Singapore-based OnlyFans performer
“It’s more than just masturbating in front of a camera,” Katherine says with a laugh. “It’s also a marketing and sales job all in one. I have a detailed spreadsheet to keep track of my earning targets and cross-platform promotion schedule.”
Katherine (to protect their privacy, the name is a pseudonym of their own choice), who is in their early 20s and uses they/them pronouns, identifies as queer and gender non- binary. Speaking to me over Zoom one evening, they look comfortable in an oversized T-shirt and shorts as we chat about their job.
Their other appearances on camera typically see them dressed in far less. “When I’m filming for OnlyFans, my outfits range from micro-bikinis to miniskirts to see-through underwear,” Katherine shares. As part of the burgeoning group of young people who in recent years have embarked on online sex work, Katherine regularly puts out risqué photos and videos of themselves on OnlyFans. On the viral pay-per-view platform, you’ll find a plethora of profiles offering nearly any service you can imagine: from couples having sex for a willing audience, to dominatrices rating penises on commission (yes, they will judge your dick pic if you want them to, but for a price).
“It’s hard for some people to believe that as a sex worker or a stripper, you want to be there. And they’d fail to see you as a person if you do”
On Katherine’s page, they document their solo time in the bedroom for their followers. Instead of bringing partners or other performers into the mix, keeping their content fresh comes down to fun monthly or seasonal themes. “For autumn, my mind went to autumnal vegetables, so that’s my new theme. Each day of the week is going to star a different vegetable,” Katherine smiles cheekily, leaving the rest to the imagination. As for how closely they relate to their online persona, they say: “I’d say we are similar. I’m a gregarious person by nature. But my OnlyFans alter ego is very easily entertained and always interested in your story.”
A crucial part of Katherine’s job involves getting to know their customers, learning about their lives and what they’re stressed about. “It’s actually quite sad. Men often don’t have safe spaces to talk about their feelings,” they share. “I keep tabs on many of my regular clients. If someone doesn’t message me in a couple of days, I check in on them. There is, after all, a reason people are coming to us instead of going to Pornhub.”
Katherine is talking about the strong emotional connection that many e-sex workers share with their clients—one that doesn’t come without plenty of time and effort on the worker’s part. A good job done, however, leads to the kind of customer loyalty that racy pictures alone cannot buy. “I have viewers who will message me just to ask if I’m doing okay if I don’t post in a couple of days. It’s not because they’re chasing me for content. They genuinely see me as a friend. In a way, it’s like having multiple friends online who are paying for your friendship.”
Being able to provide companionship and a listening ear beyond sexually explicit entertainment is, in Katherine’s experience, a necessary prerequisite to being successful at sex work. Their time as a dancer in strip clubs in the UK proved that their bubbly yet empathetic demeanour was as big a selling point as their luscious curves and pretty baby face.
“At a strip club, strippers pay the club to be there. You can’t sit around on the job and expect to make money. You have to make an effort to engage clients. To do that, you have to read them closely and figure out what they are looking for.” An older man who wants to talk about his marital problems, for example, wouldn’t take it well if Katherine came on to him too enthusiastically. Instead, Katherine would take a softer approach, sometimes spending the entire night in conversation.
At other times, Katherine knows to turn their brazen sexuality all the way up. “If you are entertaining a group of guys on a stag night who are clearly there for a good time, don’t expect to sit down and talk about your feelings,” they say, with a chuckle.
As a sex worker, being able to make a personal connection through the Internet is different from doing so in person and yet, both carry hazards. Online, some think Katherine’s geniality signals personal interest. “Don’t ask me out on a date on OnlyFans. It’s cute, but it’s not going to happen,” they laugh. In the club, some clients mistake Katherine’s warmth and top-notch customer service skills for an invitation to be rescued.
“They’ll say, ‘Just leave with me. I’ll save you.’ It’s hard for some people to believe that as a sex worker or a stripper, you want to be there. And they’d fail to see you as a person if you do,” Katherine explains. “Instead, what would be helpful is if they’d pay me for a dance.”
Katherine blushes when I bring up their dancing prowess, but several videos on their page prove beyond doubt that they are an electrifying performer. Strutting around on their platform heels, they clearly come alive on stage.
“There’s been a rebrand—almost a gentrification—of sex work”
Was it this love for performing that led them to stripping and sex work? “To an extent,” Katherine says, “but mainly, it was because I wanted a supplementary income. When I first started, I was at university and in between jobs.”
