The bodies of the (digitized) body

Experiences of sexual(ised) work on OnlyFans


  • Daniel Cardoso
  • Cosimo Marco Scarcelli University of Padova



Pornography, Onlyfans, Gender, platformisation, Gig economy, technologies of the self


OnlyFans has enjoyed increasing attention from media and from users and consumers, especially since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, and particularly amongst Internet-savy emerging adults. We used semi-structured interviews to collect testimonies from young Italian women (N = 20) who sell their own sexual(ised) content on OnlyFans and processed them through Th ematic Analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006). Through this process, we sought to explore how different bodies are conceptualised in relation to content production, and how labour takes somatic existence in multiple ways. We looked at 1) how the body is prepared to be presented and mediatised, 2) how its presentation is conceptualised and actualised, and 3) how that work of representation, as a work of networking and therefore where bodily energy is invested and expended. Through this, we show how there are multiple, concurrent, and at times contradictory, narratives about corporality, and that potency and healing coexist alongside exhaustion.


Abbing, H. (2002). Why are artists poor? The exceptional economy of the arts. Amsterdam University Press.

Abidin, C. (2016). Visibility labour: Engaging with influencers’ fashion brands and #OOTD advertorial campaigns on Instagram. Media International Australia, 161(1), 86–100.

Ahmed, S. (2010). The promise of happiness. Duke University Press.

Andrejevic, M. (2004). Reality TV: The work of being watched. Rowman & Littlefield.

Andrijavesic, R. (2010). Migration, agency and citizenship in sex trafficking. Palgrave MacMillan.

Arnett, J. (2000). Emerging adulthood: A theory of development from the late teens through the twenties. The American Psychologist, 55(5), 469–480.

Attwood, F., Smith, C., & Barker, M. (2018). ‘I’m just curious and still exploring myself’: Young people and pornography. New Media & Society, 20(10), 3738–3759.

Banet-Weiser, S. (2012). Authentic: The Politics of ambivalence in a brand culture. New York University Press.

Banet-Weiser, S., & Arzumanova, I. (2013). Creative authorship: Self-actualizing individuals and the selfbrand. In C. Chris, & D. A. Gerstner (Eds.), Media authorship (pp. 163–179). Routledge.

Baym, N. K. (2019). Playing to the crowd: Musicians, audiences, and the intimate work of connection. NYU Scholarship Online.

Beck, U., & Beck-Gernsheim, E. (2002). Individualization: Institutionalized individualism and its social and political consequences. Sage.

Berg, H. (2017). Porn work, feminist critique, and the market for authenticity. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 42(3), 669–692.

Bernstein, E. (2007). Sex work for the middle classes. Sexualities, 10(4), 473–488.

Böhm, M. (2020, December 5). OnlyFans macht zwei Milliarden Dollar Umsatz: Der Spiegel.

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101.

Brents, B. G., & Jackson, C. A. (2013). Gender, emotional labour and interactive body work: Negotiating flesh and fantasy in sex workers’ labour practices. In C. Wolkowitz (Ed.), Body/sex/work: Intimate, embodied and sexualized labour (pp. 77–92). Palgrave Macmillan.

Buhl, H. M., & Lanz, M. (2007). Emerging adulthood in Europe. Journal of Adolescent Research, 22(5), 439–443.

Cascais, F. (1993). Paixão, Morte e Ressurreição do Sujeito em Foucault. Revista de Comunicação e Linguagens, 19, 77–117.

Castells, M. (2010). The rise of the network society (2nd ed.). Wiley-Blackwell.

Currier, D. (2003). Feminist technological futures: Deleuze and body/technology assemblages. Feminist Theory, 4(3), 321–338.

Currier, D. (2010). Assembling bodies in cyberspace: Technologies, bodies, and sexual difference. In P. K. Nayar (Ed.), The new media and cybercultures anthology (pp. 254–267). Wiley-Blackwell.

Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987). A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. University of Minnesota Press.

Elias, A., Gill, R., & Scharff , C. (2017). Aesthetic labour: Beauty politics in neoliberalism. In A. Elias, R. Gill, & C. Scharff (Eds.), Aesthetic labour: Rethinking beauty politics in neoliberalism (pp. 3–49). Palgrave Macmillan.

Evans, A., Riley, S., & Shankar, A. (2010). Technologies of sexiness: Theorizing women’s engagement in the sexualization of culture. Feminism & Psychology, 20(1), 114–131.

Faleatua, R. (2018). Insta brand me: Playing with notions of authenticity. Continuum, 32(6), 721–732.

Foucault, M. (1994). História da sexualidade 1: A Vontade de Saber. Relógio d’Água.

Foucault, M. (2000a). Sex, power and the politics of identity. In P. Rabinow (Ed.), The essential works of Michel Foucault, 1954-–1984: Ethics (Vol. 1) (pp. 163–173). Penguin.

Foucault, M. (2000b). Technologies of the self. In P. Rabinow (Ed.), The essential works of Michel Foucault, 1954–1984: Ethics (Vol. 1) (pp. 223–251). Penguin.

Foucault, M. (2013). Vigiar e Punir. Edições 70.

Friedman, G. (2021, January 3). Jobless, selling nudes online and still struggling. The New York Times.

Gill, R. (2007). Gender and the media. Polity.

Gill, R. (2011). New femininities: Postfeminism, neoliberalism, and subjectivity. Palgrave Macmillan.

Goffman, E. (2004). A representação do eu na vida cotidiana. Vozes.

