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Since the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) started spreading rapidly through North America in mid-March, Taylor Stevens, a 29-year-old cam model, has been working major overtime.
Stevens used to work about 40 to 50 hours per week, she said. Now, she works about 80 and her income, which already allowed her to live comfortably, has doubled.
She uses OnlyFans, Snapchat, text messaging, Skype, and her own website to connect with her clients, and has a sizable following with more than 211,000 followers on Twitter alone.
Besides servicing more clients, Stevens said her regulars are now asking to talk more than they used to. She said she believes it’s because quarantines have taken a toll on everyone’s mental health.
“We’re like online naked therapists,” Stevens said, laughing. “I do feel like I’m an essential service.”
As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) extends its reach across North America, with the U.S. now the pandemic’s epicentre with more than 180,000 confirmed infections and almost 3,000 deaths as of Thursday morning, people are expected to self-isolate and stay at home as much as possible. The push undoubtedly has people dreaming up new ways to pass the time, with online platforms like OnlyFans and IsMyGirl even targeting recently laid off workers to start creating content online to make big bucks.
But veteran sex workers are getting increasingly frustrated with jokes about online sex work that are surfacing on social media and the trivialization of their work. The quips simultaneously stigmatize the industry and discredit the hustle required to run a successful business online, sex workers told VICE.
Every time Gwen Adora, a Toronto-based adult content creator who releases her content via sites like OnlyFans and Pornhub, logs onto Facebook, Twitter, and even TikTok, she sees jokes about online sex work.
“You know, ‘I’m bored in quarantine, so might as well start camming,’” Adora said, calling the bit “frustrating.”
According to Adora, her OnlyFans account has been spiking in traffic for weeks, but non-sex workers shouldn’t take that as a sign that they’d make bank if they signed up, the 24-year-old said.
Everyday, Adora conceptualizes, produces, and publishes new content, interacts with clients, and writes her own press releases; she’s basically a one-woman production and marketing company, run out of her home.
When people fetishize on-camera sex work, Adora said, they discredit the sheer amount of work it takes to maintain a successful online presence.
Worse still, the jokes contribute to the ongoing stigma targeting sex work.
“A lot of our community deals with so much and that ranges from stigma to people being murdered,” Adora said.”When people make jokes like, ‘Oh, ha ha ha, sex work is so funny, let’s start an OnlyFans,’ they don’t acknowledge the gravity of our situation.”
Even Youtube makeup artist James Charles took to Twitter to jokingly ask his 5 million followers if he should start an OnlyFans, since quarantine “is so boring.”
Adora said she doesn’t want to prevent others from joining the industry, but she does want people to recognize how much work it takes.
“You don’t know how hard it is to hustle and get people to pay for their porn when most is free,” said Adora, who has more than 35,000 followers on Twitter.
Even prominent sites are encouraging people who have lost their jobs during the pandemic to start creating online content.
IsMyGirl, a subscription-based adult entertainment platform, has been targeting laid off hotel workers and McDonald’s employees, despite their “minimal experience” in the adult industry, according to a statement IsMyGirl sent to VICE.
The release says IsMyGirl will offer “laid off hotel workers the ability to earn 90 percent of their proceeds—upwards of $100,000 a year.”
Almost 100 former McDonald’s staff have joined IsMyGirl since last week, according to the platform, and it has experienced a 30 percent increase in model sign-ups and a 50 percent increase in overall site traffic during the month of March.
OnlyFans is encouraging content creators to use its platform and has reported a surge in new accounts since March 1, with 60,000 new content creators across genres, Steve Pym, an OnlyFans spokesperson, told VICE.
The site is experiencing a 15 percent month-to-month growth as of late, Pym said, and new signups, including clients, have increased by 75 percent over the past few weeks.
Pym did not specify how many accounts are from new adult content creators. But Stevens and Adora told VICE they have seen a flood of amateur content creators since COVID-19 broke out in North America.
Earlier this month, VICE reported that sex workers who depend on in-person appointments, including escorts and strippers, are gearing up to take large income hits as the coronavirus continues to keep people at home.
Several initiatives have been introduced by industry platforms to support sex workers.
Last month, StripChat doubled payouts to Italian models stuck in lockdown and has since offered incentives to new clients as a way to keep money in models’ pockets. Free Speech Coalition, a non-profit trade association for the U.S. porn and adult entertainment industry, issued safety guidelines at the onset of the pandemic, but has since called a voluntary shutdown of all adult sets in order to curb COVID-19 spread and introduced an emergency fund disbursement program for people currently out of work.
FanCentro, a platform that connects models to clients, announced a contingency plan to support workers who experience a substantial income drop as a result of COVID-19, the site’s vice president, Kat Revenga, told VICE.
The plan expedites the onboarding process for new performers and offers payouts up front.
“We extended our offer recently to give all new signups a 90 percent payout,” Revenga said in a statement.
According to Revenga, there’s been a spike in models signing up to use the platform since the pandemic hit full force, as well as an increase in clients. Average session durations are also growing (Revenga did not say by how much).
On Monday, Adora co-led a camming 101 workshop via zoom to teach escorts and other in-person sex workers how to diversify their content online.
“I’m privileged because I work fully online,” Adora said, which is why she thinks it’s important to support colleagues who are in the process of diversifying their services because of COVID-19.
“They can hopefully transition and expand into this new territory to offer them security right now,” she said.
Stevens warned people who have never done sex work and assume it’s easy: “You’re not going to do as well as you think.”
“It’s ignorant that a lot of people think that OnlyFans is a quick fix,” Stevens said. “There’s a million OnlyFans, so to hold onto your fans, you have to deliver the best content.“
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This article originally appeared on VICE CA.