The young man of wealth, tattoos and TikTok glamour rolled into the neighborhood in a Tiffany-blue Mercedes. Patrons inside a cafe stole glimpses. His future in question, the man, an unabashed erotic exhibitionist, has attracted renown in a country where fame is usually reserved for government ministers and top badminton players.
Titus Low has stubbornly challenged one of this city-state’s enduring taboos: sex. The 22-year-old bisexual man is Singapore’s most recognizable creator on OnlyFans, the online site known best for offering private porn to paying subscribers. He made headlines last year after he was ordered off the platform and arrested for violating strict obscenity laws by transmitting images and videos of his “private parts.”
Out on bail, Low is facing up to 21 months in prison. His case has sparked conversations about social mores and the limitations of sexual expression in a country where sex between men is technically illegal.
Muscled, bare-chested and generously tattooed, Low, who speaks in a whisper, is part of a Gen Z world of TikTok, Instagram and YouTube that communicates in memes out of sight of the establishment. But Low’s penchant for publicity brought him into the mainstream‘s consciousness, where he became a striking contrast to Singapore’s image as a bastion of conservative values and modesty.
“I’ve done nothing wrong,” said Low, who feels he has been singled out among the small band of Singaporean OnlyFans creators, possibly because he flaunted his success by posting clips on social media of his Lamborghini, luxury apartment and $6,500 labradoodle, Charlie. This colliding of the digital age with old-world sensibilities has turned Low’s ordeal into a morality tale, as if HBO’s “Euphoria” had intersected with evangelical politics.
“Maybe if I had hurt someone, then I’d deserve to go to prison,” he said. “But this feels unjustified.”
Low’s case harks back to earlier times when Singapore was far more prudish, banning Cosmopolitan magazine and outlawing oral sex until the 2000s.
While society has loosened, conservatism remains ingrained in the identity of the Southeast Asian nation of over 5 million people, three-quarters of whom are ethnic Chinese. Confucian attitudes about respecting tradition abound. Many Singaporean elites are devout Christians. And living next door to large conservative Muslim communities in Malaysia and Indonesia has engendered a more cautious approach to progressive issues like LGBTQ rights.
Singaporeans were reminded of that in February, when another attempt to repeal a colonial-era law criminalizing sex between men was dismissed by the highest court. Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said the law was “unenforceable,” and therefore didn’t violate a person’s constitutional right to liberty. Critics say the law stigmatizes gay men.
“If it’s not enforceable, then why is it even there?” said Sam Jo Yeo, who hosts one of Singapore’s only LGBTQ podcasts, “The SG Boys.” “There’s a domino effect in keeping the law that leads to bias and prejudice. It leads to very negative attitudes and misconceptions about the LGBTQ community.”
In January, Samsung pulled an ad for earbuds in Singapore after it sparked a backlash online for depicting a Muslim mother’s support for her drag queen son.
Activists say the moral policing smacks of hypocrisy given the fact a regulated form of prostitution remains legal, though only between female sex workers and male clients. At the same time, the illegal sex trade persists, highlighted when an outbreak of COVID-19 in karaoke TV bars last year was believed to have been worsened by patrons who declined to disclose their infections for fear of revealing their activities to wives and girlfriends.
The outbreak exposed what author Gerrie Lim described as an “undertow of seediness” that authorities tolerate. Bringing it above ground makes it easier to monitor, said Lim, who has written extensively about Singapore’s high-end escort industry.
But that approach has grown more challenging in the digital age, with sex workers migrating to private chat groups to solicit business, and sites like OnlyFans, which the country has already said it will not ban because it’s impossible to block all objectionable material on the internet. What concerns the government is how sites like OnlyFans can potentially expose Singaporeans, particularly minors, to exploitation and abuse, said Josephine Teo, the nation’s minister for Communications and Information.
Proponents of OnlyFans say it provides sex workers with a less dangerous alternative to meeting clients in person by giving them the ability to post nude photos and videos of themselves having sex within the safety of their homes.
“The future is virtual,” said Lola Woo, a local OnlyFans creator who has advocated for workers in the industry. “It’s not safe for sex workers to be on the streets. Especially during the pandemic.”
Low joined OnlyFans in April 2021. He had already amassed tens of thousands of admirers on Instagram who responded more when he posted pictures of himself shirtless. It occurred to him there was money to be made from those who wanted to see more.
