This guest piece was written by Heidi Olson, RN, MSN, CPN, SANE-P, an expert witness and child victim advocate. 4-minute read.
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Understanding Why Teens Want to Become OnlyFans Stars
By Heidi Olson, a SANE Certified Pediatric Nurse in Kansas City
Several months ago, I found myself at a restaurant, sitting across the table from a school resource officer in rural America. I am a sexual assault nurse examiner and provide treatment to children and teens who are victims of sexual violence.
In doing this work, for the better part of a decade, I have seen disturbing trends start to arise. As we ate our breakfast, it became clear we were seeing the same trends of exploitation with teenagers all over America, regardless of where they live.
Then he said something that stunned me. He stated that teen girls in his high school tell each other, “Only ugly girls get diplomas.”
What does that mean?
He was referring to the fact that many of the girls in his school don’t think that they need to graduate from high school because they can join OnlyFans when they are 18 and can start making loads of money (or so they believe) by creating pornography for their subscribers.
This was a shocking revelation. Teenage girls fully believe adult entertainment and self-exploitation are a legitimate, safe, viable career choice over graduating high school.
How did we get here?
The normalization of porn and OnlyFans for teens
There are several factors at play. First, many children spend an exorbitant amount of time online. Second, children are deeply influenced by what they consume online (like all of us) and the images they see. Third, these children and teens have been duped by OnlyFans and social media marketing to believe that they can easily make millions of dollars through self-exploitation.
Kids are growing up in a “pornified” world, there is no way around it. Not only is pornography readily available to any child with a screen, but social media is full of “pornified” content as well.
In fact, any child or teenager on social media can follow porn performers and see the glamorized content these performers are pushing. Kids observe the attention and praise these performers receive for self-objectification, yet rarely do these “stars” speak out on the harms of an industry that is rampant with abuse, exploitation and humiliation.
This societal attitude teaches kids that self-exploitation is not only healthy, but that that you can achieve fame and riches by doing it. When you view self-generated pornography through this lens, there are no downsides.
Why buckle down and finish high school when self-exploitation is being pushed as a legitimate, safe career?
What OnlyFans models actually make in a month
Another important factor that is normalizing online stardom in the adult entertainment realm, is the reality that so many teenagers have sent and received nude photos from peers and adults through apps like SnapChat. The shock factor of seeing someone else’s exposed genitals or naked body is gone.
These images are constantly being created, shared, and rated (with or without consent) amongst high schoolers around America. This only further legitimizes self-generated pornography as a viable, safe career, when sexting, exploitation, and image- based sexual abuse is now a “normal” occurrence in the life of teenagers. Bear in mind that very few people talk about the mental health implications associated with the trauma of having private images shared.
Lastly, a huge lie that today’s kids and many adults believe is that they can make millions of dollars on OnlyFans. OnlyFans sells this false narrative by sharing sensationalized stories of “content creators” who make a fortune on their site.
In reality, a very small percentage of people make that kind of money. Yet consistently you see stories of the “teacher” or “nurse” who quit her job to become an OnlyFans star.
Most content creators make less than $200 a month on OnlyFans. This isn’t even a livable wage, let alone the fortune that OnlyFans purports anyone can make on their site. Reports say that the top 1% of accounts make 33% of all the money, and the top 10% of accounts make 73% of all the money.
This has led some content creators to meet “fans” in person for sex though it is explicitly against OnlyFans’ rules, because they are so financially desperate. Of course, this often only leads to more harmful and traumatic experiences.
Underage content on OnlyFans
OnlyFans has also allowed child sex trafficking through the site, as well as letting “fans” under the age of 18 access pornographic content. There is nothing innocent, victimless, or empowering about these types of adult content sites once you start to uncover the façade.
In fact, we treated a young, teenage girl in our hospital who was being sexually abused by her mom’s boyfriend. He had set up an OnlyFans account for her and was planning on trafficking her through the site. Thankfully this didn’t happen, because she disclosed her abuse before he could create child sexual abuse images of her.
The sad reality is that a lot of teenagers don’t disclose their plans to start an OnlyFans to professionals like myself, because they don’t view self-exploitation as harmful or abusive.
How do we help? An important step is having real, non-shaming, and ongoing conversations with kids. Show curiosity, rather than shame or judgment as you broach these subjects. Ask teens in your life if they have heard of OnlyFans, and what they think about it.
Empower them by affirming that they matter, and that they are important outside of what they can offer the world sexually. It’s important to talk about pornography, self-exploitation, and the very real messages that are being pushed on social media to our kids.
About the Author
Heidi Olson, RN, MSN, CPN, SANE-P is a Certified Pediatric Nurse and Certified Pediatric Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE), she is also the Founder and President of Paradigm Shift Training and Consulting, which equips healthcare workers with skills to be able to identify and treat victims of trafficking and exploitation. Heidi previously managed the SANE Program at a large children’s hospital where she performed/reviewed over 1,500 pediatric sexual assault exams, many of them trafficking cases, communicated with a large multidisciplinary team, and educated hundreds of staff members on relevant topics regarding sexual violence. Heidi also serves as an expert witness in civil and criminal trials related to sexual assault.
In 2019, Heidi implemented an evidence-based screening process in an Emergency Department, which has resulted in hundreds of vulnerable children being identified as victims of exploitation. Heidi has testified in favor of bills that have been passed into law and most recently, Heidi testified at a briefing in Washington D.C. about protecting children online. Over the last few years, Heidi has presented over 200 times internationally about recognizing human trafficking, child-on-child sexual assault, pornography, and exploitation. Heidi has also been featured in several documentaries, including Vulnerable Innocence, which has won 24 awards.
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