans on New Year’s Day in 2020, she thought the only way she could succeed on the platform was to “be really, really sexy,” she says. In the beginning, she marketed herself the way she’d seen other women do it, with lingerie and an aura of seriousness. But like every influencer story goes, she only hit the jackpot when she learned to lean into what made her different. She started posting goofy TikTok-style videos on Twitter about being a new OnlyFans creator, centering her content around her love of Star Wars, cosplay, and walking around the house naked.

“You can look in the mirror and be like, ‘God, I have amazing tits. I bet people would pay to see these titties,’” she says. “And then you hop on [OnlyFans], and you try to sell your amazing titties for a week, and you realize it’s way harder to sell pictures of your boobs when people can Google ‘boobs.’ You have to figure out what makes your boobs special.” Now, Savannah says, her audience is mostly “someone who’s looking to giggle while they jerk off.” She says she’s made enough money on OnlyFans to buy herself a house.

As online sex work becomes more of a nationwide conversation, some worry about glamorizing a potentially dangerous industry. Revenge porn, leaked nudes, blackmail, harassment, and stalking are very real possibilities for many people with an online presence, especially women, and especially women who are sex workers. In 2020, the New York Post outed a 23-year-old EMT who joined OnlyFans to make ends meet; she later had to raise money to help support her legal battles with the paper. A car mechanic in Indiana lost her job when her manager discovered her account.

Alexandra Ayers, a Bay Area romance novelist who has experience in the sex work industry, warns young women of these risks on her TikTok account. “A lot of girls are being misled into thinking it’s something that it’s not,” she tells me. “With OnlyFans, [the content] is permanent. It’s easier to find you than you think. It’s just very concerning to see how [huge] the information gap is with these young girls.”

Even if you hit the OnlyFans jackpot, however, to join an internet platform as a sex worker is to have your livelihood predicated on the decisions of corporate interests that likely don’t want to be associated with you. OnlyFans, for instance, has long attempted to shed its reputation as a hub for porn, instead promoting its chefs and fitness influencers. When the site believed it would be unable to continue its relationship with big banks, OnlyFans planned to penalize the sex workers who made it famous — before ultimately walking back its statement that it would ban “sexually explicit” content.

Ever since the internet has existed, sex workers have been at risk of being booted from it. The biggest blow over the last decade came in 2018, when then-President Donald Trump signed the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), creating a rare modifier to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Section 230 is the guiding principle for American internet companies, the law that protects platforms from liability for the behavior of its users, but FOSTA (sometimes known as the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, or SESTA, the name of an early Senate version of the bill) declared that platforms used to aid sex trafficking or prostitution could, in fact, be held liable in civil or criminal court. Crucially, it failed to distinguish between nonconsensual and consensual sex work. And despite outcries from sex workers and free speech groups, it effectively destroyed many safer avenues for sex work, such as Backpage, that allowed workers to screen clients and share information.

“I’m worried all the time about my account getting closed down,” says Lohhtuz, a 30-year-old full-service sex worker, OnlyFans creator, and nail artist in Nottingham, England. “I’m very cautious about what I can and can’t message in my DMs. If my Instagram got deleted, that would really affect new customers and OnlyFans subscribers coming in. That would be awful for me.”

An illustration of a woman’s head coming out of a phone, with her hair strands pulled toward the sky.

The risks Lohhtuz (the worker’s online handle) takes on as an escort are much more severe than those she deals with on the internet. While selling sex for money is legal in the UK, brothels are illegal, meaning Lohhtuz can’t work in the same space as another escort. She stresses that being able to would provide more safety and support on the job. One of the biggest threats to sex workers’ physical and economic safety is law enforcement itself, which has a horrifying history of assaulting sex workers in the US.

Police disproportionately target sex workers of color: From 2016 to 2020, 89 percent of people charged with prostitution in New York were people of color, as were 93 percent of people arrested for patronizing a prostitute, according to a ProPublica investigation. At the very bottom of the hierarchy are those who use sex work as a means of survival, often trans individuals and people of color disenfranchised by mainstream society, many of whom find clients on the street and are exposed to the most dangerous conditions.

The privilege divide between full-service sex workers and those who work only online has heightened during the pandemic, where internet sex work has become increasingly normalized but in-person contact has become more stigmatized.

“My optimistic view is that this shift is taking us toward more destigmatizing sex work and understanding that sex work does not intrinsically mean exploitation,” says Hammack, the psychology professor, likening it to the dwindling stigma around online dating over the course of the 2010s. “It’s important to recognize that both parties can get meaning, value, and connection — and arousal, of course — out of the situation.”

