Once upon a time, porn had a purely physical presence. If you had a favorite porn star, you probably made an effort to buy the magazines, VHS tapes and DVDs that featured them. Or you may have trekked to an adult conference and picked up their films directly from them.
While the internet changed porn consumption entirely, this material world definitely hasn’t died. Even in a tube-site era, there are still opportunities to buy actual objects in support of those appearing in porn — whether that be a signed 8×10 photo or a Fleshlight molded from their genitals. And if anything, OnlyFans has only amplified things further, as many creators make a sizable chunk of income on the sales of T-shirts, calendars and bumper stickers (despite their adult content being more digital than ever).
“I used to do work for some mainstream studios, and I got into selling merch during big trade shows and conventions,” says Bella Vendetta, a 20-year, multi-hyphenate veteran of the porn industry. “Back in those days, we sold DVDs and 8x10s. I’d always bring along some of my own stuff, too, like framed pictures, and try to sell them on the side.”
Along those lines, she set up her own website way back in 2003, launching with a round of stickers, pins and T-shirts — all of which sold out. “Over the years, I’ve added and cycled through some other things: a line of gold-plated handcuffs, dog-tag necklaces, posters, prints, handmade decorated boxes, and last year, I did my first calendar,” she tells me. The calendar was such a success, in fact, that this year, she’s doing three different versions.
For her part, Siri Dahl, a Twitch streamer and adult performer, is offering signed holiday cards this year, with the option of including non-nude or nude Polaroids with it. The rest of her merch, though, has little direct connection to her name and image. For example, she sells socks with the word “Simp” printed on the ankle and sports bras with the phrase “Lonely Plans” on them in the font of the OnlyFans logo. (Vendetta has similarly diversified, also selling homemade skincare products and perfume oils.)
This is all, of course, completely strategic. “The minute I start selling sex toys or novelty products, I will have to jump through a bunch of hoops to keep my payment-processing capabilities,” she explains. “But I also want the items I sell to have a wider appeal, and for the wearable items I sell, I want them to be something that anybody could wear day-to-day without being seen as scandalous. There might be a little wink and a nudge there, but it’s not overtly sexualized. Toeing the line in that way has benefited me, because it allows me to market my online store on mainstream platforms like Instagram Shop.”
It’s also just a fun way for her to stay creative. “I’ve never been one to want all of my eggs in one basket,” she continues. “I have ADHD as well and get distracted and bored easily, so it’s just better for my brain and my creativity if I have multiple segments within my business. Merchandise is just one of those segments, and while it doesn’t have the biggest profit margin, it’s rewarding in its own way. For example, I love seeing posts online of fans and followers wearing or using my merch.”
The safe-for-work component of it all, ironically, points to the enhanced visibility and acceptance many of these sex workers have in mainstream culture. Rather than buying a signed DVD or photo you might store away in a desk drawer, fans are now comfortable wearing shirts and hats that, in one way or another, signal them as porn viewers.
Sure, we’re not all walking around with an Abella Danger-shaped Fleshlight, but one of Dahl’s branded face masks can happily label us as a connoisseur of the adult arts just the same.