Allie Rae/Instagram

People Are Turning to Sex Work as Costs of Living Rise—and They’re Being Punished for It

“There is nothing I was doing on OnlyFans that I wasn’t doing as a single woman except that I found a way to monetize it.”

In the spring of 2021, Allie Rae was on shift at the hospital where she worked as a nurse when her direct supervisors and their bosses called her into her manager’s office. There, she said, they opened a manila envelope full of Allie Rae’s nude photographs with sharpie marks covering parts of her body.

“My heart just stopped,” said Allie Rae, whose real name is being withheld for privacy reasons. 


She immediately recognized the images as photos that were only available behind her OnlyFans paywall. Someone at work had discovered her content and outed her. OnlyFans is an online, subscription-based platform for content creators, including sex workers. “I can’t even believe someone went to those great lengths to actually pay to get content from me,” she told VICE News.“ It was probably one of the hardest times of my life.”

This wasn’t the first time management called her in to discuss her social media presence. They had previously asked her about her Instagram, which featured no nudity but had some sexy pictures, and went viral after an NHL team shared a picture of Allie Rae in their jersey.  

“It was totally safe for work—it was me in a jersey with pigtails,” Allie Rae said. 

About two months after her bosses opened the manila envelope full of her pictures—and multiple discussions with HR and the nurses’ union— they told Allie Rae that she’d have to quit OnlyFans or she’d be fired. The ultimatum came at a time when she and her husband were earning tens of thousands of dollars per month on OnlyFans—significantly more than what she made at the hospital. So, she quit her hospital job and started working online full-time. 

Allie Rae is hardly the only person to lose a job because of racy content or sex work: In 2017, a Canadian train conductor lost her job in with Canadian Pacific Railway after her employer decided her Instagram pictures violated the company’s “code of ethics and its internet and email policy.” In 2020, a Honda mechanic in Indiana was fired because her colleagues had watched her OnlyFans content at work. In January, a police officer in Colorado was forced to resign after someone sent in an “anonymous tip” about her OnlyFans to her employer. Her colleagues allegedly gossiped about her content behind her back. 


Stigma around sex, and specifically, selling sex is likely driving employers to fire staff who engage in sex work. Last month, a police officer in Detroit was forced to resign after her police chief learned about her OnlyFans and Instagram accounts. And while the force acknowledged that her OnlyFans page wasn’t illegal, a spokesperson for Detroit police said, “one of the bedrocks of DPD is you have to keep your private life unsullied as well.”

“Chief White takes these things very seriously because it represents not just DPD but all of the city of Detroit,” the spokesperson told Fox 2. 

But with the recent astronomic rise of the cost of living coupled with a looming recession, more people are turning to sex work supplement their income. This took off during the early days of the pandemic, even though making money on OnlyFans is a lot harder than most people realize. And now, those teachers, nurses, and others who are creating content online risk losing their primary jobs because they’re being outed or targeted at their workplaces. 


“Working class people have seen decades of wage stagnation, have debt in many cases that previous generations didn’t have, [and] we’re facing inflation and a possible recession,” said PJ Patella-Rey, a visiting University of Pittsburgh professor of gender, sexuality, and women’s studies. “People are dealing with really extreme and difficult financial conditions and social conditions and are just trying to survive—and we’re just punishing them for their efforts… It’s really, really unconscionable.”

Like most nurses who worked through the pandemic, Allie Rae was pulling a lot of overtime in the early days. Colleagues were frequently calling in sick, and her short-staffed unit was consistently overworked. Allie Rae was on call for 16-hour shifts, instead of her previous 12, and face masks and other PPE were in short supply. “It was very hard,” Allie Rae said. On top of all that, her husband had been furloughed from his airline job when travel all but collapsed. “We had lost a significant income in the household and that was hard on our family,” she added.

Allie Rae had started her OnlyFans account in 2020, when she decided to film beer reviews on Instagram as a way to “do something fun” after her tiring, pandemic-weary, hospital shifts. In the comment section, viewers, mostly men, suggested that she start an OnlyFans. 

She hadn’t heard of the site before. “It wasn’t until a lot of these stories started circulating about people making quite a bit of money on the platform and we thought, ‘Oh my gosh,’” Allie Rae said. 


In September 2020, Allie Rae set up an account with her husband. They posted a few photos of Allie Rae without nudity, and let the account sit. When they signed back into the account two weeks later, they saw they had already earned $7,000. That’s when they decided to take it more seriously, she said. 

Management first found out about her Instagram, which contained zero nudity, and then her OnlyFans. Allie Rae said she had “no idea” who had reported her content in the first place: Her managers told her that other nurses were “uncomfortable,” with the content, but none of her colleagues, Allie Rae said, spoke with her directly about her online presence. 

“That’s what made me the most mad, like, ‘Oh my God, everybody is so nice to me. Who’s doing this?” she said.

It wasn’t until the Daily Beast published a story about her that one of her colleagues apologized to Allie Rae and admitted that she was part of a group that had outed her. 