A financial motivation is one that many sex workers have behind their choice of profession, but Katherine cautions against the rookie mistake of lumping every sex worker into the same group. “Everyone has a different situation. I am in a relatively privileged position. I decided to stop stripping when COVID-19 hit. But the clubs still stayed open for a full month and there were girls who had no choice but to continue going in because they needed the money.”
Those who, like Katherine, could afford to make the switch to online mediums, did. But not everyone on platforms like OnlyFans is there out of necessity. The site, which launched in 2016, has earned over 24 million registered users in four years, many of whom use the monthly subscription and pay-per-view features to put their original content (read: homemade pornography) behind a paywall. While some of these users are long-time sex workers migrating from other online or in-person platforms, many are Instagram models, TikTok influencers or even mainstream celebrities. For financially stable individuals to start doing sex work may have seemed a strange move a few years ago, but today, it’s become a way for them to take control of their sexuality and express themselves.
Disney star Bella Thorne, for example, infamously set a record on the platform last year when she earned US$1 million in a day after allegedly promising nudes for a fee, which went undelivered. Soon after, OnlyFans put in new restrictions limiting how much other creators on the platform could charge and how quickly they could get paid.
Katherine, like many other sex workers on the site, has reservations about this phenomenon of celebrities and social media stars jumping on the OnlyFans bandwagon. “No one is going to pay to see an everyday person do sex work on OnlyFans if they can instead buy a celebrity’s nudes,” they say matter-of-factly.
As a regular person, making decent earnings on OnlyFans is much harder than it seems. “In a club, there’s a sense of immediacy. You tell someone that a dance is £140 and they’ll accept that because they are in the moment with you and get to experience it right away. Whereas online, people can read the message and think about it. You’re not there to convince them in person.”
The sense of entitlement that some clients have could also easily hamper an e-sex worker’s financial and mental health. “I have had subscribers commanding me to lose weight. They say, ‘oh, but I’m paying $9 a month, why can’t I customise how you look?’ Well, maybe you should have subscribed to someone who already looks the way you want them to,” Katherine says.
Fortunately, damaging comments about Katherine’s appearance seem to bounce off them easily for the same reason that they haven’t quite bought into the narrative of empowerment that has become tied to e-sex work. “It feels like a performance, like I’m playing a role, so I don’t internalise the comments people make about me. Neither do I feel empowered by the job because that’s what it is, just a job. Some days are good, some days are bad. I feel towards sex work the same way I felt towards waitressing.”
As for what the meteoric rise of the electronic form of sex work means for sex workers themselves, Katherine makes it clear that the problem, as always, is cutting real sex workers out of the conversation. “There’s been a rebrand—almost a gentrification—of sex work. Now, the face of sex work is made up of people from the upper middle class who are doing this for fun because to them it’s empowering and because they have the resources to comfortably do this. They have a camera, a space where they can film, a pre-existing social media following that they can leverage upon,” Katherine notes.
They add: “There’s nothing wrong with people who have that kind of privilege partaking in sex work, but putting them at the centre of the community and letting them take over sex worker discourse ultimately erases a lot of its roots—which is that many sex workers originally got into this profession because no one else was hiring them and they had nowhere else to go.”
At 25, Rebecca is the perfect combination of beauty and brains, and is a self-made woman to boot. Alongside her nine-to-five job, she’s planning and saving up for a master’s degree to add to her bachelor’s degree in finance. Plus, there’s Risqué Rebecca, the thriving escort business she runs that comes alive after hours.
“I tried sugaring and working with an escort agency before I started Risqué Rebecca, but neither of those worked out for me. It was too little money for too much time and emotional investment. My sugar arrangement, for example, was with a guy who would always find a reason to complain whenever it came time to pay my allowance. The agency, on the other hand, would take a 50 percent cut of anything I made and they weren’t providing anything like transport or protection in return. It just wasn’t worth it,” she tells me on the phone one night.
“There’s a high degree of care that goes into what I do. I’m well-educated so the time I spend with my clients is often mentally and intellectually stimulating”
Her busy schedule—factor in her high- performing day job and the time required to manage her side business—means that we couldn’t find time to sit down for a chat before the later hours of the evening. Yet, despite having had a hectic day before our call, there’s no trace of exhaustion in Rebecca’s voice. Instead, she’s upbeat and energetic as she tells me how her escort alter-ego had its genesis.
