Around this time last year, I dated a guy who loved showing ass on the internet via cheeky mirror pics and the occasional film photograph. Cameron’s* mooning-centric Instagram feed was the result of his relatively newfound body-posi mentality; like many of us grappling with idealistic beauty expectations, most of his teen and early 20-something years were dampened with low self-esteem incited by images of how an attractive man’s body should look, and thus, his online nudity represented liberation, unfiltered.
I wasn’t aware of Cameron’s body-image trauma until we started dating—which was long after becoming mutuals on social media, where I’d already grown to recognize him as shameless, and therefore, charming—so especially after learning the context of his self-love journey, I was all aboard the digital booty train (which continued chugging right along during the nine months we were an undefined-but-exclusive thing). His confidence was hot, even if its explicit manifestation was difficult to explain to closer-minded acquaintances who searched him on IG whenever I spilled that I was seeing someone. But my support of his antics wavered when he unexpectedly approached me with a proposition one summer night that year: “I’m going to make an OnlyFans.” Those six words hatched an uncomfortable egg in my throat, which I subsequently swallowed with a small smile as I swore I didn’t mind. After all, it would be making the money—and sis, he was broke AF.
Such bankability has always been the mainstream draw of dabbling in online sex work through subscription-based platforms like OnlyFans: seemingly anyone can make a quick, generous buck off the forthright horniness of others without much of the physical commitment and risk of traditional sex work. In fact, OnlyFans has become such a popular digital space for sexual content that even Beyoncé dropped its title in Megan Thee Stallion’s chart-topping “Savage Remix.” And though the sex industry’s most seasoned professionals are quick to remind everyday joes and jennys that sex work is tough work—rarely as effortlessly profitable as many uninformed individuals interpret it to be—folks are increasingly sharing amateur lewds and nudes to keep their bank account balances out of the red, particularly amidst the current economic downtown spurred by COVID-19.
Unsought criticism has naturally tailed the money-making trend, and of course, that peanut gallery consists of myriad misogynists—mostly men who typify garbage and find entertainment value in those aggravating Twitter threads reading, “Fellas, would you let yo girl out the house like this?” in reference to a photo of a woman in a bodycon dress. For them, the argument against dating a woman who capitalizes off the male gaze is one rooted in coverture, hypocrisy (as many women have noted that the same men who hate on sex workers actually moonlight as the customers themselves), and the easily squashed theory of “selling one’s body.” The loudness of these “would you” discussions attests to the classic misogynist yes-man truism: men love shitting on autonomous women very loudly, and in the presence of the dumb and agreeable. But all this is to say that people of all genders should be able to do whatever TF they want with their bodies without unsolicited censure.
This populace, of course, includes my then-boo, who was in a financial position similar to that of many new OnlyFans amateurs after Miss Rona slimed over the job economy. Cameron was going through it, and snapping his goodies for gay men—the demographic most subscribed to his content—was an efficient way to pay for a utility bill or a few weeks of groceries. Sure, I felt uneasy about the situation, but I wasn’t going to let my aspirational idea of monogamy and its correlating expectations impede on his livelihood. He had bus fares, cold brews, and Dr. Bronner’s castile soap to buy; and just as women’s bodies are not up for discussion, what he did with his was, in theory, not refutable.
But being open-minded about sex work in the context of monogamous dating is easier said than done, especially for someone like me, who is totally supportive of the decriminalization and de-stigmatization of sex work. Outweighing whatever radicalism I thought I adopted in college was my stock in a core monogamist belief: one’s romantic partner is the only individual who should see them in a sexually intimate context. And even if I never expressed it outwardly, Cameron’s rightful distribution of dick-and-balls for $10 a month obviously violated that unspoken one-sided arrangement.
We stopped dating shortly after the OnlyFans hustle ran its course, which was about a month long. This conscious uncoupling was not the direct byproduct of his sex work, but rather the sheer fact that he desperately needed to sell his nudes in the first place. Truthfully, Cameron was a cis-hetero white man who opted to sell his nudes out of “convenience.” But this resolution alone was insulting to the numerous women and nonbinary folks who pursue sex work as a serious means of survival in a society that has left them policed, marginalized, and oppressed; it’s also dismissive of committed sex workers who exert just as much, if not more, emotional and physical labor. Cameron, sitting at the top of the patriarchy, was not on OnlyFans for empowerment, survival, or professional growth, nor was he scraping pennies in an abysmal job economy. He was merely a broke, lazy, grown-ass white guy looking for a reason to not put in more than 20 hours a week at his barista gig.
Hence, it’s no surprise that Cameron bailed so quickly. With a peeved look on his face one night as I picked him up from said barista gig, he confessed that he was done with OnlyFans. I didn’t expect him to retire from n00ding so quickly, as he was making a nice amount of side cash from it. But, admittedly, my traditionalist self was secretly relieved—that was, until he cited sexual harassment as the ultimate deterrent. Cameron explain that his subscribers had started sending him unsolicited, lewd DMs on social media outside of the platform, despite his making it clear that he was only gay-for-pay; soon after, the verbal harassment left him feeling violated and depressed. In that moment, my significant other didn’t need to be vilified with I-told-you-sos or I-knew-this-was-a-bad-ideas. He needed emotional support from someone he trusted—and I knew that offering him sympathy and an attentive ear in response to his vulnerability was the human thing to do.
During the pandemic, I’ve been pondering those who are in the position I was. Like me, these individuals consider themselves open-minded, yet aren’t totally down with the idea of their partner’s naughty bits gracing the World Wide Web—accordingly, they’re wondering if they’re shitty people for being so uncomfortable about it. And while I won’t hesitate to validate such sentiments and internal crises, I also understand the significance of compassion—a vital attribute of any relationship in which one person is involved in sex work (even if that sex work is as “lowkey” as posting dirty pics online for cash).
Performing gender, sexuality, and favorable temperaments amidst sexual harassment and assault is a deplorable reality of working in the sex industry, one that needs to change—but if you’re agreeing to date someone who exchanges sexual content or services for payment, then you should be prepared to support your partner through their experience with that reality (which, for many sex workers, especially women, materializes as threats far more harmful than disgusting DMs). When Cameron vented about his harassment experience, I confirmed that he was in a healthier mental space, validated his frustrations, and told him how strong he was for coping with the bullshit for as long as he did. Yes, I was flattered that I was his chosen safe space, but most significantly, I was happy to know he had someone, anyone at all, in whom to confide.
As I’m sure you’re all wondering—no, I don’t think I’ll be dating another guy involved in sex-adjacent work. Even if monogamy and its traditions are super dated and inarguably worthy of feminist critique, I’m far too invested in, and satisfied with, being a hopeless romantic to change my own preferences anytime soon. However, I also mind my old-fashioned business, and staunchly believe people should live their best lives in a way that works for them. Although we’re all entitled to our quiet opinions and the emotions knotted to them, we’re not entitled to the gratuitous judgment of others. So, as your partner’s body isn’t your possession to police, shaming or dismissing them for simply pursuing sex work is wholly unacceptable—your discomfort isn’t their problem, and in the long run, that person is likely better off without you and your antagonism.
If you do choose to respectfully end things over something like an OnlyFans account—a miniscule dilemma in the Grand Scheme of Life ft. a pandemic, global economic crisis, race war, numerous humanitarian disasters, late capitalism, and vile patriarchy—then know you may be leaving someone you care deeply about at a time when emotional support is paramount. Have an introspective conversation with yourself before your person; comprehend the origins of your own emotions and dispositions before questioning theirs. Be kind, be considerate, and above all, be empathetic.
*Name has been changed for confidentiality.
Illustration by Sky Kim