A Scots model who has made thousands from selling sexual content online predicts more people will join OnlyFans to help pay soaring bills.
Athena Aster, 25, was able to move out and quit her retail job to dedicate herself to the platform full-time after tripling her income in 2019.
She had around 1000 subscribers and was making between £5,000 and £6,000 a month during her busiest period in 2019 and 2020. Nowadays she is posting less frequently with around 300 subscribers and making between £2,000 and £3,000 a month.
But the student, who lives in Glasgow, said she may focus more on creating content to survive the cost-of-living crisis, and that it has been difficult to find a part-time job to supplement her income.
“I’ve only been doing enough to make what I need and the market is now more dense than ever after Covid,” she said. “It’s a lot more difficult to earn nowadays.
“I pay rent myself, pay for council tax, gas and electricity and a gym membership.
“I’ve had a few times where I feel mentally burnt out, so I’d take a month or two off. I’m in a really lucky position to be able to do that.
“I’m definitely going to need to go back to how I used to work and put out a lot more. I’ve been noticing recently it’s getting tighter for money, so I think it will need to be a lot busier.”
She added: “I think it could go one of two ways; more people could give up on it, which would mean more room for accounts to grow, or we could see more people join and earnings could potentially get worse for creators.”
‘Paywall for porn’
OnlyFans was launched by banker’s son Timothy Stokely in 2016 as a way for creators to make money from exclusive content, with the firm taking a 20% cut of all earnings.
It now has more than 180 million registered users and 2.1 million creators.
Users pay a monthly fee to view posts from performers, and can also pay extra to message them and buy custom videos.
The subscription service has become known as “the paywall for porn”, with the majority of its revenue coming from creators selling sexually explicit photos and videos.
‘My family are very chill’
Though Athena was initially anxious about telling her family, she said they were “surprisingly” supportive when she told them about joining the platform.
“My mum said she was fine and then when I asked her to tell my dad, all he asked was ‘does she pay her tax?’.
“Even my grandparents were very chill about it. My gran is 81 and said if she was that age she would do the same. She reminded me it was her generation that made the mini skirt. It’s a legitimate way to earn.
“I think people are mostly curious when I tell them as it’s so different to how they live. I’m open to talk about it.”
The majority of Athena’s subscribers are aged in their 20s and come from Scotland, with some based in America and Australia.
“I have a lot in common with my subscribers,” she said. “We usually talk about hiking and music, normal things. They’re usually lovely and respectful.
“A lot of porn is staged and can feel so impersonal, whereas we are easier to relate to. Being able to chat away normally to the person adds an element to it as they get to know who they are supporting.”
Athena said there’s a common misconception that online sex work is “easy money” and a “get rich quick scheme” and said it can take time to build a following. Many creators may never reach that stage.
“There’s also this idea that we’re just s***s who sit around doing nothing, money-grabbing and exploiting men,” she said. “Most of us are just normal people.
“These men choose to pay. Porn always cost money before the internet, so why it should be different now is really beyond me.”
Now studying geology with the Open University, Athena credits online sex work with helping her overcome social anxiety, gain body confidence and give her more free time to pursue her hobbies.
“My favourite part is the freedom I have,” she said. “All my time is my own time. I get to be outside more. I’ve also made many good friends through the community.
“I think I’ll stay in it for another couple of years as it’s really handy. But it’s not a lifelong thing for me.”
‘There are risks’
Athena warns there are risks when it comes to being on OnlyFans, including safety, abuse on social media and future employability.
It can also result in relationship and family breakdown and worsen mental health issues, which she described as “frighteningly common” in sex work.
“I know of people who have been disowned by their families and lost friends,” she said. “I can only imagine going through that is awful.
“Trying to get a job coming out of it is the biggest risk. I’ve found it really difficult to get a part-time job on the side – I used to list it on my CV, but not anymore. Now I have a three-year unemployment gap.
“I know a couple of girls who were training to be teachers that dropped out – you do really need to be wary. Unfortunately, as nice as it would be, there is a stigma.”
As Scots battle rising costs and struggle to strike a balance between work and home life, Athena hopes people will be more understanding of others in the sex work industry trying to earn a living.
“I think people need to be a lot more open-minded, especially after a pandemic and a potential recession on the way,” she said.
“Being able to work in your own time from home, spend more time with your family and potentially live a better quality life. Why shouldn’t they?”