Ricky Johnson is having sex with a woman on a couch overlooking a metallic cityscape. The OnlyFans video captures the porn performer in full from behind as he thrusts over his co-star, who is only partially visible. Then the footage suddenly decelerates, stretching into slow motion capturing every ripple of his skin and muscle in luxuriating detail. A series of solo shower scenes similarly focus on him as he soaps up his body, lets water run down his back, playfully mimes sex, and shaves his pubes. In all of these snippets, which are posted to his OnlyFans, a premium social media platform, Johnson and his body are the incontestable stars.
In this way, Johnson’s content departs from much of mainstream porn marketed to straight audiences. Though he teases new OnlyFans clips by introducing women co-stars (“It’s Kenna James Week. Get Ready for some fucking Passion,” or “It’s Emily Week, Stay Tuned”), Johnson periodically shifts the erotic focus. Then it’s not about Kenna or Emily, it’s about Johnson. He occupies the entire frame in a way that rarely, if ever, happens in traditional shoots. Take, the slo-mo and shower clips. The camera’s focus shifts, because these are his fans. They are here to see him.
For performers like Johnson, who work on what’s usually termed the “straight side” of the mainstream porn industry, the pandemic has been the impetus to either sign up for or reinvest in an existing premium platform like OnlyFans or FanCentro. In March, traditional on-set adult shoots were shuttered by a production hold. At the same time, OnlyFans skyrocketed into mainstream awareness with a Beyoncé shoutout, a headline-making boom in signups, and an influx of influencers like Caroline Calloway. In the last few months, Johnson has seen his OnlyFans subscriptions double and become his main source of income. He already posts partnered content with some angles that “cater to me and my body,” but now Johnson is planning to start shooting more shower and nude workout videos starring just himself.
The rise of premiums, with their direct-to-consumer model, have not only ushered in a broader range of sexual performances by men working in straight porn, but also laid bare the diversity of their audiences. Several of these performers estimate that they have subscriber bases that are largely composed of gay or bisexual men, alongside smaller percentages of straight men and women. Some of this premium content appears specifically targeted (for example, a performer purring, “touch that pussy”), but much of it is more inclusive with a non-gendered engagement with viewers, referring broadly to “fans” or a generalized “you.” This shatters what has only ever been an illusion of a gay-straight dividing line in the adult industry.
Some men from straight porn dodge the spotlight of their premium account by touting the ability for subscribers to, as one performer puts it, “enjoy my adventures as I ravage the hottest sluts in the Adult Business.” Others directly acknowledge being looked at themselves, which inherently requires challenging cultural mandates around masculinity, heterosexuality, and subjecthood. As the writer John Berger put it, “men act and women appear.” On OnlyFans, the negotiation of acting and appearance takes a range of forms: a man flexing his pecs in a bathroom mirror, sensually making out with his own hand positioned off-camera, wagging his erect penis back and forth, using a switch on his hand while instructing viewers to bend over, or masturbating while looking straight into the camera.
In an industry haunted by homophobia, this subject-object maneuvering can feel like an especially perilous tightrope walk. There is a longstanding stigma around men, often pejoratively referred to as “crossover” performers, who partner with both women and men on camera. That stigma extends to speculation around performers’ personal lives, as well.
“There is often a whisper campaign about performers that [some] might feel are bisexual off-screen or might have a suspicious male following,” explains Mike Stabile, spokesperson for the Free Speech Coalition, the adult industry’s trade association.
Of course, this is the result of ingrained prejudice, including the fear among some performers of increased risk of HIV transmission despite standardized STI testing protocols. For years, that stigma has sparked fractious debates, most notably in 2017 when the late performer August Ames controversially tweeted that she refused to work with men who performed in gay porn scenes and last year during discussions around expanding the industry testing system.
“It feels a lot less homophobic than it did five years ago,” says Lance Hart, who performs with both men and women, and who has been blacklisted by several talent agencies as a result. “But you just never know where you’re going to get hit with the homophobia.”
For men working in straight porn, highlighting or eroticizing their own bodies has the threat of “crossover” stigma. Even filming a “solo” masturbation scene has been considered taboo. Performer Logan Pierce says that when he first entered the industry in 2012, he was told, “Don’t do any solo work. If you’re doing a threesome with anyone who has done any ‘gay work’ or ‘bi work,’ they’ll label you as such.’”
“It’s such bullshit,” he adds.
