It’s noon on a sunny Monday when Elena Davies calls the father of one of her Very Important Titty Seers (VITs).
“Hello?” answers the dad from what sounds like a gas station.
“Yes, is this Darrell?”
“Yes, it is. Who is this?”
“Hi, this is Elena. I just wanted to let you know that I’ve been in communication with your son for a few months now. He’s been taking explicit content he bought from me and sharing and selling it online. He was very aware that it was illegal before he did it. I know he’s a grown man, but I think a situation like this needs to be addressed by his father, and I think he needs to know how disgusted I am and how devastated I am that someone I trusted with my personal content has shared and sold it and made a profit off my body. I feel like that’s something a mother and father need to know.”
All things considered, Darrell takes this pretty well. He says he’ll talk to his son, and he asks Davies if he can contact her should any questions arise. Davies says sure, but she tells Darrell she has already contacted a detective and a lawyer before she hangs up. She won’t be talked out of suing.
As she thinks back on that phone call, Davies lets out a triumphant laugh.
“I haven’t heard from Darrell,” she says. But, she adds, “I’m feeling really fucking cool that I’m making money off of the thing guys used to get free.”
The 30-year-old Fort Worth resident is one of the more than 450,000 content creators active on OnlyFans, a site where subscribers pay a fee to view exclusive content. Those subscribers can also pay “tips” for extra pictures or videos (as Davies’ VITs do). While the platform isn’t confined to explicit content, it’s become a popular home for sex workers, adult performers and models. For Davies, a former Big Brother contestant, it’s a chance to flip the power dynamic she has been on the wrong side of much of her life.
“I’ve been so sexualized when I haven't wanted to be,” she says. “[People] put all my worth into the fact that I’m sexually attractive. It doesn’t matter that I’m smart; it doesn’t matter that I’m funny. They can look at me. They can touch me. They can jerk off to me without my consent. Being on OnlyFans is me taking control of that. I know people will still jerk off to me without my permission, but being in control makes me feel good and empowered and in charge. In a way, it’s made me feel even sexier because it’s on my terms.”
“Also $35,000 in three months is cool.”
OnlyFans was founded in 2016 and now boasts more than 30 million users and 450,000 content creators like Davies. Unsurprisingly, the platform has received its fair share of vitriol, some of it deserved.
The barons of its parent company, Fenix International Ltd., like to avoid interviews and remain mysterious. In 2020, a BBC Three documentary revealed that the company was allowing underage users to sell content. As noted by a Refinery29 story about the documentary, “There is no legal requirement or regulation to compel OnlyFans to scan content on its app” for photos or videos posted by underage users. The story also notes that “all legal and potential criminal liability lies with the individual who uploads and/or receives/distributes said content.”
If you’ve only recently heard of OnlyFans, it may be because of the way its popularity reportedly skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. As millions of people flocked to the site, several viral stories emerged telling of teachers and nursing students using the platform to make ends meet. A narrative of OnlyFans as some kind of “last resort” quickly took shape, but the truth is much more nuanced.
In North Texas, many men and women are using the platform as a source of reliable income; they don’t have to use OnlyFans, but they want to. Perhaps most intriguingly, the site has become a source of connection for people isolated in their homes. While not much is known about the people who buy content on OnlyFans, the platform carries the same baggage attached to pornography. A thorough research paper published in late 2020 offered a clear and recent window into the psyches of consistent porn consumers. It suggested that the stigma surrounding sex work raises barriers to creating and selling porn in a manner that treats sex workers ethically — by requiring viewers to pay for it, for example.
The people interviewed for this story acknowledged that stigma, but all of them appeared to view OnlyFans as something separate from porn, a different entity entirely.
“I don’t know how to explain it, but I just feel healthier about [OnlyFans] than I do about any porn site,” one subscriber said. “It doesn’t feel like I’m contributing to something evil.”
That’s a popular sentiment among the other subscribers interviewed for this story. While he may not be representative of the millions of buyers on the platform, an OnlyFans subscriber we’ll call Alan sees the platform as a more respectable alternative to porn.
“I think we all know at this point that the porn industry rips women off and capitalizes on their shame,” he says. “I just feel better about being on OnlyFans. Plus, you get to actually talk to the person behind the camera. That’s awesome.”
Alan is married. He’s also Muslim. For both reasons, he feels conflicted about his OnlyFans patronage. In fact, when contacted for this interview, Alan had retreated to a parking garage to talk over the phone, as if he were a Deep Throat-esque leaker sharing dangerous secrets.
“I really shouldn’t be doing this,” he says. By “this” he means both the interview and purchasing explicit content. Yet he is quick to dispel the notion that it started because he doesn’t find his wife attractive.
“I love my wife,” he says. “I love her. Trust me.”
