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No one is more surprised that Sonja Morgan is the fourth most popular star on OnlyFans than Sonja Morgan.
She is, after all, 57 years old and most famous as a longstanding “Real Housewife of New York.” Not the sort of person you’d expect on a platform comprised mainly of nudes and homemade soft-core porn.
But Morgan, who is always looking to expand her empire (toaster ovens and a Nigerian football team are among the doomed enterprises known to “RHONY” fans), thought there might be room on OnlyFans for her brand of middle-aged flooziness.
“I’m known on the show as ‘Sexy Sonja,’ or ‘Sexy J,’ ” she tells the Post. “I’m always the first to go naked in the pool. I date younger guys. I have all these videos [of me] running around naked at swimsuit parties.”
Morgan first joined OnlyFans last July, right after recovering from a neck-and facelift. While that detail alone makes her a softcore outlier, consider that the RHONY audience consists largely of high-income, highly educated white women and gay men.
Morgan explains — as only she can — “I walk into Cipriani, and it’s people who went to Harvard or Yale — that’s who’s watching the show. I’m well known internationally, for my lifestyle, as a model and philanthropist who was married to JPM.” (That’s banking scion John Adams Morgan, known as JPM to intimates.)
In other words, selling one’s sexuality online is becoming a side hustle without stigma. Once upon a time, a reality star under contract to a high-profile cable network would likely be fired for sex work on the side. It wasn’t all that long ago that Vanessa Williams, the first black Miss America, was stripped of her title for having posed nude, pictures purchased and published by Penthouse.
A nation gasped. Today, we yawn.
Now major movie star such as Michael B. Jordan creates an OnlyFans account (close-up of him biting his lower lip as bait) to zero scandal. Beyoncé name checks OnlyFans in Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage,” and the site gets a 15 percent uptick in traffic in 24 hours. Blac Chyna, Cardi B., Tyga, “Teen Wolf” star Tyler Posey — all are top content creators, sexualizing their content as little or as much as they choose.
But the celebrities are just a tiny fraction of OnlyFan users. It’s attracted college students, housewives and married couples. Average people who will show you everything to those who offer more of a tease. Since the lockdown, OnlyFans reported a spike of 7.5 million users in November 2019 to 85 million in December 2020. The Guardian Australia reported that OnlyFans now claims 85 million global users with a 2020 payout of $2.7 billion to its content creators. As the Guardian put it, “Everyone and their mum is on it.”
Where once male gatekeepers determined who and what was sexy — from strip clubs to burlesque dancers to Playboy bunnies and nude models — now there are no barriers to entry. Women, men, trans, gender fluid, any age, race, weight — if you want to be on OnlyFans, all you have to do is sign up. And unlike OnlyFans’ nearest competitor PornHub, all the content you create belongs to you; the site takes only 20 percent of creator income.
We are in the midst of another sexual revolution, ignited by the collision of technology and a generational shift in attitude. The power that women especially derive from online sex work, from setting their own parameters and prices, has transformed our ideas of who participates and why. Not to mention a global pandemic that has left many financially strapped, ready to take advantage of audiences still mostly confined to their homes.
Kirsten Vaughn, 25, launched her OnlyFans account in January 2020. She says she was on track to become the first female master technician at her Honda dealership in Indiana, but her take-home pay after taxes, about $450 a week, wasn’t enough.
“Six months before joining OnlyFans, I was trying to find a second job,” she tells the Post. With no luck, Vaughn decided to join the site and quickly averaged an additional $1,000 a week in gross income — $800 net.
For Vaughn, however, joining OnlyFans wasn’t just about money. It was about finding her place as a woman in a male-dominated field.
“When I first started out in the industry, I was always getting questions about being female: ‘Why are you even here?’ ”
Vaughn found herself trying, as she puts it, to “eliminate parts of my femininity” in a quest to be seen as neither male nor female — just another employee, one particularly good at her job. It didn’t work, and when she got the idea to join OnlyFans, it wasn’t just a way to make money. It was a way to enjoy wearing “make-up and cute clothes, being girly and feminine.”
Her parents, she says, didn’t have a problem with it; for her dad, it was simply a matter of delivery systems changing. His generation had magazines; her generation has the Internet.
Then came the day a salesman at her dealership approached.
“He said, ‘I just saw more of you than I ever wanted to see — no offense.’ I was pretty disgusted,” she says. “And I was really scared that what would happen, happened” — she was let go.
Vaughn still doesn’t understand why she was fired while the two salesmen who viewed her content at work weren’t punished equally.