Grandey, A., Diefendorff , J., & Rupp, D. E. (Eds.). (2013). Emotional labor in the 21st century: Diverse perspectives on the psychology of emotion regulation at work. Routledge.

Hackett, P. (2020, April 1). Sex work, Covid-19 and the UK lockdown [Blog entry]. Verso Books.

Hair, L. (2021). Friends, not ATMs: Parasocial relational work and the construction of intimacy by artists on Patreon. Sociological Spectrum, 41(2), 196–212.

Hardy, S. (2008). The pornography of reality. Sexualities, 11(1-2), 60–64.

Hardy, S. (2009). The new pornographies: Representation or reality? In F. Attwood (Ed.), Mainstreaming sex: Th e sexualization of western culture (pp. 3–18). IB Tauris.

Hermann, C. (2007). Neoliberalism in the European Union. Studies in Political Economy, 79(1), 61–90.

Jenkins H. (2006). Convergence culture. NYU Press.

Jorge, A. (2020). Celebrity bloggers and vloggers. In K. Ross, I. Bachmann, V. Cardo, S. Moorti, & C. M. Scarcelli (Eds.), The international encyclopedia of gender, media, and communication (1st ed.). Wiley Online Library.

Kember, S., & Zylinska, J. (2012). Life after new media: Mediation as a vital process. MIT Press.

Laurin, D. (2019). Subscription intimacy: Amateurism, authenticity and emotional labour in direct-to-consumer gay pornography. AG About Gender – Rivista Internazionale Di Studi Di Genere, 8(16), Article 16.

Legardnier, C. (2021, January 26). Ces jeunes qui vendent leurs photos de nus: Onlyfans, un réseau social pas si cool. Le Figaro. https://etudiant.lefi

Lopes, G. P., Vale, F. B. C., Vieira, I., da Silva Filho, A. L., Abuhid, C., & Geber, S. (2020). COVID-19 and sexuality: Reinventing intimacy. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 49(8), 2735–2738.

Maddison, S. (2013). Beyond the entrepreneurial voyeur? Sex, porn and cultural politics. New Formations, (80-81), 102–118.

Martinez Dy, A., & Jayawarna, D. (2020). Bios, mythoi and women entrepreneurs: A Wynterian analysis of the intersectional impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on self-employed women and women-owned businesses. International Small Business Journal, 38(5), 391–403.

Marwick, A. E. (2013). Status update: Celebrity, publicity, and branding in the social media age. Yale University Press.

Nail, T. (2017). What is an assemblage? SubStance, 46(142), 21–37.

Paasonen, S. (2010). Labors of love: Netporn, web 2.0, and the meanings of amateurism. New Media & Society, 12(8), 1297–1312.

Patterson, Z. (2004). Going on-line: Consuming pornography in the digital era. In L. Williams (Ed.), Porn studies (pp. 104–124). Duke University Press.

Pezzuto, S. (2019). From porn performer to porntropreneur: Online entrepreneurship, social media branding, and selfhood in contemporary trans pornography. About Gender, 8(16), 30–60.

Redazione Economia. (2021, July 4). OnlyFans, Leonid Radvinsk l’imprenditore miliardario (grazie alle porno star 4.0). Il Corriere della Sera.

Rose, N. (1998). Inventing our selves: Psychology, power, and personhood. Cambridge University Press.

Ryan, P. (2019). Male sex work in the digital age: Curated lives. Palgrave Macmillan.

Saunders, R. (2019). Computer-generated pornography and convergence: Animation and algorithms as new digital desire. Convergence, 25(2), 241–259.

Scolere, L. (2019). Brand yourself, design your future: Portfolio-building in the social media age. New Media & Society, 21(9), 1891–1909.

Senft, T. M. (2013). Microcelebrity and the branded self. In J. Hartley, J. Burgess, & A. Bruns (Eds.), A companion to new media dynamics (pp. 346–354). Wiley Online Library.

Smith, A. (2018). Participatory porn culture: Feminist positions and oppositions in the internet pornosphere. In I. Dusterhoeft, & P. Nixon (Eds.), Sex in the digital age (pp. 25–34). Routledge.

Stella, R. (2016). The amateur roots of gonzo pornography. Porn Studies, 3(4), 351–361.

van Doorn, N. (2010). Keeping it real: User-generated pornography, gender reification, and visual pleasure. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 16(4), 411–430.

van Doorn, N. (2017). Platform labor: On the gendered and racialized exploitation of low-income service work in the ‘on-demand’ economy. Information, Communication & Society, 20(6), 898–914.

Whitmer, J. M. (2019). You are your brand: Self-branding and the marketization of self. Sociology Compass, 13(3), e12662.

Williams, L. (1999). Hard core: Power, pleasure, and the ‘frenzy of the visible’. University of California Press.

Wissinger, E. (2015). This year’s model: Fashion, media, and the making of glamour. New York University Press.

Zappavigna, M. (2016). Social media photography: Construing subjectivity in Instagram images. Visual Communication, 15(3), 271–292.

Zerega, G. (2020, December 5). Only Fans acerca la prostitución a miles de jóvenes en América Latina. El Pais.



2021-12-22 — Updated on 2022-01-03


How to Cite

Cardoso, D., & Scarcelli, C. M. (2022). The bodies of the (digitized) body: Experiences of sexual(ised) work on OnlyFans. MedieKultur: Journal of Media and Communication Research, 37(71), 098–121. (Original work published December 22, 2021)



Articles: Theme section