OnlyFans, a subscription-based content site popular among sex workers, found a demand for digital intimacy amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The platform, created in 2016, surged in popularity throughout 2020 as a result.
For Ivy Vernalis, a New York-based OnlyFans creator known as @plantgal who falls in the top 0.75% of all creators on the platform, the pandemic ushered in a flood of new subscribers.
“As soon as the pandemic started,” she says, “I started earning a lot more money because people are at home and honestly people are starved for connection. With the pandemic, people were just really on their computers all time looking for content and looking for a relationship. The lack of human connection over the last year has really driven up camming as a business.”
Ivy began on OnlyFans a year and a half ago. Prior to creating her Plant-Gal account, she’d dabbled in sex work privately over social media direct messages and some in-person encounters. She moved to the platform once interest in her content began to drum up, looking for a middle-man to handle disseminating nude photos and videos rather than having to deal with one-on-one solicitations.
“In some way, it is like raw Instagram, both in the fact that it's 18+ and also sometimes that I share parts of my life that I might not share on a much more curated social media platform,” she says.
Many of Ivy’s posts are laden with lush plants, a calling card of sorts and a nod to her alias Plant-Gal. Her inspiration for the plant-based aesthetic comes from her grandmother, who was an avid gardener. What began as a preference for plants’ simplicity and beauty evolved into a brand that Ivy began to monetize as she moved into sex work.
“I acquired more plants just because I liked them. They make me feel connected to the earth. It's simple, it's easy and they make me feel good. They make me feel grounded and they're beautiful.”
Building Community Among Other OnlyFans Creators
Among her favorite experiences on the platform has been establishing both professional and personal connections with other sex workers. The nature of the site may seem to lend itself strongly to competition, but Ivy adds that the process is far more cooperative to those who are open.
“I implicitly trust sluts,” she says. “I just do. I think they're good people. I'm a very open person and it's been very easy for me to want to open my heart and open my life to people.”
While some creators can be at the mercy of the OnlyFans algorithm, Ivy believes that cultivating relationships with fellow creators is inherent to sex work: “OnlyFans as an organization does very little to support community, but sex workers are so community-oriented. It really comes from the implicit nature of the practice and being shunned by a lot of other people and other resources.”
There is a lot of cross-promotion among other sex workers on the platform. Often, Ivy will point her own subscribers to other creators’ posts, help promote their engagement and collaborate on photo shoots and videos. “My experience on OnlyFans, and it's a very privileged thing to be able to say this, but my experience in sex work in general has been incredibly positive. I've made a lot of really great connections through sex work.”
Ivy’s content on the site is equal parts staged photo shoots and self-directed photos or videos. Solo and partnered content is also split evenly, but she skews heavily toward women and nonbinary folks. (She adds that there aren’t many cis men on the platform to begin with, which contributes to the disparity.)
“I would say 99% theys and femmes and 1% men,” she observes.
Celebrities on OnlyFans
The popularity of OnlyFans reached celebrities over the summer as Beyoncé namechecked the platform in the remix of Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage,” Cardi B joined as a creator to debut behind-the-scenes footage of “WAP,” and Bella Thorne earned $2 million in just over a week on the site, sparking outrage on Twitter among sex workers.
While celebrities bring greater awareness to OnlyFans as a whole — there was an estimated 15 percent jump in site visitors after “Savage” went viral — they pull focus from smaller creators who use the platform as their primary or sole income, particularly sex workers who were instrumental in its establishment in the first place.
“It’s just gentrification. It’s Internet gentrification,” Ivy says.
In August 2020, when Bella Thorne joined OnlyFans to research for a film role, she charged a $20 subscription fee and set a site record for grossing $1 million dollars in a single day. Criticism from other sex workers on the platform was swift as Thorne, an already wealthy public figure, was making large sums of money for research purposes while seemingly obscuring other creators who earn less and need the income more.
OnlyFans soon created a $100 cap on tips and a 30-day wait for payouts compared to the previous 7-day policy. Creators allege that these policy changes were the result of an influx of refund requests that erupted after one of Thorne’s $200 pay-per-view photos turned out to not be a nude. OnlyFans denied rumors that the pay cap was related to Thorne.
“This obviously was supposed to be [her] researching a role,” Ivy comments. “And that's so insulting because this is my job. It's so disappointing to see more people wanting to try on sex work and cosplay as a sex worker, but not actually be involved or advocate for sex workers, and yet say that they're doing so much for us because we don't want that.”
Misconceptions Around Sex Work and Building an OnlyFans Account
There is a popular misconception that making money on OnlyFans is as easy as posting some suggestive photos and waiting around to rake in the cash, but running a popular account requires regular admin work, consistent posts and subscriber engagement, whether that’s through direct messages, cross-promotion with other creators or teases of forthcoming shoots on Instagram and Twitter. Shooting good content is only part of the battle in maintaining a popular account.
“I would say the amount of admin time is like double what everybody thinks it is,” says Ivy. “I feel like everybody thinks it's like just snapping a couple photos of yourself and posting them and then you're set. But obviously that's not true. There's like a whole ton of promotion that goes into interacting with your fans.”
Because OnlyFans operates as a social media platform, she notes that it can be difficult to meet the requests of followers who want constant access to her. Consistency is key to keep growing her platform, making it difficult to take days off or disconnect from her devices.
“People need to know that they can find you there when they want to find you, which is all the time,” she says.
Ivy will often spend up to 80 hours shooting content, engaging with subscribers, posting photos and videos and promoting her account across Instagram and Twitter in a single week. “People don't realize that it can be very exhausting. Even though you're just online, it's very exhausting to give people access to yourself intimately like that. And so it's emotionally really tiring.”
Promotion can become fraught when sites like Instagram have been known to restrict and flag the content of sex workers. Ivy added that she has to be careful to avoid using any sexually suggestive words or phrases or responding to comments and DMs that solicit nudes or are explicit.
Like any job, having a following on OnlyFans comes with challenges like constant availability and solicitation from followers. However, Ivy said that her overall experience on the site has been an opportunity to meet other sex workers and live off of a single income from her site earnings. Where other social media platforms have restrictive policies on the nature of the content that can be posted, Ivy’s OnlyFans is an amalgam of her entire persona, from polished shoots to casual selfies.
“The greatest thing is being paid to be myself. Honestly, like I couldn't imagine something that is better. I'm absolutely 100% myself on there.”
For more information about Plant-Gal, follow @plant.gal on Instagram.