FORT WORTH, Texas — Courtney and Nick live with their two teenage daughters in a 5-bedroom house in the suburbs with a pool and a waterslide in the backyard. They go on vacation to Disney World. It’s all thanks to Instagram and OnlyFans.
Courtney, 39, who goes by “Texas Thighs,” is one of a new generation of content creators, some of whom are able to be self-employed in the social media-driven adult industry. She now has 1.2 million Instagram followers and said she makes nearly half a million dollars a year on OnlyFans, a digital platform primarily known for nudity and sexual content that makes it easy for people to start subscription businesses.
“In the old days, the men made the money off the women,” she said standing near the granite countertop of her newly renovated kitchen. She asked that NBC News withhold her family’s last name out of privacy concerns.
OnlyFans has paid out more than $3.2 billion to creators since it launched in November 2016 (the company makes money by taking a 20 percent cut of sales through its platform). Most creators don’t make very much money, but those who succeed are overwhelmingly women and can make hundreds of thousands of dollars a month.
But it’s not as easy as it sounds. Creators like Courtney say they deal with constant threats to the very business they are building.
Adult content creators like Courtney use a combination of social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok to find new followers and funnel them toward more lucrative platforms like OnlyFans. That can be a risky proposition, as creators face a near-constant battle against platform moderation efforts that can sometimes ensnare people who are not violating a company’s rules. Courtney says her content isn’t pornographic, but that even her risqué material has led to dozens of strikes and takedowns of her accounts on the mainstream platforms. Courtney and Nick, 42, say they have calculated daily losses of between $500 and $1,000 from posts and accounts that have been removed.
And in her personal life, Courtney says, she has dealt with everything from online impersonation to family members saying she’ll “go to hell” for her Instagram account.
“Both our parents are not church people, but all of a sudden they’re spiritual and sending us Bible verses,” said Nick, a full-time photographer and social media co-manager.
Still, they say, they are financially secure and happier than ever, thanks to their new lifestyle.
Courtney’s booming online career sets her apart in suburban Fort Worth, where she is often recognized around town by fans. Inside Courtney and Nick’s home, surrounded by framed family photos and Dallas Cowboys merchandise, they shared the highs and lows of their new normal.
“It’s all so new, this influencer-slash-model thing,” Courtney said. “Under taxes, I’m classified as a model, but it’s not the normal sense of the word. I’m a self-made entrepreneur. I run my own Maxim.”
A day in the life of ‘Texas Thighs’
Morning in Courtney’s house starts with green juice. Her daughters take turns measuring the nutritional powders and dumping them in the blender. The four family members gather around the gleaming kitchen island for breakfast before the day begins.
The girls, 13 and 16, then head upstairs for school — they go to online school, and have since before the pandemic or their mother’s newfound fame online — before Courtney changes into a green lingerie set to shoot content.
On the Wednesday before St. Patrick’s Day, the photoshoot location was the dining room table. Courtney hopped onto the shiny surface and laid flat on her stomach, then lifted her hips into the air and arched her back, staring into the camera on Nick’s phone. Courtney posts mild content compared to many OnlyFans creators. Rarely, she’ll flash her nipple, but nothing more.
“Those are great, I want to try some closer,” Nick said.
Once Courtney is satisfied with the boudoir-style photos, she and Nick start making content for other social media platforms. They take a break for lunch with the girls after creating some TikTok videos that merge the “Texas Thighs” brand with whatever sounds are trending.
The central theme of Courtney’s social media presence, besides her body, is her playful love for her family. It’s a counter-narrative to the stigmas attached to her career and the idea that being an OnlyFans talent could hurt her children — but one that she said the people in her life have had trouble accepting. She said one of her best friends has asked her three times if she has to do porn. A family member asked if she was letting her daughters post similar content.
“They were like, ‘Are you letting the girls post pictures like that?’ Well, no, they’re teenagers,” Courtney said. “I’m still me.”
In many ways, Courtney is a regular Texas mom. She and Nick are on a first-name basis with the owners of their favorite Mexican restaurant. They have Maltese Shih Tzus named after Dallas Cowboys players Dez Bryant and Dak Prescott. Beyond that, thanks to their new income, Courtney and Nick can now afford to spend more time with their children than ever. Now they can pay for the family to travel multiple times a year, trips to New York to Orlando to Los Angeles. They have an at-home movie theater — they recently screened “Euphoria” as a family — and their daughters have a hobby room, where the younger sibling paints colorful designs on white shoes. She’s joining the swim team soon, while her older sister is experimenting with hair and makeup.
Just a few years ago, the family had a much smaller budget. Courtney cleaned houses that look like the one she lives in now. Nick worked long hours as an account manager. Everything changed when Nick snapped a photo of Courtney while she did squats and posted it on Instagram. Within a month, Courtney had 15,000 followers. In less than a year, she passed 100,000, and local celebrities — including Bryant — were following her.
But they’ve also lost out on parts of their life from before Texas Thighs. At 80,000 Instagram followers, some of Courtney’s family found out about the account. She said some family members showed up at her house one day to corner her and intimidate her to stop posting. She said she ended up calling the police before convincing them to leave.
“How dare they come tell me what to do?” Courtney said. “They don’t get to come tell me to stop doing something I’m having fun with.”
Courtney is still on speaking terms with those family members, and they see her children often. She and Nick said some members of their family stopped inviting them to group events, but others have come around to Texas Thighs. Courtney said their nieces and nephews visit the new house and are impressed by its size. One filmed a 3-minute house tour TikTok.
“The caption was ‘When your mom’s cousin is RICH rich,’” Courtney said with a laugh.
OnlyFans takes flight
The rise of social media in the early 2000s quickly gave way to the first models and influencers who were able to use those platforms to amass large audiences. And while they were often able to make money through advertising and other more traditional modeling work, it remained difficult to monetize directly from their audiences.
At the same time, the porn industry was transformed and dominated by online “tube” websites that made sexually explicit content freely accessible to anyone with an internet connection. Studios were mostly run by men who hired men and women for sex work.
Nick and Courtney said it was after joining social media platforms and noticing the success of attractive women posing in bikinis and lingerie that they got the idea to try. Both athletic, Courtney said her initial inspiration was workout motivation posts.
At first, the posts were moderately successful, but there wasn’t a monetization stream that allowed them to quit their jobs. That wasn’t until later, after Courtney launched a pay-per-view website where followers could buy photo sets. Once OnlyFans emerged as a mainstream cultural phenomenon in 2020, she said she created an account there, and the money really took off.
OnlyFans reintroduced paying for adult content on a different scale due to the influencer status of its creators. It was the first pay-per-view social media platform with a reputation for sexually explicit content to go mainstream. OnlyFans most recently said that more than 150 million people have accounts to view content on its platform, some of which is available for free. More than 1.5 million people create content on the platform, some of which is not explicit and nonsexual in nature. Models who show everything from bikini-clad to fully nude and pornographic photos and videos now have a lucrative way to monetize them, but the average estimated income of an OnlyFans creator is still low, at only $150 a month.
Hundreds of thousands of new creators have started accounts on OnlyFans, which is joined by dozens of similar platforms. Creators like Courtney have multiple revenue streams, including other pay-per-view platforms, independent membership websites, merchandise, podcasts and more.
Still, creators face an almost nonstop battle to remain online.
Courtney estimates that her Instagram account has been banned over 10 times, although she has always been able to restore it. She can appeal Instagram’s decision to remove posts or her entire account at the click of a button, but the process isn’t always instantaneous. She said she has had to wait weeks at times for her Instagram to be restored.
She said her first TikTok account was permanently banned last year, and when trying to create new accounts, she noticed her videos’ views were remaining stagnant. Believing that TikTok limited her new accounts, she said, she purchased a burner phone with a new IP address to make another TikTok account, which now has over 135,000 followers.
The choice to show skin can invite other consequences. Online comments ask Courtney if her daughters will grow up to be “whores” like her, while new accounts falsely claiming to be Courtney are all over social media.
Both their daughters said they don’t have a problem with their mom’s OnlyFans or Instagram posts. To the older girl, a high school senior, in particular, it’s “annoying” that her mom faces judgment and that her content and accounts are removed and banned on social media.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it,” she said. “It’s just like a model, and I’ve always thought models were cool.”
Nick says some of the anger stems from Courtney flipping the script on who profits from a woman’s nudity. He compared her business to Playboy, specifically how some models earned nothing from the magazine or its cultural phenomenon.
“Now we have our own Playboy and it’s ‘Oh, you can’t do that,’” Nick said. “Why? Because there isn’t a big mansion where a bunch of dudes can sleep with a bunch of chicks? That doesn’t seem fair.”
Kat Tenbarge is a tech and culture reporter for NBC News Digital.