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Young Venezuelans turn to adult content to survive crisis

Like many other young Venezuelans, Valery Lopez has found a way to survive the South American country's crippling economic crisis: through online sexual content.

Young Venezuelans turn to adult content to survive crisis
Valery Lopez is seen in the screen of a photo camera during a photoshoot to make content for her OnlyFans profile, in Caracas, on December 1, 2020. Young Venezuelans use the English content subscription service OnlyFans to overcome the economic crisis. AFP
Lopez, 20, loves her body and by exposing it online she has found a way to avoid joining the exodus of five million migrants the UN says have left the country since 2015.

"I was desperate to go ... because I wasn't living well ... Now I want to stay in Venezuela thanks to OnlyFans," Lopez told AFP.

OnlyFans began as an online platform meant for celebrities and "influencers" but has morphed into a hub for adult content.

Launched in Britain in 2016, OnlyFans is a subscription service that pays 80 percent commission to its content creators.

For Lopez, that was an attractive potential source of income.

"I can pay for my teeth (and) buy clothes," she said, referring to dental work.

"Who else is earning $500 or $1,000 a month right now? No one."

Venezuela has the world's highest inflation levels, it's been in recession for seven years and has regular shortages of basic necessities such as food and medicine.

Lopez's channel has more than 50 subscribers -- mostly foreigners. Each one pays $10 a month: a figure six times the minimum salary in Venezuela, where the currency is constantly depreciating.

It's a point highlighted by psychologist Abel Saraiba, who is also the coordinator of a non-governmental group focusing on the rights of children and teenagers.

"In other countries where there isn't a humanitarian emergency there has been an increase in consumption" on platforms such as OnlyFans, said Sarabia.

"But in our context we can give them an extra dimension ... To what extent would someone adopt such a risky (line of work) if they had other work options?"

Mistaken for a child

For Lopez, everything began with a "totally" naked photo on Instagram that generated so much interest that she realized there was a business opportunity there.

Her boyfriend of three years Roberto Gonzalez, an architect, helped her set up her OnlyFans account.

"The truth is I like it (posing for adult content) ... and I like the money more, it's a good combination," Lopez said.

Often, though, her fans think she's underaged.

"They think I'm a girl, they think I'm lying," chuckled the green-eyed Lopez, who stands just 1.5 meters tall (about five foot) and sometimes paints freckles on her face.

While not the case for Lopez, a BBC documentary that aired last year claimed minors were illegally selling content on the website, which it said had seen its users grow tenfold during the pandemic. 

It has 90 million subscribers and more than one million content creators, OnlyFans told AFP.

In April, the site's founder Thomas Stokely told BuzzFeed that half of its content creators were producing adult material.

"It seems to be a way to generate more secure income than other more risky ways such as prostitution," said Saraiba.

"But effectively they don't realize that once they've published content ... they can lose control, that others can seize it."

The BBC, in fact, highlighted the risks to a person's "digital footprint" should they use such websites.

Already, videos from OnlyFans have been found on platforms such as YouTube.

Ready to leave

Brandon Mena, 20, had to put his education on hold because he couldn't afford his private university fees any more. 

His income as a nightclub waiter dried up during the pandemic.

"I worked in restaurants, clubs ... but the pandemic hit us hard in the wallet and I had to look for other alternatives," said the softly spoken Mena.

Dressed in a pair of jeans and a grey sweater, he looked very different to the content he provides to the OnlyFans website.

Unlike Lopez, though, his OnlyFans account hasn't taken off.

"Venezuela is going to remain the same, I can't see myself staying," Mena said.

Topics: Venezuela , online sexual content , Valery Lopez , survival , COVID-19
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