“A lot of it was just confidence and balls of steel,” she laughs. “I have a strong aesthetic vision and I was business savvy enough to figure out how I was going to go about it.” Rebecca’s website is the picture of professionalism, with pages of protocol and guidelines about what her clients can expect, and what she expects from them in return. “Hygiene and safety is a priority for both parties. I will leave immediately if I feel unsafe at any point in time during our date,” one guideline reads, while another stipulates that “deposits are compulsory, no exceptions unless explicitly granted by me in advance. Deposits give me the security I require to schedule you in, knowing that our time together will be honoured.”
The latter rule was added after a past booking resulted in a no-show. “Someone made a booking with no intention of showing up, I guess, as a gag. He kept saying, ‘I’m here, I’ve arrived’. But he actually wasn’t there and he never did appear. He just wanted to waste my time,” she shares. Now, Rebecca safeguards against such incidents with surgically designed policies. Her refund protocol, for example, states that her client will have to pay her fee for the full duration of time booked, even if they have to leave early. “As someone who essentially charges for her time, protections like these are especially crucial.”
Rebecca’s rates range from $650 per hour to $7,500 for a full weekend, during which, if you ask nicely and pass her safety screening, she might even be willing to travel with you. “I’m passport ready,” she says with a smile. “And I enjoy travelling.”
HAPPY NÍU YEAR!! 🐮 Wishing everyone prosperity, health, and happiness!!!! ❤️💥💃🏻🧧㊗️
Retweet the lady in red for good luck 🤩😘🤪 pic.twitter.com/JP05jksHLP
— Risqué Rebecca 🌹🇸🇬 Fully vaccinated! 💉 (@risquerebecca) February 11, 2021
Her fees, she acknowledges, are not for anyone who doesn’t have a good amount of disposable income lying around. “There’s a high degree of care that goes into what I do. I’m well-educated so the time I spend with my clients is often mentally and intellectually stimulating. I also put a lot of effort into tailoring the experience to each client. That takes observation, perception and versatility.”
The premium service she provides doesn’t always match the mental image of what many picture sex work to be. As a top-tier escort, Rebecca is able to profit handsomely from her work and save up for her goals. “I’d like to own a house one day and I’d like to be casually employed. Risqué Rebecca gives me freedom from my day job—I don’t have to worry about money. My nine-to-five, on the other hand, ensures that I never have to depend on my escort work entirely. It’s basically like having a diversified portfolio, a safety net. That, at the end of the day, is really why I’m doing this.”
While she loves her job and has no concrete end-date in mind, Rebecca worries about young, aspiring sex workers who can’t quite grasp the full scope of what it entails. “The glamourisation of sex work today worries me. It’s naïve if you’re thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, she makes $3,500 a night. I should do the same thing.’ Then you realise that it’s way more than what you expected, and it’s a lot of work. You need to have a certain personality, a certain wit about you to navigate this world and thrive.”
“It saddens me to think of the girls who are coerced into accepting low rates or terrible conditions in order to pay for their next meal”
With the debilitating effects of COVID-19 having hit nearly every sector last year, it’s no surprise that many turned to online sex work platforms to try their hand at the job. But Rebecca warns against the mental health effects an online presence—especially as a sex worker who has their body on open display—can have. “Could your body image handle it if you had 1,000 strangers online commenting on the way you look? I don’t know if mine could. I had never considered a boob job until I started posting pictures as Rebecca. Then the thought crept in—maybe I’ll look better in photos if I got my breasts done.”
Rebecca also grapples with a sense of guilt stemming from her own privilege and the fact that she is thriving in an industry where the spectrum of well-being ranges far and wide. On the darker end, there is prolific exploitation, desperation and misery, something she is not ignorant of.
She says: “It saddens me to think of the girls who are coerced into accepting low rates or terrible conditions because they know that if they don’t, they may not have their next meal or be able to pay their kid’s tuition.”
“I’ve found it important to try and support other sex workers. I’ve hired another sex worker to help me with my new website. I often donate to Project X too.” As the only non-profit organisation dedicated to sex-workers in Singapore, Project X provides a range of services including social support, legal advice and testing for sexually transmitted infections. “I also consult with other sex workers and escorts to help them market themselves better and make a better living for themselves. This is pro bono work and it’s my way of giving back to the community.”