Sex and the Socially Distanced City: Snapchat Premium and Onlyfans

29th April 2020


With well over 100 countries in lockdown, sex is joining fitness, education and work in moving almost fully online. And if the history of the Internet gives us any clues, a trend towards premium content of a sexual nature portends to a broader shift in how creators use and think of social media. 

'Free' sexting certainly still abounds, but the contraction of the world's economies seems to be nudging a new cohort of people into #newnormal behaviors around money and work, whether that be selling explicit pictures, live-camming or searching for a sugardaddy. 

A large slice of this new economy has coalesced around a very unofficial co-opting of certain social media platforms.

Snapchat 'premium' is not, as might be assumed, simply access to next level filters and features. In fact, you won't find the term anywhere across the app itself.

That's because it refers to standard accounts being used to sell access to sexual imagery, either "broadcast" through Snapchat stories or "custom" in your DMs, in exchange for a subscription fee.

Our analysis shows a steady rise in online chatter about Snapchat Premium, as many creators seem to be advertising their rates and usernames.

Whether that's someone strapped for cash looking for a new income stream, or else an experienced sex worker who can't meet clients in person during lockdown, Snapchat seems to be the app where people often get their start (as too does CashApp for "checkout", a peer-to-peer payments app developed by Square). 

Given Snapchat's popularity, there's a reasonable chance it's already installed on any given device; over the course of the outbreak, a further 11 million users have signed up to the service. The supposed inconsequentiality of the app's short-lived messages, meanwhile, are hardwired into the brand's identity

But, if Snapchat Premium is unlikely to appear in founder Evan Spiegel's commercial strategy, there are other platforms who have leaned more heavily on the opportunities contained in an interaction-starved world. 

OnlyFans is not exclusively an adult content site, featuring fitness instructors among its roster of content creators. But, similar to Snapchat, it's likely this very blending of the boundaries seems to be behind its popularity skyrocketing. 

Because while more 'vanilla' lifestyle influencers on the platform utilise the site solely for its paid subscription service, they present their videos alongside users who take full advantage of the liberal rules surrounding nudity. 

It proved to be a winning combination long before isolation. Since then, however, viewers with extra time on their hands have flocked to the site. So too have cash-strapped amateurs with their eyes on a little extra income – as sure a sign of economic downturn as the sudden interest in Universal Basic Income

But it's not only online platforms. 2020 also looks set to be the year of the sugardaddy and sugarmomma, a trend that can have been in very few forecasts made at the turn of the year. 

Sex has always been a precursor on the Internet, and this trends portends to a growing demand (and offer) for 'premium content' by creators. Whether it's a newsletter publication on Substack, a course offering on Teachable, or access to a private group on Telegram, creators are gravitating towards business models that are more heavily 'paywalled' and closer to subscription model, and those platforms are becoming eponymous with those models.