Knowing that ABC News’ new documentary special about OnlyFans was premiering today on Hulu, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised to see a disembodied pair of waxed pectorals and rock hard abs competing for my attention above my “Keep Watching” list. But there they were, one of at least two possible image tiles randomly selected to promote OnlyFans: Selling Sexy. Taking its title from the old addage “Sex sells,” the marketing plan worked. I was intrigued and I clicked “Play,” partially because I was assigned to, but also out of genuine curiosity.
The special follows the lives of five OnlyFans content creators juxtaposed against an array of commentators that includes comedians (Nikki Glaser and Donnell Rawlings), writers (Jason Parham, Lucas Shaw, EJ Dickson) and therapists/experts in the field. OnlyFans: Selling Sexy takes a different approach to telling the story, introducing you to the featured sex workers before diving in to a thought-provoking conversation of the forces that led to the rise of a platform like OnlyFans and a conversation about it’s potential staying power. Is it a fad that will pass like MySpace and Google Plus or is it here to stay like Twitter and Instagram?
I first heard of OnlyFans as a joke on a podcast where the hosts were giving away their social media accounts in case you wanted to follow them outside of the show. “And what’s the OnlyFans?,” one host asked. The other’s response was something like “Oh, no you didn’t.” That was not that long ago, I wasn’t aware that the platform has been around since 2016 or that it saw a period of exponential growth in 2020 when the world was essentially in lockdown.
Funnily enough, the number of times the OnlyFans story intersects with Disney personalities was a little alarming. One of the commentators credits Disney Legend Christina Aguilera’s music video “Dirty” as introducing her generation to pornographic content. Beyoncé is credited with popularizing and normalizing the concept of OnlyFans in her remix of the song “Savage.” And former Disney Channel star Bella Thorne, who famously made $1 million her first day after signing up for the platform, is the poster child for how celebrities have gentrified the service and negatively impacted the livelihoods of sex workers, althought the oppostie case is also made that it brought more users to the platform and thereby increased their money making opportunities.
If you thought the special was going to somehow demonize the service or the online sex work industry in general, you’d be wrong. Instead, it hypes up OnlyFans’ elusive founder, Tim Stokley, as possibly the world’s next Hugh Heffner. It makes the statement that where celebrities on Instagram are paid to sell products, celebrities on OnlyFans are selling themselves. It talks about how the branding for the platform isn’t based around sex and highlights several celebrities who have accounts that have nothing to do with their appearance, including Real Housewives stars and Cardi B.
The special also touches on the body image of sex workers, comparing it to professional athletes trying to enhance their bodies to improve their performance. ABC News presents two opposite ends of the spectrum from two of the women featured, the body-positive Wynter Mosely who has a conversation about negative comments she received about her weight and the size of her assets and not allowing herself to internalize them. At the opposite end is Kirsten Vaughn, a Studio Ghibli tattooed motorhead who talks about the evolution of what she allowed herself to do on the platform, leading to some hard-to-watch footage of undergoing breast augmentation surgery in an effort to broaden her appeal.
You don’t leave OnlyFans: Selling Sexy with a desire to sign yourself up to be put on display, nor does it make the platform look particularly attractive from the consuming end. What it succeeds at is sparking an open conversation about online sex work, removing the stigma from the narrative and examining it like any other type of work. It covers a lot of ground in just 50-minutes, from different expectations from male and female performers to conversations about body image and even ways people in quarantine tried to feel a connection with a living human being on the other end of a screen.
OnlyFans: Selling Sexy from ABC News is now streaming exclusively on Hulu.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.