It started like this: In late 2019, an old high school flame (he declines to share her name) posted on Instagram that she started an OnlyFans account. He signed up, subscribed to her content, and even started tipping her for more photos. Alan used an assumed name, but ultimately his old high school girlfriend found out who he was. According to him, she doesn’t mind.
“She was surprised at first,” he says, “but after a while, it was like, ‘Hey, how are you doing? It’s great to catch up.’”
Alan says he has since branched out to other content creators, but he says he is making an effort to cut down on his OnlyFans consumption. He feels guilty, and eventually, he says he’ll have to tell his wife.
“I don’t believe in keeping secrets forever,” he says. “It’s going to sound crazy, and it is, but I think I needed this. For closure. It was a chance to connect with someone who I hadn’t seen in years, and now I can move on. In my opinion, it doesn’t mean I love my wife any less.”
When pressed to distinguish between “catching up” on OnlyFans and, say, giving his old girlfriend a call, Alan waffled.
“In a way, that’s what it turned into,” he says. “We were texting like old friends, talking about our jobs and stuff.”
But occasionally she would send pictures of her breasts.
“I know what you’re thinking, but I don’t have any good answers,” he says. “The best I can say is that it gave me a connection that you can’t really get anywhere else. It felt, I don’t know, dangerous but intimate and…”
“And personal, I guess.”
Of the half dozen OnlyFans subscribers interviewed for this story, Alan was the only one who is married. He is also the only person who expressed any kind of guilt over their presence on the platform.
“Why would I feel guilty?” asks Kelsey, who still asked that her real name not be used. “If you think about it, this is probably the best way to actually support the people who make content like this.”
To be clear, OnlyFans takes a 20% cut of its creator’s profits.
“I remember looking at how much I actually made after their cut, and at first, it shocks you,” says Alex Blair, a Dallas musician who sells photos on OnlyFans. “That’s a really significant cut.”
Still, Blair (who calls her content “XXX”) says she makes most of her living from OnlyFans. She joined roughly two years ago, and at first, she was earning about $1,000 per month.
“Now I’m making six or seven times that,” she says. “It’s like any other social media platform: the more you post, the more successful you can be.”
There’s another cost worth mentioning: family and friends. Like many OnlyFans users, Blair uses Instagram to promote her OnlyFans. Friends, family, and music fans know she is active on the platform, and acquaintances have repeatedly asked her boyfriend why he would date someone with an OnlyFans account.
Courtney, who does not share her last name and publishes content under the moniker “Texas Thighs,” has received a similar judgment from friends and family.
“I lost some family and friends just from my Instagram page,” she says. “Once I created my own site then moved on to OnlyFans, those people were not a part of my circle anymore.”
Courtney, who is 37, produces content alongside her husband, Nick, who is 40. They also have two daughters, ages 12 and 15. Husband and wife have gotten adept at dealing with various strains of internet trolling.
“Courtney is a mom and a wife, so she brings out a whole new level of haters,” Nick says. Yet their biggest haters might be Instagram and TikTok.
Like Blair, Courtney has been “shadowbanned” on Instagram, which means her content won’t appear on anyone’s feed unless they already follow her. Instagram has also temporarily taken down Courtney’s account on seven occasions, even though the model and fitness guru says she respects the company’s community guidelines. Recently, TikTok took down her account, too, only to bring it back sans 5,000 followers. Now, everything Courtney posts on TikTok is routed to an internal review, which could take up to two days. It’s frustrating for the creator, who avoids full nudity and calls her content “cheeky and fun, positive and playful sexy.”
“I try really hard to toe the line,” she says. “But when you get taken down on TikTok and Instagram, it can start to affect your bottom line.”
In November 2020, OnlyFans creators decried what has since become known as the “TikTok purge”: a massive scrubbing that deleted the accounts of many TikTok users who are also on OnlyFans. TikTok offered no forewarning or explanation, and when some users reached out, the company pointed to its guidelines that prohibit “content that depicts, promotes, or glorifies sexual solicitation, including offering or asking for sexual partners, sexual chats or imagery, sexual services, premium sexual content, or sexcamming.” Yet many creators, including Courtney, say they have never posted anything that comes close to breaching those rules.
She agrees TikTok’s vast under-18 audience shouldn’t be subjected to anything pornographic, but as she sees it, this isn’t just an anti-pornography stance. It’s anti-OnlyFans. These bans have affected her income, too. Over the phone in late March, Courtney and Nick said they noticed a significant financial hit just two days into TikTok’s lengthy prohibition.
“It’s a fun way to make some really good money, and I work really hard to get lots of drafts set up,” she says. “When those bans happen, everything you work on gets taken away.”
Like TikTok, Instagram has been accused of taking a staunch stance on OnlyFans, affecting users who are not posting pornographic content. Facebook, the app’s owner, has even been slightly transparent about its efforts. In a blog post from 2019, the company said they “have begun reducing the spread of posts that are inappropriate but do not go against Instagram’s Community Guidelines.”
