Rebecca Marotta was supposed to start work at a day care just as coronavirus stay-at-home orders began in Massachusetts last March. Instead, the 27-year-old single mom gave up her job to be with her two children, who had started remote learning at home.
Marotta said she spent months living on Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and working for Instacart, but it wasn’t enough to make ends meet. Worried she would have to go back to living in a homeless shelter, she cut costs however she could. By December, she had $30 in her checking account, she said, and cried knowing she wouldn’t be able to afford many Christmas presents for her kids.
Around that time, Marotta joined OnlyFans, a subscription-based site where creators are paid for posting adult content. She was afraid of the judgment she would get, she said, but decided the potential payoff was worth it. Marotta said she made $1,500 within her first week. In the month of February, she made $10,000, she said. Now, she can pay her rent, help her mom with medical bills and sign her daughter back up for gymnastics lessons.
“My life right now has really changed,” Marotta said. “I wouldn’t be able to do any of these things if it wasn’t for OnlyFans.”
Weeks ago, Marotta woke to messages in a group chat with other moms who have OnlyFans accounts. They were chatting about Crystal Jackson, a California mom whose kids were reportedly expelled from a private school in Sacramento after parents discovered photos she’d posted to her OnlyFans page, as KCRA 3 reported. Jackson had posted risque photos, the local news outlet reported, and after doing an interview with a British tabloid about the criticism she was experiencing from other parents, was told by the principal of Sacred Heart Parish School that her children weren’t allowed back for any reason.
In a request for comment, Jackson said that she created an OnlyFans account for “marriage fun” with her husband. She added that she does not post pornography on her page.
Sacred Heart Parish School declined to comment.
For Marotta, someone’s involvement on a site like OnlyFans shouldn’t define “somebody as a person, as a mom and it certainly doesn’t define children.” She continued: “If my daughter or son’s principal just came to me and told me that they had to leave the school because somebody found out that I did sex work on the side, I don’t even know how I would respond to that.”
The news comes at a time when people are flocking to sites like OnlyFans as more women try to make to make ends meet during the pandemic. According to the jobs report released in February, about 2.5 million women dropped out of the U.S. labor force since the pandemic began.
Meanwhile, sites like OnlyFans have seen gains; from March to April 2020, the platform saw a 75 percent increase in new user and creator registrations. Since then, it’s gained up to 500,000 new users per day, said Jessica Alper, an OnlyFans spokesperson. The platform has amassed more than 1 million content creators and more than 100 million users as of February 2021, up from 120,000 creators and 17 million users at the end of 2019, Alper added.
Like Marotta, other women said that Jackson’s story resonated with them. Crystal Bogenschutz, 28, said she could relate after she faced bullying and harassment from other moms when she joined the site in August. They shared content from her OnlyFans page and reported her Twitter and TikTok accounts until the accounts were banned, Bogenschutz said. The mom of five removed photos of her children from all of her social media to decrease chances of someone outing her to her kids’ teachers. “I’ve done everything that I possibly can to make sure that they aren’t affected by it,” Bogenschutz said.
Private organizations generally have discretion when it comes to decisions like the one to expel kids from schools, but women and members of the LGBTQ community are often the most vulnerable to the consequences of private information being shared, whether that be losing scholarships or placement in a school or employment, said Annie Seifullah, an attorney and associate at C.A. Goldberg, a law firm that focuses on victim rights in New York City.
And online sex workers in particular can be subject to private information being shared or pirated, according to Esther Kao, communications consultant for the Sex Workers Project, an organization that advocates for sex workers and human trafficking victims.
Those who have access to technology may resort to other measures to maintain anonymity in case their photos are leaked, altering facial features, tattoos and more, but those who don’t are at greater risk of exposure, Kao said. “This definitely impacts more marginalized communities more than it does mothers who can afford to do this kind of work, censor their face and still make money,” she added.
As OnlyFans has risen in popularity, its credibility has been questioned by some sex workers, Kao said. Tension exists between those who had established online presences before the pandemic and after. Some sex workers opt for other fan sites like AVN Stars or Patreon, but none are perfect, according to Kao: “In general, all platforms have issues, and the large majority of sex workers are hypervigilant about protecting themselves against it since there’s so little protection.”
While some women may find it to be the most lucrative work when options are limited, other women may engage in sex work simply because they want to, said Sara Hayden, professor of communications studies at the University of Montana whose research focuses on motherhood. This may come with stigma, especially for moms.
“Once a woman becomes a mother … it’s as if she’s supposed to no longer be a sexual being,” Hayden said.
While there are general societal pressures on women to be “desirable,” there’s a greater expectation for moms to focus all of their energy toward caring for their children, Hayden said: Anti-feminists feared that more women would embrace opportunities to develop professional careers during second-wave feminism in the 1970s. This idea of “intensive mothering” suggested that biological mothers should focus all of their time, money and labor toward their children rather than her own needs, giving rise to these types of pressures.
This is ironic, because sex work allows some moms to earn money while also spending more time with their families, said Akynos, founder and executive director of the Black Sex Worker Collective, a nonprofit organization that advocates for equal rights for current and former Black sex workers.
Marotta said she was outed for being an OnlyFans creator not long after she started posting photos to the site in December. Some of her photos were leaked online and she received nasty messages for weeks. An ex-friend told her that she didn’t see the value of herself, Marotta said. Others called her derogatory names and told her she was a bad mother.
“I don’t think my parenting has anything to do with what I’m doing on my own time,” Marotta said, adding that her kids aren’t in the house when she’s creating content for OnlyFans.
Meanwhile, news about the expulsion of Jackson’s sons has made Bogenschutz reconsider where to send her children to school, despite now being able to afford a private education, she said.
Akynos hopes others rally behind moms like Jackson who may face similar treatment in the future: “What [women] do in their private lives or on the side is not safe. They’re going to have to constantly try to play this game of respectability politics in order to be taken seriously and be considered fit to take care of their children.”