Activist, pop star, crypto artist, feminist icon, mother. Nadya Tolokonnikova, founding member of the protest art collective Pussy Riot, is a woman who wears many hats. And a hat might be all she’s wearing in her latest vocation: a sex worker on the adult content platform OnlyFans.

But Tolokonnikova, who spent two years in prison for challenging Vladimir Putin’s regime and Russia’s Orthodox Church in a famous protest performance at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in 2012, is not your typical OnlyFans creator. She uses the platform to preach matriarchy and sex positivity and to hit the patriarchy in its most vulnerable spot — the male libido. And yes, she makes a buck or two while she’s at it.

Meanwhile, Tolokonnikova maintains a busy schedule as a performing artist, including a forthcoming collaboration with feminist mainstay Judy Chicago on a blockchain-enabled project titled “What If Women Rule the World,” to be launched during Miami Art Week. And with sales of her NFTs, she raised over $12 million for causes including reproductive rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and relief efforts for Ukrainians.

A few weeks ago, Tolokonnikova tweeted that she “recently got rejected by at least 10 publications” when she wanted to talk about her sex work. She called on media outlets unafraid of “talking [about] sex-positive feminism with me and my sex work practice” to reach out to her. We took up this challenge and caught Tolokonnikova for a conversation about her art, activism, and how they converge in her sex work. She talked to Hyperallergic via Zoom from an undisclosed location (as her personal safety is still precarious). This conversation has been edited and condensed.

Nadya Tolokonnikova with Dainty Wilder (photo by Yulia Shur)

Hakim Bishara: I don’t understand why publications were so hesitant to talk to you about your sex work. What was their concern?

Nadya Tolokonnikova: I don’t know, honestly. We were not given any explicit reason. But I don’t think it’s coming from a bad place. Censorship of sex work is something that is not really recognized or discussed much in our culture.

HB: You’re famous for your activism, but not many know about your sex work. When and how did you become active on OnlyFans?

NT: I started my OnlyFans page in the summer of last year. I’ve been thinking about it for a while but I hesitated to join because some parts of the feminist community are opposed to sex work and pornography in particular. I wanted to avoid having unpleasant conversations with them. But later, I wrote an essay for the book A Woman’s Right to Pleasure, where I expressed that women were stripped of ownership of their bodies to the point that they feel like even their sexuality does not belong to them and that expressing their sexuality or playing with it is shameful. I realized that it was just stupid that I’m scared of doing it.

When I opened my OnlyFans account, I was excited but also concerned about potentially being subjected to rude and exploitative comments on the platform. But I found that the people who already follow me continued to follow me on OnlyFans. They turned out to be respectful, supportive, and generally great. So instead of receiving unsolicited dick pics or dealing with people who would try to degrade me, I got myself another community of people who support me and make me feel valued, and with whom I have interesting conversations.

HB: This, of course, is not necessarily the experience of every sex worker on OnlyFans.

NT: Yes, it’s important to tell anyone who’s reading this that my positive experience doesn’t necessarily mean that you will experience the same on OnlyFans. It really comes down to the people who come to your page. I did hear stories from my fellow OnlyFans creators about how they were harassed by stalkers and had to move out of where they lived because of that. It could get challenging. I’m just fortunate enough to have this amazing community that Pussy Riot has spent years cultivating.

“Women were stripped of ownership of their bodies to the point that they feel like even their sexuality does not belong to them,” said Nadya Tolokonnikova. (photo by Yulia Shur)

HB: What kind of conversations do you have with your followers on the platform?

NT: I see my practice on OnlyFans as part of my bigger feminist practice. We talk a lot about boundaries. We talk a lot about matriarchy and history. Obviously, I’m not interested in following the same old submissive girl stereotypes. There’s nothing wrong with them if someone is having fun playing with those stereotypes. That’s cool, but it’s not for me. I feel like it’s part of my bigger role as a feminist and a feminist leader to teach people who come to my page — men, women, and nonbinary people — to actually practice boundaries.

HB: Can you give an example of how you practice boundaries?

NT: For example, when someone on my page asked me: “Hey, will you be comfortable with me jerking off while thinking about coming inside of you?” I responded: “Well, I do not like the idea of a stranger coming inside of me, so let’s think of something else.” And then the fan suggested: “What about me thinking about coming on your face?”

I replied: “I don’t know. This also seems a little bit too intimate to me. I don’t think I can do that with people I don’t know; I would only do that with a partner I trust.” Instead, I suggested: “How about you come on your own face?” They tried it and sent me photos of their attempts. I sent them instructions on how to do it right, and with this back-and-forth, we gently discovered what is comfortable for both of us.

