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Illustration Callum Abbott

My partner wants to start an OnlyFans – how should I feel?

If you’re in a monogamous relationship, learning that your partner wants to join the adult content platform might spark anxiety – here’s some advice on how to navigate it

Picture this: you’re happily settled into a relationship and things are going well. You put up with your partner’s 20-minute voice notes, tolerate their family’s painfully cringe WhatsApp group, and all their friends think you’re ‘the one’. Then, out of nowhere, your partner says they have to tell you something. No, they’re not breaking up with you: they want to start an OnlyFans account.

Launched in 2016, the subscription-based content-sharing platform experienced a spike from 70,000 creators in 2019 to 1.5 million in 2022. The platform is particularly popular among sex workers, with 70 per cent of all content deemed NSFW. It’s also allowed ‘amateurs’ to dip their toes into the world of adult content creation too: while previously, online sex work might have seemed alien to anyone unfamiliar with its inner workings, OnlyFans demystified it and opened up possibilities for basically anyone to have a go – all you need to get started is a phone and internet connection.

Masika, 23, has been creating content on OnlyFans for almost three years now, after she set up an account during the pandemic to subsidise her living costs. “I live with my mum and, when COVID hit, I wanted to be able to help her with rent,” she says.

But things weren’t that simple. Masika wasn’t single when she set up her account – she was in a monogamous relationship with her boyfriend, Leon. “I think a lot of people thought, ‘how can you do that if you have a boyfriend?’” she recalls.

When Masika first told Leon about her plan, he initially felt conflicted. “I was like, ‘OK, so what exactly do you want to do?’” he tells Dazed. He explains that he wanted to know exactly the type of content she wanted to post and why. “When she laid it out, I had no problem with it,” he continues. “That being said, we did already have a very good foundation of trust and communication.”

Not everyone reacts with such an open mind, however. One Reddit screenshot recently posted to Twitter featured a user recounting his decision to abruptly dump his girlfriend after she revealed that she was planning to set up OnlyFans. Another tweet, this time from an OnlyFans creator lamenting the diabolical state of modern dating, prompted one user to point out, totally unprovoked, that her being on OnlyFans was a “huge red flag for every man looking for something serious”.

Obviously, more often than not, comments as harsh as these are often grounded in misogynistic and regressive anti-sex work views. But it’s fair to say that if you’re in a monogamous relationship, learning that your partner wishes to start an OnlyFans might spark anxiety or confusion – even the most open-minded of partners may struggle to wrap their heads around it. When you’re in a monogamous relationship, deciding what’s acceptable to post and monetise is a grey area that couples should be willing to navigate, together, and create a space for open and non-judgemental dialogue.

“If a couple really values the relationship, they’ll want to talk through their hopes, fears, wants, boundaries and risks [...] Things might come up that people don’t even anticipate” – Miranda Christopher

Sex therapist, Miranda Christopher, emphasises the importance of communication in relationships where one person is an OnlyFans creator. “If a couple really values the relationship, they’ll want to talk through their hopes, fears, wants, boundaries and risks”, she says. “Things might come up that people don’t even anticipate.” For example, partners may feel that the work is satisfying deeper needs other than finances, such as a desire for sexual validation or a chance to explore kinks or fantasies.

It’s also far better to communicate frankly than pretend to be OK with something because you think it’s the ‘right’ thing to do, only to explode with pent-up resentment a few months down the line. Psychodynamic counsellor and psychotherapist, Giorgia Bertoni, affirms that even the most sex-positive and liberal-minded person may still experience feelings of rejection, possessiveness, or jealousy if a partner is engaging in sex work. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, after all: you can fully support sex workers and feel a bit conflicted if you’re in a monogamous relationship and your partner suggests starting an OnlyFans. “There’s not just me over here, and you over there,” she says. “How are we going to explore this?” Bertoni invites couples to contemplate.

Like Leon, Jacob, 24, took a little while to wrap his head around the thought of someone else seeing his girlfriend, Jenny, in a sexual context. When he eventually accepted the idea, they set two clear boundaries: Jenny was not to talk to people directly on the platform or accept requests for fetish content. “We had completely open conversations about what we were comfortable with and what we weren’t comfortable with,” Jacob explains.

Both Leon and Masika and Jacob and Jenny demonstrate that transparency and honest communication is of paramount importance – in any relationship, but especially when one-half of a couple does sex work. “Sometimes partners are the ones behind the camera helping work things out, sometimes they’re even part of the content themselves,” Christopher says. In Leon’s case, he’s actively involved in the behind-the-scenes work that’s required to keep Masika’s platform afloat. “He comes with me to take pictures and helps me out with admin when I’m tired,” Masika says. This way, Leon feels like he understands what’s going on and isn’t kept in the dark. In other cases, a partner might prefer to keep their involvement to a minimum, and stick to offering their partner a cup of tea at the end of a long day shooting content. Inevitably, the extent to which a partner is involved in the OnlyFans work will differ from couple to couple.

“Underneath all of this, there’s a person shooting content and a person who’s the partner of a person shooting the content,” Bertoni says. “It comes down to self-awareness, openness and seeing the other person as a human being”. Ultimately, there’s no right or wrong, and circumstances will vary from one couple to the next. The only imperative is that you keep a dialogue going: if you want to start an OnlyFans, speak to your partner first, while if you’re on the other side of the equation and your partner wants to start an OnlyFans, engage with them calmly, openly, and honestly. As a couple, communicate, set mutually-agreed boundaries, keep checking in with each other, and go forth as a team. That way, you can explore the possibilities that sex work can offer, together.