OnlyFans & Parasocial Media

How does OnlyFans, ostensibly an adult entertainment platform, make money from direct user donations when porn is free?

Bella Thorne was one of the first to make over 1m USD on OnlyFans. Image credit: Amy Sussman / Getty Images

The company is only five years old, but already has a GMV of billions of dollars, and revenue that was predicted to surpass a billion dollars in 2021.

A quick back-of-the-napkin calculation using numbers from a leaked pitch deck shows that they are making more than 25 dollars per average user per year, from the donations that users willingly give to content creators, most of which are adult entertainers.

So let’s return to the opening question:

How does OnlyFans make money when porn is free? What is their innovation, what is the service they provide?

The short answer is: virtual (adult) companionship.

Google searches for the word “parasocial” over time.

It’s time to familiarize yourself with the word parasocial relationship, a word that has exploded in popularity since the second half of 2019. Parasocial relationships are developed between a content creators’ audience and the creator, one-sided social interactions where the audience gets emotionally invested in and accustomed to the perceived social presence of the content creator.

The act of interacting with and donating to the content creator on a platform like OnlyFans transforms the media from an entertainment experience to something different: an intrapersonal gratification of the need for companionship.

Just like video games and movies are different kinds of experiences, I want to argue that the experience users get from OnlyFans is a distinct new phenomenon, the birth of a giant category of online interaction: Parasocial companionship.

OnlyFans is by no means the only example of this trend, only an apropos excuse to bring up the topic of parasocial interaction when they’re in the news.

There is another word that has predictably exploded in popularity during the exact same time period. I swear that I didn’t check this beforehand, the prediction is quite obvious, but here is the graph for the popularity of the term “simp”.

Simping is so 2020.

To put it chadly, simping is when you show unrequited romantic affection to the point where it becomes embarrassing. A simp is someone that gives his time, money and dignity to a one-sided romantic relationship.

In terms of absolute usage, the word simp dwarves the word parasocial, but the romantic parasocial interactions of simps on OnlyFans are just the tip of the parasocial iceberg.

There is a category of streamers on Twitch and YouTube that provide similar parasocial relationships as a service, but giving parasocial alternatives to other kinds of human bonding.

Streamer Vaush makes parasocial media for left-leaning politics.

Streamers like Hasan Piker, Destiny and Vaush provide political parasocial tribal experiences for a left-leaning audience. Their livestream format of reacting to political content with familiar and uncompromising values shared by their audience creates a pleasant sensation of tribal belonging. Parasocial companionship as a Service. In a sense, you get to feel almost like you’re hanging out, and that’s a comforting experience.

Hasan, Vaush and Destiny are examples of the new parasocial media that gives consumers intrapersonal gratification of their social needs. They provide an often-refered-to community that their audience can find comfort and companionship in, and often find rival communities (even among each other) that they can bond over in mutual dislike.

I want to be clear, I am not including every content creator that is backed by a Patreon (or even an OnlyFans) in this category of parasocial media. Making money from direct user donations is not what makes you a parasocial media creator, it’s the emotional reward that consuming your content provides to the audience.

Contrapoints provides more traditional entertainment and educational materials.

Contrapoints, Shaun and other left-leaning video essayists may superficially occupy the same space of leftist youtubers as Vaush and Hasan Piker, but their content is consumed differently from the latter’s, and gratify different emotional and social needs.

Outside of the political streaming sphere there are other niches of parasocial media. Some streamers provide parasocial gaming nights, others fashion advice, others debate philosophy.

I want to argue that these parasocial media creators should be meaningfully distinguished from the broader category of entertainment. I want to argue, even, that they are not entertainers — the value they provide is different from what we traditionally understand entertainment to be, and their rise in popularity predictably coincides with increased actual isolation in the real world.

But maybe the phenomenon of parasocial relationships is only a subset of a greater class of intrapersonal needs gratification. We could call it intratainment or autosatiation, where autosatiation is the intrapersonal, or stemming from within oneself, gratification of an emotional need.

The social aspect of a parasocial interaction, for example, is satisfied through simulated, projected or one-sided social interaction. The content creator is not directly interacting with you, but autosatiation provides a sufficiently close facsimile. Perhaps it wouldn’t even matter if the content consumed was generated by an AI?

Code Miko is a virtual Youtuber, piloted by The Technician. One day we might see AI generated content for people to have parasocial experiences with?

Are there other applications, new behaviours, out there that fall outside of the traditional entertainment sphere?

-Nils Pihl, founder of Matterless

About Matterless Studios

Digital life. Real connections. True Affection.

Matterless Studios is an augmented reality studio building the future of digital relationships, creating outlets for human love, nurture, and creativity. For more information visit, join the Discord, or follow us on Twitter or here on Medium.



Matterless is building digital toys and companions in shared augmented reality. Play with magic.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store

Matterless is building digital toys and companions in shared augmented reality. Play with magic.