Nadya Tolokonnikova: “When I opened my OnlyFans account, I was excited but also concerned about potentially being subjected to rude and exploitative comments on the platform.” (photo by Yulia Shur)

HB: From looking at your OnlyFans page, I get the impression that you perform as a dominatrix. You are the one being worshipped. Is that an accurate depiction?

NT: Yes, and it came from my art practice. When I directed the music video “Sexist,” I talked to professional dominatrixes to break my own stigmas about sex work and avoid an oversimplified representation of it. I’m a girl from a small provincial city in Russia. I grew up with negative views of sex work but I started visiting strip clubs and talking with workers in the community, and that shifted my perspective. In time, I immersed myself in this world and found that it empowers me.

HB: Does your work as a dominatrix offer you a necessary layer of protection? Are you less vulnerable and exposed as the one holding the power?

NT: There is a lot of power in submission as well. But it’s different for me because I do a lot of public-facing work. Whenever I do something, I think about how I can represent a better role model for women, often in ways that are groundbreaking or provocative. Given the long rule of patriarchy, I think it’s important to establish a character of a dominant woman in the public eye.

But what people don’t understand is that the work of a dominatrix involves a lot of care. A good dominatrix is there to help people express their kinks and different aspects of their sexuality. That’s why the BDSM culture has the ritual of “aftercare.” A scene can be violent or aggressive, but we follow it with a conversation to establish that we are here to elevate, not harm, each other.

I see a lot of men opening up to me and showing me their vulnerabilities. They are ashamed of their kinks and their desire to be submissive. I offer them a shame-free zone.

HB: How did becoming a sex worker on OnlyFans change your life?

“There is a lot of power in submission as well,” said Tolokonnikova. (photo by Yulia Shur)

NT: In a few months after I started my practice on OnlyFans, I noticed that I’m much more confident on stage, which was a totally unexpected result. Practicing hour after hour how to formulate my intentions in a way that would be understandable for people who are open and vulnerable to me made me a better artist. It also made me comfortable with my body. Growing up, I was a nerd and I was bullied at school for being a little bit chubby. Obviously, having a whole army of people telling me that I’m attractive is fucking amazing. Also, it helped me gain financial stability. I never had a steady job. It’s always nerve-wracking not knowing if you’re going to get a gig that would help pay the rent and bills. Now I can plan my life so much better. That brings a lot of relief. But again, my positive experience doesn’t guarantee a similar experience for others.

HB: Let’s talk more about your followers on OnlyFans. Are they all Pussy Riot fans or are there some who just came for the fantasy?

NT: Initially it was all Pussy Riot fans who were already following me on Patreon. After starting the OnlyFans accounts I noticed that many of them were happy to finally admit that part of the reason why they follow me is their attraction to me.

After appearing with OnlyFans creator and pornstar Eva Elfie on an internet livestream, I started gaining more subscribers outside my fan base.

HB: Do these new subscribers come for the fantasy and stay for the politics? Or do some leave because of your politics?

“I see a lot of men opening up to me and showing me their vulnerabilities,” said Tolokonnikova. (photo by Yulia Shur)

NT: I think that most of the people who stick around are politically conscious. If a person comes just for the fantasy, they are not going to be completely satisfied because I don’t show as much as many people would expect. I say no to many requests.

HB: Do you think about your followers and the conversations you have with them after work hours? Do their stories seep into your life?

TN: They do influence my life and work and I’ve learned a lot from them. There are, for example, people from law enforcement agencies who join my page because they want to be “punished” by me.

HB: Oh!

TN: One guy had a kink to be politically converted by me because he would be punished severely at work if his supervisors knew that he talks to me. So I gave him certain tasks that would be provocative for him to perform at his workplace like making statements in support of feminism and gay rights.

HB: Amazing, so you’re activating your followers in the real world.

TN: I do. Maybe becoming a dominatrix is my way of dealing with the trauma of being imprisoned for two years in Russia. I was subject to forced labor and was treated as an object, so maybe there’s something therapeutic for me here as well.

One thing I won’t do is dominate women. By no means should be the rule for every woman dominatrix but I just can’t do it. I think have been dominated enough.

Nadya x Dainty (photo by Yulia Shur)

The Latest

History Is Not an Open Book 

The 1969 exhibition 5 + 1, and now Revisiting 5 + 1, are reminders that the history of Black Art in the United States is diverse rather than monolithic.

Hakim Bishara

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *