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‘Does Paying for OnlyFans Count As Cheating?’

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Dear Randa,

I’ve been with my boyfriend for almost three years. A year ago, I found out he’d paid to watch a woman on OnlyFans. 

I admit it — I went through his phone, and I saw that an OnlyFans creator had sent him a link to a video of her, to which he replied “cant wait to see you 😍.” When I asked him about it, he said we were going through a bad patch and he was curious. He even told me that the video didn’t turn him on and he was just “intrigued.” 

The idea that my boyfriend would pay to watch someone else be sexual makes me physically sick and like I’m not attractive enough. I could get over it if he apologized profusely, but instead he finds it funny and doesn’t understand why I’m so hurt by it. 

He said he would never do it again, but I found him following another OnlyFans creator on Instagram. When I asked him to unfollow her, he got weird about it and the fact that I was looking through his following. 

I feel like I wouldn’t be as upset if he was just watching porn, but there’s something about paying for OnlyFans that makes this feel worse to me. My question is: Should I be so bothered by this, or should I just consider it kind of like watching porn? And am I overreacting considering he’s not physically cheating on me? 

Sincerely,

OnlyGF

Dear OnlyGF,

Back in Renaissance times, you had to commission a whole-ass painting to get a piece of erotic media. Not only does OnlyFans make it much easier to solicit nudes, it also blurs the line between watching porn and engaging in some kind of cheating. The platform is still pretty new, so there’s no clear cultural script that tells us whether using it should be considered infidelity, and while traditional internet porn and OnlyFans usually involve erotic imagery, there are some important differences.

Aella is a sex worker and researcher. She’s taking a break from OnlyFans, but used to be one of their top creators. She describes OnlyFans as “interactive porn” — part of its appeal is that you can message creators and even pay for customized content. Much like anyone who follows an influencer on social media, people who use OnlyFans might feel like they know creators, and it’s possible that they might develop some kind of emotional attachment that wouldn’t be present if they were just watching porn.

The other difference is that people pay creators directly on OnlyFans. You can pay for porn, too, but there’s typically a middleman between you and the person in the video. This makes OnlyFans a kind of gray area — most people would not feel the need to tell a partner that they watched porn, but is it deceptive to not tell someone that you subscribe to an OnlyFans?

My friend Elizabeth thinks it might be. She says if her boyfriend paid to see a specific person on OnlyFans, she’d feel uncomfortable; it would feel like he’s choosing someone over her, which triggers insecurities around her own desirability.

I see what she’s saying, but I wonder if she’s putting too much pressure on herself to fulfill her partner’s desire for sexual novelty. On his OnlyFans usage, my friend Liam said, “Variety is the spice of life. I can watch OnlyFans and be very into it, but it doesn’t affect the way that I feel about my relationship.” He thinks people should “openly and honestly discuss their sexual habits,” but doesn’t necessarily think it’s deceptive to keep your masturbation fodder private. I agree with Liam, but would note that it’s different — and problematic — to intentionally conceal something.

Now that we’ve looked into OnlyFans, let’s get back to you and your boyfriend. I think your first step is to get really clear on why your boyfriend using OnlyFans specifically feels bad. You say it makes you feel unattractive, but would him watching porn on a different platform also make you feel that way? You feel weird about him paying for OnlyFans, but would you feel differently if he paid for a porn subscription? You mention confronting him about his message to a creator — have you considered whether your reaction stems from fear of a perceived emotional connection?

I’m asking you these questions to help you define some boundaries. There is no objective way for people in relationships to handle OnlyFans usage. It’s up to you to define what feels like cheating and what doesn’t and then communicate your boundary to your boyfriend.

It also sounds like the two of you have some pretty basic trust issues. He’s hiding stuff, and you’re snooping, two behaviors that aren’t characteristic of a healthy relationship. I think that if you two want to stay together, you need to talk about why you looked through his phone in the first place. Talking about your fears more honestly might reap a fruitful conversation, whereas monitoring his behavior might elicit a more defensive response from your boyfriend.

Now for the hard part — actually talking this through. But don’t worry too much, you’re armed; you know exactly what your boundaries are, and how your needs are going unmet. Be prepared to articulate those things to him (this is one of those times where “I” statements about your feelings would be helpful) and see if he is willing to make changes to satisfy them.

I’d recommend starting by speaking with him about what he’s getting out of OnlyFans. Is he just watching videos? Is he sending the occasional message? Is he having intimate conversations? Perhaps he puts OnlyFans in the same category as porn, or maybe he acknowledges that he’s engaging in something deeper.

Based on that conversation, you could come to a mutual understanding of what feels like cheating and what doesn’t. Maybe you follow the lead of Liam and his partner. They watch OnlyFans content independently and together, but they don’t message creators directly or spend exorbitant amounts of money on the platform. OnlyFans has never been a problem in their relationship, but Liam notes that “it would be different if either of us was spending a lot of time, energy, or money on OnlyFans.”

What if you have different definitions of cheating? One of you is going to have to compromise, otherwise it’s probably time to break up. And if your boyfriend just brushes you off and continues to treat your concerns like a joke, it’s time to pull the plug. No matter what your opinion is of OnlyFans or porn, you should not be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t take your feelings seriously.

Got a question for Randa? Email seeingsomeone@nymag.com. (And read our submission terms here.)

‘Does Paying for OnlyFans Count As Cheating?’