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The Men on OnlyFans Aren't Only Who You Think

Most are married, and many spouses know they subscribe.

Key points

  • A majority of OnlyFans subscribers are not lonely, single men, but married ones, new studies suggest.
  • Another reason why men subscribe to OnlyFans is that they want to support their favorite creators.
  • Men from all walks of life subscribe to OnlyFans, and there are many different reasons why they do it.
Source: RDNE Stock project

OnlyFans, as you may know, is an online platform for sexually explicit content. It has as many as 130 million users, and much of its success has been attributed to the sense of connection the subscription-based model gave consumers during the pandemic.

What you find on OnlyFans is not always exactly pornography, at least in a traditional sense, but it’s not not porn.

Much like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said of pornography back in 1964, "I know it when I see it." And if you’re on OnlyFans for a few minutes, even seconds, you’ll certainly see some.

Generally speaking, men tend to consume more pornography compared to women, and there is emerging evidence that men are at the center of a larger, loneliness epidemic. Data from the Pew Research Center indicate that 63 percent of men under 30 are single by choice, compared to 51 percent in 2019.

Some experts blame social media and porn for this decline in connection. Given that OnlyFans represents the intersection of the two, it would make sense that lonely, single men would be driving the company's success. It is a convenient theory. The only problem? The opposite seems to be true. A majority of OnlyFans subscribers are married men, so the platform may be less an antidote to loneliness and more of a fidelity cheat code.

This twist comes from one of the first studies to break down OnlyFans’ user demographics. After surveying 335 men and 383 women ages 18 to 71, researchers found that subscribers, on average, were 63 percent male, 68 percent white, and 89 percent married—with 59 percent of users identifying as heterosexual and 37 percent identifying as bi or pansexual. (That latter finding may sound unusually high, but a 2022 Gallup poll revealed that bisexual individuals make up a majority of the LGBTQ+ demographic: 57 percent. According to another Gallup survey from 2021, 17 percent of bisexual people marry someone of the opposite sex, compared to 1 percent who enter same-sex marriages. Whether or not couples are open about it, it is less shocking that a large cross-section of hetero-passing couples identify as bi or pansexual.)

"It's a tricky assumption to believe that married men may not also experience loneliness,” lead author of the recent study Stacey Diane Arañez Litam, an assistant professor of counseling education at Cleveland State University, wrote in an email. “They very much can and do.” Loneliness might drive some married and single men (and women and non-binary individuals) to OnlyFans, but Litam believes that OnlyFans use is more about satisfying “fantasies or desires, exploring new experiences alone or with partners, and relieving boredom.”

Another recent study delivered similar results: When researchers analyzed the responses of 425 OnlyFans subscribers, of whom 53 percent identified as male, 45 percent as female, and 0.7 percent as nonbinary or gender nonconforming, 82 percent were currently in either a romantic and/or sexual relationship. These researchers also concluded that the content had more of a positive impact on users’ relationships and sex lives than a negative one. “Many participants in our study reported expansions of their sexual experiences, including new sexual configurations and new relationship configurations,” explains Marie Lippmann, associate professor of psychology at California State University Chico and lead author of this study. She suspects that many couples were consuming content individually as well as together and that most of this consumption was agreed upon. Some participants also reported an interest in exploring consensual non-monogamy with their partners.

Past studies of OnlyFans have shown consistent results. About one-third of 822 partnered individuals admitted to fantasizing about consensual non-monogamy, with most wanting to try it. Instead of breaking up marriages, Lippmann believes, “OnlyFans may reflect changing views about marriage and relationships.” She is working on a follow-up study that investigates this theory.

It's entirely possible that some men flock to OnlyFans for the same reason some men or women consume more pornography than others: They have higher sex drives and don’t always have partners who match their libidos. Another possibility is that both partners in a relationship have high sex drives and use OnlyFans content to boost intimacy and have fun.

Despite stereotypes about men who watch porn, pornography addiction is not considered to be a valid psychiatric diagnosis. That said, more problematic porn use has been linked with more religious upbringings and the sexual baggage it may bring. Like porn in general, there is little reason to believe that OnlyFans content is psychologically and universally harmful to those who use it. It’s more likely that the shame some men have about sex, combined with poor communication in their romantic relationships, can lead to secrecy, disillusionment, and distrust—particularly when someone subscribes to OnlyFans without discussing it with their partner.

That said, Litam's and Lippmann’s work suggests that secretive subscriptions in committed relationships does not reflect the majority of users. As for men who utilize OnlyFans with the consent of their partners, pivoting to paywalled content can be a way to ensure that performers are profiting. It's also possible that the platform is less stigmatized than its free-porn competitors. For example, Beyoncé mentioned OnlyFans in her 2020 remix of Savage and actress Bella Thorne earned $1 million in her first day on the site.

On the other hand, a 2021 study revealed that OnlyFans creators and women who are involved in sex work are frequently targets for harassment, dehumanization, and prejudice. Other recent research has found that sex workers internalize these prejudices, which can be detrimental to their mental well-being; women appear to be disproportionately affected by such biases.

With the rapid growth of OnlyFans since the start of the pandemic—the platform experienced a seven-fold increase in subscribers in 2020 alone, according to the Financial Times—it makes sense that experts are concerned with the psychological effects on the performers, rather than the consumers scrolling through the content.

“Research about OnlyFans is just starting to emerge, and we will learn more about the longitudinal effects on creators, users, and society at large as the research continues to develop,” Lippmann said. In the meantime, the married men who make up a majority of OnlyFans users appear to be no worse off in their relationships—nor sitting alone in their basements. And some may even have more communicative, connected, and adventurous partnerships than if they had simply snuck off to watch porn.

Facebook image: ShotPrime Studio/Shutterstock

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