The emphasis on industry divisions has persisted despite the overlap of audiences. A 2019 survey from the tube site XHamster found that more than four percent of self-identified straight viewers watched “gay male porn” and 30 percent watched “lesbian porn.” Pierce says that most of the fans who contact him after watching his mainstream straight performances are gay men, many of whom “like to see a straight man fully in the throes of ecstasy.”
This nuance has always existed among viewers, but now premiums are beginning to “take down the walls” of what is considered “a gay action” in the business, according to Stabile. For some men, there’s an appealing degree of what Stabile calls “plausible deniability” around audience makeup because, while it’s possible to guess at, OnlyFans doesn’t reveal metrics on gender or sexual orientation. “You’re just being nude and you get a reaction,” he says. “You can experiment and have fun.” As he sees it, this is accompanied by larger cultural shifts in and out of the industry. It used to be in straight porn that men were primarily valued for the ability to maintain an erection and ejaculate on command, but post-Viagra there is a greater emphasis on good looks and gym-honed physiques. At the same time, Stabile argues, the rise of sexting, dick pics, and selfies have more broadly normalized men centering themselves in the camera’s frame.
Lil D, an industry newcomer who got into porn two years ago when he was an 18-year-old high school student, says he is perfectly comfortable with the spotlight. He started in traditional porn, shooting for companies like Bang Bros and Brazzers, before launching his OnlyFans last summer. He began by posting solo content before arranging content trades with women performers, where they would each share the same videos on their respective platforms. Most of those were POV shoots with him holding the camera during the performance. But his fans, both men and women, reached out to tell him, as he put it, “Oh, we want to see more of you.” He started setting up his camera at a distance to catch the full scene. “They like my face,” Lil D says with a laugh.
He says his OnlyFans work feels worlds apart from his on-set shoots. “When I’m doing my own shit, my content, I feel like I’m the important one,” he says. “They’re paying for me.”
Performer Michael Vegas began navigating a diverse fanbase, as well as challenging the norm that “men act and women appear,” well before the rise of OnlyFans. Currently, he’s most visible on straight-marketed sites like Pure Taboo for, as he puts it, “being an aggressor, being the one running the show, scaring and dominating, all these traditional male top roles.” He also runs his own site, PegHim.com, which is focused on “girl on guy” anal play. “You go over to my website and, ‘Wow, this same guy is telling people what to do, but also he’s the one getting fucked.’” Previously, he shot gay porn, which helped develop his strong fanbase, but now he finds some gay men only like his straight porn. Similarly, he has straight fans that only like his gay porn.
On his OnlyFans, all of these audiences converge. “Whoever it is that wants to get sexual pleasure from whatever I’m doing, that’s what I’m trying to sell to,” Vegas says. Of men who limit their premium platforms to partnered content, he adds with a laugh, “Some people hate money. There’s so much stupidity behind homophobia that it literally prevents people from making money.”
Johnson estimates that men in straight-marketed mainstream porn have less opportunity to profit off of OnlyFans than women performers, some of whom are making six-figures a month. Yet, now that he’s invested in it, he says, “I think I can definitely get to six-figures a month. I’m understanding that there’s a lot of money to be made.” Similarly, Lil D says, “This quarantine has taught me more than anything else, at least in porn: If you focus on your content, you don’t need porn,” referring to the traditional industry.
That said, just as OnlyFans’ popularity skyrocketed, the company cut referral bonuses, damaging adult content creators’ incomes, and sex workers have reported being kicked off the platform. As with so much technology that facilitates sex work: it is tenuous, conditional, and prone to abuse. While the mainstream porn production hold was recently lifted, shoots are still severely limited, so premiums remain a lifeline—and, sometimes, much more than that.
The shift to sought-after star, though, doesn’t always feel natural for men who are used to being “the male cheerleader,” as Logan Pierce puts it. He started his OnlyFans years ago and recently reinvested in it, but says he’s much more accustomed to feeling like the supporting actor to the main star: the woman. “I’m not totally comfortable with being the focus,” he says. “I don’t know what it is exactly—to put it bluntly, I don’t really like to be objectified.” He adds: “You can objectify parts of me, I guess. I prefer being shot from the waist down.” Part of this discomfort arises from bigoted gossip that holds men’s sexuality up for scrutiny. “The homophobia on the straight side is pretty rampant,” he says, adding that he’s witnessed plenty of on-set mockery of performers that straight men on the crew suspect to be gay. Pierce says these attitudes in the business have improved dramatically in recent years and that he’s come to care much less what people think.
“Even still,” he says, “I’m having trouble embracing myself as front-and-center of this whole thing.”