Between tuition, housing, basic needs and fun, college is expensive. Occasionally, a conventional part-time job just won't cut it when students have bills to pay. Some students turn to sex work to keep themselves afloat and even to build confidence.
Sex work, one of the world’s oldest professions, is a huge umbrella that encompasses many different jobs, not just prostitution. According to Sex Workers Outreach Project USA, sex work also includes things like erotic dancing, webcam work, adult films and being a sugar baby.
Although sex work is illegal in most of the United States, activists push for decriminalization and discussion of voluntary and consensual sex work. These activists point out that certain demographics, like women, are more likely to get involved in sex work and need the financial benefits it provides.
One anonymous student has a profile on SeekingArrangements, a website with a growing 3 million users that helps sugar babies connect with sugar daddies and vice versa. A sugar daddy is a man who gifts the sugar baby in exchange for services. As a sugar baby, she goes on dates and receives a payment after the date. Occasionally, she will perform a sexual act for a higher sum of money.
Being any kind of sex worker is a choice. She made this choice mainly because it’s “easy money.” She said, “Once you get over the headspace of it all, like you just got to dissociate, then you can do anything.”
A survey done by Save The Student shows that 10% of students would consider sex work in a financial emergency. The economic impacts of COVID-19 have dug students into an even deeper hole of debt than before the pandemic.
SeekingArrangements states that the average sugar daddy is 38 years old and makes roughly $250,000 yearly. The average sugar baby on SeekingArrangements makes $2,800 monthly from her sugar daddy. This is enough for a student to at least cover rent and groceries for the month.
Mentorship is also a benefit of seeking a sugar daddy. The opportunity for a student to make connections with a successful person in their field is valuable.
The job also comes with responsibilities like maintaining good shape. “You get a reason to work on your body because it’s literally your job,” the student said.
Of course, there are downsides to being a sugar baby. For one, it can be very degrading. “I always feel icky after the fact, because it kind of goes against my moral standards,” she said. She feels remorseful when she uses people for money, but knows that it’s consensual and goes both ways. Not only is she using her sugar daddies for money, they are using her. “So that makes a world of difference,” she said.
Boundaries play a big role in sex work. She points out that her work has taught her how to set boundaries and say no. Sometimes clients will try to bribe the workers, but the student knows that it’s important to know your limits and stick to them.
Even with the rise of platforms like OnlyFans, where over 1 million creators monetize off of exclusive sexual online content, sex work is still a taboo topic. Students who consider themselves sex workers are faced with the dilemma of whether or not to hide their work from their family and friends. This particular sex-working student finds that being a sugar baby on websites like OnlyFans and SeekingArrangements is difficult to keep hidden because the worker needs to promote themselves in order to gain subscribers or relationships.
The student does not consider her job to be less valuable than a part-time job. However, she does feel like it is more stigmatized. “It requires the same amount of commitment, if not more,” she said. Just like a server, her job is to keep her customers entertained.
Another UofSC student receives part of her income from her OnlyFans platform. Although OnlyFans is not her only or main source of income, it helps her stay financially stable, mainly paying for emergencies.
She holds that having an OnlyFans requires a certain level of self-confidence. “It matters how you present yourself and how you feel about yourself,” she said.
The OnlyFans worker was struggling with body image issues prior to starting up her OnlyFans, but she faked it until she made it. “I was taking pictures that made me feel good and I would have fun.”
In regards to the stigma around being a sex worker, particularly with OnlyFans, she claims she gets more backlash from guys than girls. When she first started her OnlyFans in February, she had a boyfriend. Anytime she posted, she would have to show him first and get his approval.
Now that she feels more empowered in herself, she doesn’t need permission from anyone to post on her platform. She reaps the benefits and loves it.
“I never, ever, ever will feel degraded by anyone,” she said. “Because I know myself enough to not let anyone take that shine away.”
It’s important to be self-assured if you’re thinking of starting your own OnlyFans. It’s easy to become obsessive over checking your account and seeing how you are growing when you’re self-conscious about what you post. She tries to only check her account about twice a week, just to see if she gained or lost subscribers. “So you’ve got to learn how to put it out of your mind,” she said. It’s normal and okay to lose fans every once in a while and it has nothing to do with the way you look.
Sex work can also be dangerous. The risk of being sex trafficked or being violently attacked is higher for sex workers than the average student. Meeting in public minimizes the risk for a potential sugar daddy or sugar mommy to overstep the worker’s boundaries.
A male student also considers himself to fall under the wide umbrella of sex workers. On the weekends, he dances in minimal clothing at a local queer club for tips. He agrees that it’s good money, making it a better option than a more traditional job. Also, the hours are flexible and working in a bar can actually be quite fun.
The U.S. is full of thousands of strip clubs. These clubs collectively take in $6 billion every year and dancers make about $17 per hour.
He has a good time working but emphasizes the importance of staying vigilant, as he is responsible for his own tip money. “Drinking on the job is fun,” he said. “It’s definitely a big perk, but you always need to be in control.” There are times when other dancers’ money will go missing in the dressing room.
Sex work in a public venue can definitely be awkward, since anyone could walk through the door. He recalls a specific horror story, when a fellow dancer’s high school teacher came into the bar while he was dancing. “It's kind of nice because there's this mutual understanding that you guys are both doing something you're not supposed to be doing,” he said.
This student has clear boundaries, like no removing underwear or kissing on the mouth during private dances. Sometimes, clients try to push these boundaries. “Then it'll be 10 awkward minutes of them trying to make out with me and me pushing them off,” he said.
Although the hours are good and don’t interfere with class times, he wishes that he didn’t have to always work so late. “I don’t get home until like 4 a.m.,” he said.
If sex work is the best option for a student and they know what they are getting themselves into, it can be a good way to keep up with the cost of living and studying. Of course, it’s important to set boundaries and always play it safe. It’s a risky job for those who choose to pursue it, but being a server at a restaurant or store clerk isn’t for everyone. Some of us need more risk, more fun and, of course, more money.