Lohhtuz sees two sides to the argument:

I can’t say that, yes, OnlyFans is sex work. How many of these people are actually going through that anxiety when you’re waiting for a stranger to come to the door, and you don’t know what’s going to happen, and you’re relying on that money to be able to pay rent that month? There’s such a big difference. So some part of me thinks, could the OnlyFans-type girls be a category of their own? Or can we bring it all together so that none of us are seen as dirty people or sluts or whores? I don’t have the answer to that. I want it to become destigmatized, but I can’t help but sometimes see those who have no idea what it’s like to be worried about money and start from the bottom, and say, “We’re with them.”

When Marie landed a full-time job in a corporate industry over the summer, she had to deactivate her OnlyFans account. That meant giving up the income source that, in just three months, had netted her $50,000. She’s bummed, but hopes her new career will be more stable and just as lucrative in the long term. “I wish there wasn’t such a stigma against people who are in control, who are businesswomen and killing it,” she says of OnlyFans creators. “They’re creating shoots, they’re editing content, they’re figuring out new marketing ideas, and they’re labeled as whores. But that whore makes more than [$10,000] a month.”

In December, I got a Twitter DM from a man named Ron asking if I’d like to be his findomme, a virtual dominatrix who consensually humiliates another person while controlling their money. Financial BDSM, in other words. “Hello Goddess,” he wrote. “Would love to discuss the details if you’re interested.”

Ron told me that he’d read some of my work and thought I seemed open-minded, and that he knew even if I never replied, at the very least I wouldn’t say something cruel. After asking more questions, I found out he’s a 34-year-old in the South who works in IT, whose marriage ended because he’d become addicted, in his words, to dominatrix porn and lost interest in being with women in person. Over the past eight years, he’s had about 20 to 30 findommes and estimates he’s spent around $50,000.

He told me he’s at a stage in life where overproduced sexual content “without any substance” doesn’t do it for him, and that he isn’t interested in professional sex workers. “I think the prospect of convincing a ‘normal girl’ into a findomme who’d make me her bitch is kinda appealing,” he says.

This, to me, feels like the allure of the influencer as sex worker, the thrill of a person whose online persona you’ve already come to know being willing to take the next step, even if you have to pay for it. Creators I’ve spoken to describe their relationships with their OnlyFans subscribers as almost wholesome, more intimate and nuanced than the way they speak about their followers on other platforms. Others have pointed out that at strip clubs, for instance, they’d be subject to racial and sexual harassment, whereas their OnlyFans subscribers have been respectful and kind.

Sex work still exists at the intersection of one of society’s most stubborn taboos, the idea that intimacy and capital can be combined. Yet the online creator industry fueling this dynamic will most certainly continue to grow. OnlyFans may be the most well-known of such platforms, but subscription-based sites that offer greater access to creators are exploding, and sex workers are more explicitly welcome on sites like JustForFans and ManyVids. Porn performers have long embraced cryptocurrencies as a method for avoiding censorship from financial services, and some are making bank on NFTs.

Just like Instagram made everyone a photographer and Twitter made everyone an opinion columnist, the mere act of using social media has turned us all into creators, hustling for as many microtransactions on as many platforms as we can.

If the American dream is getting paid for doing what you love, and what you love is to present an idealized version of yourself on the internet and amassing an audience of people who love looking at you in return, the difference between “influencing” and sex work is, arguably, only a matter of spectrum. It’s Rule 43 again: If your livelihood depends on pleasing an audience, what a large percentage of your audience is going to want is to see you naked. It’s still up to you whether to give that to them, but the pipeline from influencer to sex worker has never been clearer.

Either way, you are already for sale. Your face, your body, your saddest drunk texts, your ugliest outbursts are already out there, preserved by any number of internet companies that bank on you scrolling past their privacy policies without actually reading them.

Online sex work can feel like a subversion of that dynamic, which by definition is built on one-sided agreements between companies and human beings. In one of these scenarios, you aren’t privy to the actual transfer of money or even informed what, exactly, is being bought. The transactions take place down an endless, invisible assembly line, repackaging human bodies and the secrets between them as data points to help the wealthiest people in the world stay that way. In the other, you’re in charge of what you’re giving and to whom.

The creator economy is the logical conclusion of you and me realizing that the internet ultimately leaves us all to fend for ourselves, fighting against one another for whatever scraps of attention and money we can find. It isn’t pretty or glamorous; it’s survival.

Nobody really wins this game. But just like in life, if you’ve got a sense of humor and a great ass, it’s a hell of a lot easier.