In the spring of 2001, when I was just 18 years old, I launched a multiyear career as an online porn model and cam girl, giving paying customers access to my naked body in the form of photo sets and weekly cam shows broadcast in the members’ sections of my paysites. By today’s standards, the work I did was laughably low-fi. The bulk of what I put out into the world was just softcore stills. Even my cam shows only offered viewers the chance to watch an image refresh every 15 seconds or so, basically providing access to a slow-moving digital flipbook. Over the course of three and a half years, I only shot two videos—and one of them was completely silent, thanks to a malfunctioning microphone.
And yet people still paid to see me naked. They joined the websites that I modeled for. They paid me directly for private shows that would play out on a custom link available to them, and them alone. It seemed that nudity was enough to overcome any shortcomings in production value: The images could be bad or blurry or low res, but as long as there were tits available to view, I had a marketable product.
That also seems to be the takeaway of folks in the AI porn camp. As image generators like Midjourney and DALL-E have gotten better at generating lifelike photos of people who don’t exist, some have announced the beginning of the end for sex workers. Real-people porn? That’s so last year. On Twitter, a user named Alex Valaitis went viral after tweeting an AI-generated image of four women alongside the declaration that by 2025, “over half of the top OnlyFans accounts will be AI-generated models secretly run by men.” Another user echoed the sentiment, tweeting “It is SO over,” with a gallery of four AI-generated photos of women in barely there bikinis.
Astute observers have noted that many AI porn fans seem to be overlooking glaring issues with the images they’ve shared, including misshapen hands, bikini tops that defy the laws of physics, and teeth that don’t look quite human. But even if, or when, AI manages to overcome that hurdle and consistently produce realistic erotic images that rival what you’d find on top models’ OnlyFans accounts, champions of AI porn will discover that they’ve been overly bullish on the medium’s potential.
This isn’t to say that no one will ever enjoy AI porn. There are, after all, people who purchase RealDolls, apparently unbothered by the love dolls’ firm refusal to ever exit the Uncanny Valley. Men who enthusiastically post images of AI models, undeterred by their wonky teeth and other bizarre AI tells, probably aren’t faking their enthusiasm for these artificial women. For folks who don’t want to pay for porn, or who feel more comfortable masturbating to an image of someone who doesn’t exist, AI erotica, with its ability to endlessly iterate images in almost no time at all, might fill a useful niche.
But the argument rarely seems to be that only some people will enjoy—let alone pay for—AI porn. The biggest boosters of AI-generated erotica seem convinced that it will find favor over images produced by human sex workers, to the point of dominating the industry entirely. They seem confident that the only thing anyone’s looking for when they seek out porn is a collection of pixels roughly in the shape of a naked human being. But my own experience in sex work suggests otherwise—and today’s top OnlyFans models don’t seem particularly worried about an AI script coming for their income stream.