Leander is in his 40s. He lives in London and has a Ph.D. in neuroscience. His research has been published in a major psychology journal, and he travels the world for work. He’s also a porn star.
Juggling both professions might not be intuitive for some, but he’s far from the only one turning to sex as a career. Since the arrival of OnlyFans in 2016 and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, more people are taking up sex work—a trend that has only been compounded by the cost of living crisis.
The focus of conversations around sex work has often been on women, who make up the majority of OnlyFans accounts and stories in the press, but they’re hardly the only people creating content. In fact, a recent trend report by StudentBeans found that Gen Z men in the UK are twice as likely as Gen Z women to upload content on sites like OnlyFans.
To learn more, VICE spoke to five men about their experiences, earning potential, and what they’d say to anyone who’s ever thought about opening an OnlyFans account.
“I started sex work eight years ago,” Leander explains. “It was driven by several things, mainly income and travel opportunities. But also to be in a creative environment, which was very different to the scientific work I was doing at the time.”
Today, he earns more than he would in neuroscience research (which averages around 35K annually, according to Glassdoor). While the income is great for those who can build a following – Leander has around 378K followers on Twitter – he says stigma is alive and well. “Although men and women both face body image pressures, these sometimes manifest differently for men. Like the pressure to use steroids to maintain a competitive and desirable physique. For new sex workers, it can be difficult to access support and guidance, largely because of social stigma.”
And for younger people going into sex work, the reality is once you put yourself out there intimately, it’s out there forever. “It’s an irreversible decision, and it closes a lot of doors, so it’s naive to imagine that you can be a sex worker and not have anybody find out about it,” says Leander. “If you’re known and particularly if you’re queer, some countries may decline your entry.”
Paris-based DogBoiBailey has built a career in sex catering to a specific niche of the BDSM world. He’s part of the puppy play community – a kink built on the dynamic between a dog and its handler – where he was awarded the title of Mister Puppy France 2023. He’s been creating his content professionally for under three years but says he’s always wanted to do this, even if stigma once held him back from starting sex work.
“Professionally, I’ve always wanted to do [sex work], and my anonymity as Bailey has helped me feel more free,” he explains. “There’s still a lot of stigma around it, but the shame only comes when you allow yourself to be stigmatized. If a place wouldn’t employ me because of it, then I wouldn’t want to work there.”
He still keeps his day job as a hotel worker while he builds an OnlyFans following, which isn’t at a level that can serve as his main income. Still, he says he makes a couple hundred euros a month. “On OnlyFans, I make more money, but JustForFans, another fansite, allows for more explicit content, perhaps because it’s a site made by sex workers for sex workers.”
“Sex work has never been about the money for me. But I do want to make it a primary source of income. There are a lot of costs involved – like filming, editing, and trips – and it’s hard when you don’t see the results or don’t have a support network. Having an exit plan in porn is important.”
“I’ve always been creating [non-explicit] content on Instagram,” says Karim, a Moroccan-Spanish software engineer and digital sex worker based in Amsterdam. “But I wanted to step outside the box and try something new. So I started sharing solo content three months ago via OnlyFans, and it’s gone really great. In the first month, I was making as much as I was at my day job.”
Considering the average take-home software engineering salary in the Dutch capital is 3,700 EUR, that’s no mean feat in a matter of months, something Karim attributes to experimentation and storytelling, like taking on a more dominant online persona that differs from his ‘real world’ one. “I see my OnlyFans persona as drag; I’ve created a persona that hones on certain parts of my personality. What works in real life and what works online is often different. I’ve found that when I explore certain niches like BDSM or dominance, that’s what really resonates.”
For Karim, sex work is a creative process. And while it might not be forever, he says it’s taught him a lot for the future. “This work has a cost on your mental health. As you grow your following, the pressure to create more and do more grows,” he explains. “But I’ve also learned how to be a freelancer, something I’ve always wanted to do. It’s giving me the opportunity to bring that possibility into my engineering work.”
A 27-year-old trans man who works both as a performer and an escort for men, Eddy was one of the many who moved into sex work at the beginning of lockdown. Since then, he’s amassed almost 300K followers on Twitter and earns enough from his videos (and selling his socks and underwear) to sustain his life in London.
“My experience has been pretty positive,” he says. “I started off just doing solo content during lockdown, then began collaborating with other creators about two years ago. My squirting videos are very popular. But on OF, I’m limited by what kind of content is permitted – no piss, outdoors, or very rough sex – whereas the other platforms are generally more open. Yet OF gets the most traffic.”
“It can be a great lifestyle, but it’s not for everyone. You need a thick skin sometimes because you’re putting yourself on the internet and will receive abuse at some point. It’s also a lot of work. I think some people think it’s easy, but you need to be determined and be able to manage your time well. I’m the director, performer, filmmaker, editor, social media manager, and scheduler.”
“I started posting solo stuff on OnlyFans as a supplementary income to my day job in the medical industry,” says UK-based performer ChrisCoxxx, a straight cis-man who’s been sharing content on sites like OnlyFans and Fawnstars for three years. “Most of it was bought by bi or gay guys, and I’ve started making content with female performers, too.”
Part of the reason he does it is the enjoyment – as of right now, he’s not making much money, but he’s hoping that will change. “My biggest payout on OnlyFans has been around 100 quid, but I expect that to increase as I create more. I enjoy it but probably wouldn’t do it if it made no money. Everything has a cost – you need to film, edit, and market it – and have a plan.”
Couple that with working around content restrictions on OnlyFans and stigma, and it can be tiring. “I keep my sex work private, but if people find out, then they find out. If I had to give up my content for my day job, I would, because I can’t afford to be without an income that’s already not enough.”