“They told me they didn’t care that their salesmen were watching porn on the floor during work hours,” Vaughn says. “I was a distraction in the shop.”
General manager John Watkins told the Post that Vaughn was fired for “violation of company procedures and policies,” which he declined to specify.
“They told me they didn’t care that their salesmen were watching porn on the floor during work hours. I was a distraction in the shop.”
Vaughn’s firing made headlines — especially as people the world over, out of work due to the pandemic, turned to OnlyFans as a money-making venture. Vaughn felt no shame, only anger: How many of her critics, she asks, watch porn? Why the double standard — that it’s okay for men to consume porn, but the women who create it should be ostracized, vilified and made to suffer?
That said, Vaughn would warn anyone planning to join OnlyFans, or to pursue any online sex work, that everyone in your life will eventually find out. She is part of a generation who will not just need to explain social media histories to future employers — or who may be fired for decades-old tweets — but who will have online sexual histories as well.
So when Vaughn interviewed for her new job at another car dealership, she openly spoke about her OnlyFans presence. No one cared.
Her main concern, she says, is her personal safety: Yes, sex work online, be it as a cam girl (often not nearly as profitable) or an OnlyFans creator, protects one from strange people and places and physical harm, be it violence or STDs. But that very technology also makes it easy for strangers to stalk her.
“I’m in the public eye to a certain extent,” Vaughn says, “and in a way I don’t have any anonymity. If some creepy guy wants to find me, all he has to do is show up.”
On the other hand, Vaughn is her own boss — a role that women in sex work have never had before.
“OnlyFans is no different than the [old-fashioned] peep shows,” says Marina Adshade, a professor specializing in the economics of sex and love. But with peep shows there were still owners, typically men, who controlled hiring, salaries, frequency of work and work hours, to say nothing of the abysmal sanitary conditions.
Can you imagine any sex worker in 2021, liberated by modern technology, putting up with any of that?
“OnlyFans and cam girls can only be seen as a good thing,” Adshade says. “If someone is a sex worker of their own accord — I see no downsides to this.”
Stephanie Michelle has been on OnlyFans for about four years, after her former platform Patreon stepped back from sexual content. The pandemic has been more profitable than she could have predicted.
“I’m like, ‘What’s happening?’ ” she tells the Post. “ ’I’m just posting my boobs on the Internet!’ Business has been booming. All of us are at home bored out of our minds.”
She won’t divulge her age (“When you’re a sex worker over 30, you lose half your clientele”) or her monthly income, but her base rate, $14.99 per month, has helped support her husband (out of work as a cinematographer) and their three cats.
“I don’t do penetration,” she says. “But then I learned you could literally crochet scarves on OnlyFans.”
Which brings us to Bella Thorne. Though you can post whatever you like to OnlyFans, from cooking to decorating videos, it’s known for its sexual content. So when Thorne joined, fans flocked with the promise of a former Disney star gone bad. She remained clothed.
In the wake of massive backlash to what some users considered false advertising, OnlyFans capped the amount creators can charge. As of last August, $50 is the limit for exclusive content per month (think of it as paying for an additional streaming service), with a $100 cap on tips.
“Bella Thorne made promises and didn’t deliver, and that makes sex workers look bad,” Michelle says. “She’s making us look like we don’t care about our fans, or are liars and cheats. The price cap didn’t affect my business — however, that doesn’t make me any less pissed off about the cap. I’m very upset for my friends” — other content creators suffering as a result.
Michelle sees OnlyFans as a net positive, one that is forcing society to reconsider what it means to sell one’s image, likeness, or body. Why is it, she asks, more harmful to sell oneself virtually than in the real world, and why do we consider some forms of commodification valid and good, but not others?
“Athletes sell their bodies,” she says. “Football players and boxers get brain damage. In my opinion, that is more harmful than me putting my t—s online. No one is forcing me to post nudes or make content I don’t want to make. I’m basically an entrepreneur.”
Michelle also has direct conversations with individual subscribers, many of whom, she says, are looking to feel less anxious and lonely in lockdown.
Relationships have been stripped from us for a full year,” Michelle says. “I’m so thankful I was able to help people de-stress in a year that was only stress.”
As for Morgan, who has a new season of RHONY premiering May 4, OnlyFans has become part of her brand. “Bravo is my lifeline, but I do OnlyFans for the same reason I get on Twitter every night — I like to connect with my viewership. And I can tell you: you make good money.”
Plus by 2030, OnlyFans will seem quaint to the point of innocence. After all, the sex robots are coming.
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