A few months ago someone on the internet asked Matty Gilbert, a Co Wicklow barber, to send a hot-water bottle full of … well, the contents are probably best glossed over. Others begged Gilbert to film close-ups of his feet.
“The number of people I have to respond to,” he says with a sigh during Only Fans: Ireland’s X-Rated (Virgin Media One, Monday, 9pm). Then he shrugs. “If there’s money to be made you have to work.”
OnlyFans is Instagram for porn stars – with the significant difference that you can charge punters directly for your “content”. Gilbert joined when the lockdown shuttered his barber’s shop. With his risqué output, he was, he says, soon earning $50,000 – about €42,000 – a month from subscriptions. Another interviewee, her identity obscured, says she is making $140,000 a month.
Only Fans: Ireland’s X-Rated is one of those documentaries Virgin Media One does so well. It is cheap and cheerful and doesn’t stand in judgment of Gilbert or of Sinead Connell, who joined OnlyFans because she’d “always wanted to do porn”.
But this chirpiness comes at a price. The documentary is crying out for an outside voice to bring some perspective. How many OnlyFans “stars” are there in Ireland? How many users? And what are the long-term psychological effects of essentially running your own sex channel? Does it affect your mental health or you real-life intimate relationships? Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. That crucial additional voice – that pulling back to show us the bigger picture – is missing.
The closest we come is Megan Sims, an OnlyFans star based in Cork. She was the victim of revenge porn several years ago, and attempted suicide. She has now sworn off social media and sees OnlyFans as a way of earning money before she goes to college with the goal of studying psychology research as it pertains to image-based sexual abuse.
She’s upfront that many vulnerable people joining OnlyFans are being sold a lie. “Young girls – 17, 18 – see this glamorous lifestyle” but “most people don’t do well,” she says. “We need to be realistic about what it is: it is sex work.”
The documentary neglects to mention that OnlyFans announced last month that it was banning explicit content, and that it later declared it was “suspending” the ban – though not reversing it outright.
Only Fans is already regarded as a pariah within social media, according to the content creators interviewed by Virgin Media. Gilbert says views for his TikTok bodybuilding videos have plunged since he went on OnlyFans. And Sinead Connell says her Instagram has been scrubbed. The bigger you are on OnlyFans, the more other platforms will cramp your style.
There are other downsides. “You might lose a lot of relationships,” says Connell. “I have. The constant criticism of your appearance, whether you’re a good mother, a good person. People looking at you like a piece of dirt. If you’re not mentally strong enough it could be the ruin of you.”
These negative aspects are largely addressed at the end. Otherwise the tone is perky. Gilbert’s wife, Maria, eventually quits nursing to create “content” with him. (Male-female double acts earn lots more than a man on his own.) But it isn’t her first appearance on her husband’s site. Previously she would do so wearing a balaclava-like mask.
“One of the fans asked, ‘Is she in the IRA?’” says Gilbert. The expression on his face suggests this is far from the strangest question he’s been asked by complete strangers since beginning his adventures on OnlyFans.