As more South Africans join the paid-for subscription site, there’s plenty to be said about our society’s relationship with sex
Lindi R, having made a brand out of sex-positivity, speaks confidently and matter-of-factly about OnlyFans, a subscription content service which has grown in popularity among those who want to earn money directly from subscribers (for adult content). She is a businesswoman walking you through how you too can become a businesswoman selling adult content on the platform. I text 24-year-old *Busi, who has recently joined.
OnlyFans and Twitter has brought Lindi R’s work to my attention, “I’m watching that Lindi R video you spoke about — she’s amazing.” “Yeah,” Busi replies, “she really is. She’s also able to be this free ‘cause her family knows what she’s doing.”
When speaking about adult content creation on OnlyFans in the South African context, freedom becomes a central theme. Here, on this global subscription-based social media platform, is where the freedom to be sexual, the freedom to be open about said sexuality, and financial freedom all intersect.
It is by no coincidence that Lindi herself was born in England to “really liberal” (her words), worldly parents. She is visibly approving of them in the introductory video to her sex education YouTube channel, Touch My YONI, as she paints a vibrant picture of her sexually diverse siblinghood. Lindi, attractive, articulate, and intelligent, is no different to the subjects of this article, *Xola and Busi, save for the fact that she has managed to parlay her sexual freedom into a lucrative wholistic brand that spans the platforms of Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and OnlyFans, baring her face and inhibiting nothing.
For Busi, this continuity is dangerous in addition to being undesirable. To her, OnlyFans is merely one of her income streams. She is also a YouTuber, another role that is separate from her work as an administrator from 9-5, five days out of the week. She wouldn’t even be on OnlyFans if the pandemic lockdown hadn’t paused operations on her small cleaning services business. Aside from her, Busi’s boyfriend and I are the only people who know the strategically concealed face in her provocative images and videos.
“There is no profound answer to [why I opened an OnlyFans account],” says Xola. He too is a budding entrepreneur whose small business ran into the brick wall that is a global pandemic. The 28-year-old had finally succumbed to his philosophies about owning one’s time (if nothing else) and left his job to be a fulltime talent manager a month before the entertainment industry would face an unparalleled crisis. Having found himself in a tight spot financially, he used his one free hand to dust off his year-old OnlyFans account and opened up shop. Xola doesn’t hide his identity, but he keeps his side hustle a secret from his parents.
Based on urban legend, the influx of young South African content creators to OnlyFans began – like all modern phenomena – with a single tweet. In October last year Twitter user, Oddette Mashego boasted a day’s earnings of R7,800 from new OnlyFans subscriptions and added that she didn’t need to “sleep with your dad”, to get it. What Oddette was communicating was that OnlyFans had provided her financial independence without having to prostitute herself to older men. A slew of tweets soon followed. Many were impressed by the Twitter user’s daily wages, which led them to flirt with the idea of opening their own accounts. It also helped that a celebrity parent, actress Rami Chuene, endorsed her daughter’s OnlyFans account via a tweet around the same time. This event seemed to encourage positive dialogue about profiting from one’s body, backdropped, of course, by a chorus of conservative disapproval.
Considering our country’s complicated relationship with sex, a sexually liberal constitution but nary a positive piece of legislation regarding sex work, this order of events seemed to provide a safe space for some youths to push the boundaries of sexual freedom.
“I’m happy that there are more people in the country embracing [OnlyFans] because it takes away a bit of the stigma attached to sex work,” Xola says.
I asked Busi if she’d have opened an OnlyFans account had there not been others who spoke openly about starting theirs, she gave me a resounding “no”. She had been convinced by Lindi’s informative video to finally take the plunge.
OnlyFans has been financially lucrative for both Xola and Busi. Xola, who is going into his second month as an active creator, made R2,000 in his first week. At three weeks in, Busi had gained 30 subscribers, at $5.99c a pop. But money is fleeting, so although Busi had initially committed herself to six months on the platform to make extra cash, it is the joy she derives from making videos that has led her to consider staying longer.
“I think it’s made me embrace my body… and look at myself in a different way,” she explains.
Busi is mild in manner and speech. She came to OnlyFans with an understanding that her breasts and butt could be assets and was encouraged by her boyfriend to profit from them. But even as she enjoys the creativity of the job, she could do without the feedback from subscribers. Like most social media platforms, OnlyFans allows one’s followers to communicate with them via comments and direct messages.
Many content creators use these features to build a relationship with their following and even make extra cash selling exclusive content through direct messaging. Busi is open to the added financial possibilities and not the relationship. “I don’t like interacting, but it has to be done,” she says with obvious resignation.
Xola has a niche clientele, he says. He believes that his following was shepherded by a high-profile acquaintance, who upon finding out about Xola’s account, showed genuine interest and a desire to support him. When explaining the purpose of his account to the acquaintance, Xola said “it’s more like going to the Zeitz MOCAA and paying a membership fee for exclusive viewings of the art, but it’s obviously going to be explicit content and it’s mostly going to be self-portraits.” Although Xola admits that the ‘art gallery rationale’ had been initially employed to ease himself in, it may still be applicable. With traditional art-viewing options made impossible by social distancing, OnlyFans could be a new site for art exhibitions and, as we know, the definition of art belongs to no one.
“My target has always been very specific people with specific pockets,” he chuckles, “because I know that they can sustain that kind of money every month and all that is required of me is consistency.”
A subscription to Xola’s page will set you back $15 a month, which currently exchanges at a rate of just over R260. Xola made a conscious decision not to appeal to his peers, and it’s paying off.
As far as anonymity goes, Busi’s strategy seems to be ironclad, but her biggest fear is being exposed to her mother. Xola thinks his parents wouldn’t blow a gasket but has no interest in finding out.
For Xola, the implications of his choice on his future as a talent manager concerns him the most. “When I walk into a boardroom to negotiate a deal, are people going to take me seriously?”
While OnlyFans has made it possible for Busi and Xola to continue their entrepreneurial journeys with relative financial independence amid a global pandemic, it is clear that neither of them can escape the trade-offs which our society demands in exchange for some freedoms.