“People are so quick to judge us doing this, but it's like I had $130,000 in student loans. I have three children in hockey. Until they’re left with the pressures of that… it's very easy for someone to judge what they would or wouldn't do,” Allie Rae said.


“It is very hard. The cost of living is very expensive and nurses are vastly underpaid as well as teachers and a lot of professions,” she added.

Fast forward to 2022 and Sarah Juree, a teacher and single mom of two, also launched her OnlyFans in June to boost her income. Her teaching job, which paid a modest $55,000 salary, also didn’t offer health insurance. Juree  was struggling to make ends meet—health insurance and rent alone ate up half of her pay, and rising costs only made matters worse. 

A friend who had made $10,000 on OnlyFans in a single month inspired Juree to give the platform a try. But less than a month after Juree’s account went live, a local blogger wrote about her account and sent images to Juree’s employer. Juree lost her job about a day later.

“It was humiliating,” she told VICE News last month. 

Juree told VICE News that she still doesn’t understand why she was punished for her side hustle. 

“It’s just interesting what people pick and choose to approve in their mind as far as sex and sexuality goes,” Juree said. “There is nothing I was doing on OnlyFans that I wasn’t doing as a single woman except that I found a way to monetize it.”

“There is nothing I was doing on OnlyFans that I wasn’t doing as a single woman except that I found a way to monetize it.”


The irony is obvious. Studies show that many people with internet access watch porn, meaning they consume the content sex workers produce. But they’re not the ones being punished—sex workers are. “People have a remarkable capacity for double standards,” said Patella-Rey. This hypocrisy is also likely gendered: society tends to assume that sex work consumers are men and sex workers themselves are women, they added. 

Notably, several sex workers who’ve gone viral for losing their day jobs because of their online content had caretaking jobs such as nursing or teaching that are statistically staffed primarily by women. 

“The obscene thing isn’t that nurses and teachers are doing sex work to pay their bills,” Patella-Rey said. “The obscene thing is that nurses and teachers make so little that they have to do sex work to pay their bills.”

Many university students have also turned to various forms of sex work to make extra money. “Sex work is a field that particularly can be friendly to caretakers, mothers, and others, as well as people with disabilities and folks who are not only not paid enough, but struggle to find jobs that accommodate the rest of their lives,” said Heather Berg, a Washington University in St. Louis professor and author of Porn Work. Which is why, Berg added, that punishing sex workers and content creators is “additionally so cruel.”


And legal protections for sex workers are nonexistent. “In the US, sex worker status, whether current or former, is not a protected category, so you can be legally fired for doing sex work, but not for other sorts of things,” Berg said. 

Last month, 22-year-old Jaelyn went viral after she shared how her employer allegedly fired her from her nursing job because fellow nurses were watching and gossiping about OnlyFans content at work.

“While I am always doing care on somebody, they’re at the nurse’s station looking at my Instagram, looking at my Twitter, looking at my site—they paid for my site,” Jaelyn said on TikTok. 

Jaelyn hired a lawyer, and recently said the nursing home offered her her job back with a settlement. Jaelyn declined the offer and said, “I’ll see you in court.” 

Even Jaelyn, who earns enough on OnlyFans to forgo a nine-to-five, told her TikTok followers that she kept her nursing job in part because “you never know what you’re going to make on OnlyFans.”

“One month you could make $600, and then one month you can make $50,000. It just really, really depends,” Jaelyn said. 


“The obscene thing isn’t that nurses and teachers are doing sex work to pay their bills. The obscene thing is that nurses and teachers make so little that they have to do sex work to pay their bills.”

Today, Allie Rae is a full-time content creator making about $150,000 to $200,000 per month. She boasts 149,000 followers on Instagram and more than 50,000 on Twitter. She told VICE News she didn’t try to sue her employer when she lost her job, and she isn’t considering going back into nursing at the moment.

But while creators like Allie Rae and Jaelyn make enough on OnlyFans to make ends meet even after being forced out of their nursing jobs, most performers don’t make hundreds of thousands of dollars online, so the loss of a day job could be financially catastrophic. 

“Top 0.01 percent of OnlyFans—those models are making really good money… The average person on OnlyFans is making, like, $200 a month,” Patella-Rey said. They added that because online sex work on sites like OnlyFans is so “oversaturated,” many sex workers have also moved from online work to in-person work post-pandemic. 

Trans sex workers and sex workers of color face even more barriers.

“Trans folks, queer folks, people of color are already facing all kinds of disccrimination at their work places regardless of whether or not theyre engaged in sex work—and they’re often not getting hired into those positions,” Patella-Rey said.

Even though Allie Rae is a full-time content creator today, she didn’t initially see herself leaving nursing, she said, adding that workplaces risk losing some of their best employees by penalizing those who create adult content. 

“They’re willing to lose great nurses or great teachers,” Allie Rae said. “We’re hurting so bad for nurses, but because I was doing that you want to lose your most senior nurse on the unit?”

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