The resulting murky waters have led to shadowbans and lost revenue for creators like Courtney, who is quick to distinguish what she does from porn.
“People automatically assume I'm doing porn, or they straight up ask me, ‘Why aren’t you doing porn?’ Why aren’t you showing your butthole? Do you have hemorrhoids?’ People are wild.”
The social media companies’ intent is clear: foster family-friendly environments. That comes at the literal expense of sex workers, models and anyone else whose content is deemed inappropriate.
“It may not seem like a huge deal,” notes a piece in the lesbian publication GO Magazine, “but it can mean the difference between affording rent and not for those accounts who rely on their social media traffic to sell their content.”
Davies is a vehement critic of a society that, from her point of view, simultaneously sexualizes women then punishes them for daring to own their sexuality. But she refuses to feel bad for monetizing OnlyFans, and one of the most important people in her life is fully supportive.
“[My mom] is so loving and accepting of me,” Davies says. “Of course, she hopes that all content is ‘mom-approved,’ but she’s down enough to take the occasional foot picture for me!”
Elena Davies essentially joined OnlyFans accidentally. She signed back in June 2019 with the idea of running it alongside her friend. They never followed through, but six months later, Davies remembered she had an account. She found the password, changed her subscription price to $20, then sent the link to a friend as a joke. The next day, she noticed 35 new subscribers. When that follower count continued to grow, she committed to an only fans approach — literally only fans. If you subscribe to her OnlyFans, you’ll see pictures of her underneath ceiling fans, industrial fans, portable fans and all kinds of air cooling devices. The move is quintessential Davies: humorous, irreverent and an acknowledgment that, yes, she is probably having more fun than you. And the fun doesn’t stop at the fans.
Her VITs are a brave group. To earn the privilege of exclusive Elena content, you must send her a photo of your ID, a photo of yourself holding your ID, and a photo of yourself holding a sign on which you’ve written, “Elena, I’m so scared of you.”
Once Davies has secured all of that, she’ll put your name in a spreadsheet, send you a censored version of an explicit photo and say, “If you want an uncensored photo, send me $40.” Only then will she send you the uncensored photo you desire, which will contain a unique watermark she can trace back to you.
“The watermarks are in a different place, so if it does get leaked online, I know who is responsible and I can press charges,” she says. “I’m currently in the middle of doing that to two guys right now. They swapped photos of me and another reality TV girl like we’re frickin’ Pokémon cards, gotta catch them all!”
That’s how Davies ended up on a phone call with a dad named Darrell. It wasn’t necessarily how she wanted to spend her Monday, but in true Elena fashion, she’s able to look at it with a sense of humor.
“All of them are living in fear, so it’s a beautiful thing,” she says. She takes the same fearless stance with her haters, of which she has many. People have threatened to murder her, including one particularly persistent gentleman from Saginaw. At this point, she is confident the threats are never serious, and she doesn’t let them bother her. Courtney and Blair are in a similar boat.
Despite, or perhaps because of her popularity (“We’ll be out, and people will yell, ‘Hey Texas Thighs! Hey Mr. Texas Thighs!’” her husband says), Courtney has been the victim of several fake accounts, including one that spammed her friends, asking for money. Blair, too, has received multiple death threats and seen at least 10 fake accounts bearing her name.
“I had a person who was making fake Instagram profiles saying they were me and responding to my fans,” she says. “They were saying some really fucked-up shit, and telling people to kill themselves. People I know were reaching out to me and asking, ‘How could you say that to me?’”
If anything, OnlyFans has offered somewhat of a safer haven for the women quoted in this story. Courtney calls it “the kindest platform, by far,” and, like the subscribers quoted above, Blair has had plenty of genuine, positive connections with fans on the platform.
“I’ve met a lot of really nice people,” she says. “There’s always gonna be creeps, but I’ve had far more great interactions than bad. What would scare me would be doing this kind of work in person, which makes me all the more in awe of women who are working in clubs, dancing in rooms with strangers. More power to them, because the internet is giving me a wall.”
Every OnlyFans creator interviewed for this story approaches it similar to a business. Connections are great, but so is capitalism. They have visions of elevating their brand and raking in six figures a year (though most of them are already doing that).
Davies rejects the idea that this is any kind of last resort. She’s using the profits in part to renovate her house, which isn’t exactly “last resort” kind of money. Plus, she plans to funnel her OnlyFans cash directly into her dreams. Some real estate plans, a store, a rebrand and additions to her podcast production are all in the works. In that sense, the allegedly murderous halfwits from Saginaw and the phone calls with dads named Darrell are worth it.
“If taking photos of my butt and taking videos of my toes is going to allow me to make my dreams come true and also travel to Greece, then fuck yeah,” she says. “Let’s do it.”
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