Mia Khalifa was an adult film star for only three months. But in that short time span, she had a dizzying ascent within the industry that, as she has spoken out about over the years, was laced with exploitation.
On PornHub, Khalifa’s videos have garnered more than 1 billion views. Despite pulling in massive revenue for production companies and sites, Khalifa claims to have made only around $12,000. But what ultimately led to her stepping away from the adult industry in 2015 was receiving death threats from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria for doing a sex scene while wearing a hijab—something she voiced her concerns about at the time, but as a newcomer she felt like she wasn’t in a position to say no. It also didn’t matter to producers (or ISIS) that Khalifa is Catholic, not Muslim.
Since leaving the traditional adult entertainment space, Khalifa has used her platform to spotlight the inequitable power structures within the industry as well as to transition into other areas of interest such as activism, which in a roundabout way has helped her reconcile her relationship to adult entertainment.
Last August, Khalifa put the glasses she used to wear in some of her adult films up for auction on eBay to raise money for the Lebanese Red Cross following the massive explosion in Beirut that killed more than 200 people. But when the $100,000 sale fell through, Khalifa, a Lebanese American, turned to OnlyFans as a “quick money grab” to make good on her promise to donate to the humanitarian organization operating in Lebanon—albeit not without some hesitation.
“I was still at a very weird point where I shied away from a lot of things that were overtly adult, because I didn’t know how to reconcile that within myself,” says Khalifa of the platform that’s open to all creators but has become synonymous with explicit content.
However, the more time she spent on OnlyFans, the more she found herself at ease. “I just really started enjoying my time on the platform,” she says. “My favorite part is the community. When I was on Patreon, I never spoke to any fans. I feel like the OnlyFans community really takes care of each other.”
For example, Khalifa says she’ll sometimes test posts by sending them to another creator she met on the platform before sending it out to her own subscribers. She says she also feels less pressure to create glossy productions, which, in a way, hearkens back to what OnlyFans CEO Tim Stokely saw for his company in the beginning: a social media platform like any other with the exception of a payment button.
“With Patreon and the other platforms that I was on, my content was a lot more produced. I would hire a photographer, a hair and makeup artist, all of this stuff. It made me not enjoy doing those things. It felt like a chore,” Khalifa says. “So my approach to OnlyFans from the beginning has been whatever I would post on Instagram or whatever I would post to my close friends. Whatever makes me feel good is what I decide to share. I enjoy it a lot more because it’s not a big production. It’s all just my camera roll.”
Mixed in with her regular posts, Khalifa has continued to use OnlyFans to raise money for various organizations, including the Los Angeles Boys & Girls Club. “My favorite thing has been seeing more tips on posts for those fundraisers than a picture of my butt or something,” she says.
Overall, Khalifa’s time on OnlyFans has been a much needed reminder of consent.
Her brief stint in more traditional adult entertainment was marred by the rampant exploitation of performers that has largely colored the industry. While OnlyFans hasn’t been without its own controversies—namely the abrupt 180 from banning explicit content on the site that many saw as the erasure of the adult content creators who built it—the platform has certainly given creators such as Khalifa more control in what they post.
“I used to have so much shame surrounding my past and the adult industry in general, to the point where I resented anything that had to do with that. Being on OnlyFans and meeting and talking to a lot of the creators has opened my mind and made me feel completely different about it,” Khalifa says. “But it all comes back to consent. These women are doing what they’re doing independently and not with predatory companies. That’s where my shift was.
“Instead of hating anything that has to do with porn,” she continues, “I’ve come to realize that there’s a difference between ethical and unethical ways to consume porn.”