By July, Low had 2,000 subscribers, each paying about $15 a month to view decidedly NSFW content: Low stripping naked, masturbating and taking a shower with a friend. Friends say Low’s appeal is his unique look: akin to placing a well-groomed K-pop star’s head on a weightlifter’s body.
“He has an innocent face, but also tats and muscles,” said Kevin Tristan, 22, a close confidant and a TikToker with over half a million followers. “Everything about him is contrasting in the most complementary way.”
One local OnlyFans creator speaking privately put it more succinctly: “He’s a super-buff Barbie doll.”
Low reveled in his success, giving YouTube tours of his $6,600-a-month apartment, which bore all the signs of a young adult who had quickly come into a large sum of money: toy art figurines, a framed jigsaw puzzle of Snoopy designed by the artist Kaws, a custom-made neon sign of Low’s OnlyFans handle (tituslow22), and a kitchen bare of essentials apart from giant tubs of whey powder and bottles of Macallan whisky.
Low, who dropped out of a vocational school and briefly traded stocks for a living, now had enough cash to buy a black and orange Mercedes GT coupe, which he proudly parked alongside his neighbors’ Bentleys and Porsches. Such conspicuous consumption helped Low’s social media following mushroom.
“You have people like this in the U.S. and in Australia — these sexually charged influencers — but there has never been someone in Singapore so upfront about it,” said Edoardo Liotta, a journalist and TikToker who went viral for rating gaudy mansions in wealthy Singaporean neighborhoods.
Low reasoned that he was safe from the law. OnlyFans restricts users to paying adults and requires identification. His content was made consensually and shared privately. As far as Low was concerned, his activity was hardly different from when couples share intimate pictures.
The authorities saw it otherwise. In September, they began an investigation after a tip from an undisclosed source that Low was sharing nude photos and videos. Low believes the report was linked to images that were leaked by a subscriber and posted on adult sites over the summer.
Police raided Low’s home in November, taking over his OnlyFans account, confiscating his devices and warning him not to use the site again. Low disobeyed the order and had OnlyFans reset his password. He began posting to subscribers again from a spare phone. That resulted in another admonishment from police and his subsequent arrest on Dec. 29, when he was led away in handcuffs and detained for hours.
“I know I sound like a snowflake,” Low told his fans in a YouTube video he posted with the word “ARRESTED” splashed across the title screen. “[But] the lock up was quite a traumatic experience.”
“He wanted to be famous,” said Lim, the author. “That was the first thing he did wrong. You shouldn’t try to be famous in Singapore.”
Low’s arrest and police warnings against transmitting obscene material electronically had a chilling effect on the 100 or so OnlyFans creators estimated to operate in Singapore. A spreadsheet listing names of local creators was reportedly spread online, prompting attempts at blackmail.
Vanessa Ho, executive director of the sex workers advocacy group Project X, said she was flooded with calls from creators who said they were being blackmailed for money or free content. In a public statement, her group described Singapore as being trapped in a state of moral panic that prevented the nation from treating sex as “a normal aspect of human behavior.”
Project X urged police to shift resources to crack down on revenge porn and chat groups that share explicit images of women without consent, as in the case of SG Nasi Lemak, a major ring uncovered in 2019 that had over 40,000 paying members.
“Titus, like other adult content creators, represent a segment of Singaporean society who celebrate human sexuality, spreading messages of body positivity, whilst making a living during these pandemic, social distancing times,” Project X said. “Such entrepreneurial spirit and creativity is laudable.”
Police and prosecutors did not respond to a request for comment.
With a major source of income gone, Low has seized on his notoriety to build a bigger presence on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok, where he boasts over 560,000 followers. He launched a website, started selling NFTs and recently released a line of sex toys modeled after his anatomy.
It remains to be seen whether Low can pivot away from OnlyFans. Social media influencers tend to command loud personalities. Low, who suffers from frequent anxiety, is so soft-spoken at times that he can be difficult to hear. He often prefers the company of his pets over people.
The adoration he receives online fills a need for belonging that was absent when he was growing up in a broken home. His father, a seafood wholesaler, and his mother, an events coordinator, separated when he was a boy. They support his career, he says, but he keeps them at arm’s length. They worry about his case.
Prison would be an ordeal, Low admits, but also an opportunity to expand his fame. He imagines the headlines and wonders whether anyone would be willing to make a documentary about him.
To restart his OnlyFans career, Low says he’s prepared to move overseas. He’s determined not to squander both his fan base and his youth. He’s considering London and other cities, perhaps in the United States.
“I hear L.A. is chill,” he said.
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