Why I can't be 'out and proud' - life as a graduate sex worker

Once the mortarboard flies, what next? The answer isn't always clear.
Image credit: Flickr: Fahim Fadz

Student fees are still at record levels, and wages are undergoing their longest continuous fall for decades. It is unsurprising, then, that many of us are looking for alternative ways to fund our lifestyles, however lavish or Sainsbury’s-basic they might be. An occasional shift working the ADC bar may be the way some of us go about it,whilst others prefer to accumulate year-long reserves from lucrative summer internships and jobs.

James, a recent graduate of Oxford University, took a rather different approach. He spoke to The Cambridge Student about his experiences in the ‘business’ of sex work. “I'm very promiscuous and have often agreed to sex with guys objectively less hot than me. I have occasionally been offered money for it, so I thought why the hell not - go for it.” He’s quick to stress that it’s just something he does on the side, and adds, “sex work is not my main career and wouldn't be. I'm too scared of the stigma, I have a degree and there's not that much money in it.”

Mentioning The Independent’s undercover investigation into students being ‘sponsored’ through University in exchange for sex, James says, “a really common misconception about sex work is that UK law says it's illegal to be paid for sex”. On the subject of his openness about his work, however, he’s less relaxed. “There's too much stigma around it [so I don’t tell people]. But it isn't my main job. I've always worked a straight job too, so if anyone's wondering why I can afford certain stuff they must just make assumptions about my salary from that.

“In terms of my ‘strengths’ professionally, I've got quite a big penis and can get hard for pretty much anyone. There's stuff I'd find difficult though - I like getting f***ed as well [as being the active partner], but I've never [received anal sex] for money. I like it but sometimes it can be a bit of a ‘pain in the arse’, so I wouldn't want to enter into it knowing someone was paying me.

As for the current state of the law, brothel-keeping and ‘living off immoral earnings’ are criminal offences. These laws are intended to stop vulnerable individuals, often women, from being ‘pimped out’, but James tells me that it’s unfortunately not as simple as it seems.

“It means two women can't work together for safety, because they're keeping a brothel. It means if I disclosed my part-time job then my flatmates could be prosecuted for being my pimp. It means a woman I know who has teenage children has to pay rent on two flats and have her 16-year-old son technically live at a different address to her, otherwise he could go to prison for being her pimp.”

James believes “sex work should be fully decriminalised - the law in the UK makes it more dangerous. Bodily autonomy should be seen as a basic human right - the right for men to f*** men, for women to access abortion [etc.]. We should be extending this to having the right to have sex for money and also to take whatever recreational drugs they want. Government interference in this is tyranny.”

Such a libertarian view doesn’t quite sit right with everyone. One second-year economist I spoke to said, “it’s all very well, but that sort of approach can be incredibly dangerous. It can mean vulnerable men and women being manipulated, coerced and trafficked against their will.” She suggested that “we’re much better off making the purchase of sex illegal, but taking a more understanding and supportive approach to those who find themselves victims of the system.”

James is especially well-placed to understand such concerns. “The issue of people being in the sex trade unwillingly is very tricky, and the line between someone who has chosen sex work because it's the only option available to them and someone being coerced is sometimes not all that clear, but nobody should be having sex for money if it's not something they want to do.”

He stresses that people should be guaranteed “a basic income [through adequate minimum wages or state benefits] that means nobody has to do this job if they don't want to. Under full decriminalisation it would be much easier for people in sex work to pass on information about suspected cases of coercion without sex workers fearing they could incriminate themselves.”

On a more personal level, James tells me that being ‘out and proud’ as a sex worker isn't easy. "I would like to be totally honest about it as I'm not ashamed, but going public could cost me my job and [screw] up my future career. I couldn't even get a visa to go on holiday to the US if they knew I'd ever exchanged sex for money.”

In the hope that he won’t be too offended by such a probing question, I ask him what the money’s like. “[It’s] very dependent on where you advertise and where you can get the work. There are guys on the market now who will do anything for not that much money, and they're really attractive - I think for [some] people the whole ‘girlfriend experience’ is more of a selling point, so if you have a posh enough accent and can hold a conversation you can charge more premium rates. Lots of guys just want [to have sex with] a hot guy and leave.

“In the past couple of months I've only had sex with five guys for money, and I've got between £100 and £200 for an hour's work. Most of the business I do goes through ‘dating’ sites and apps.” Typically, James receives a message from men who are interested in having sex with him, and responds that he is willing, but not for free.  “Sometimes the money is their idea - some guy wanted me to piss on him and offered me £150 to do it, and then [have sex with] him. I'm not all that into the whole ‘watersports’ thing, but for £150 why not.”

“Basically for me it’s a way to make a bit of money on the side. When I was doing my GCSEs I did babysitting, and now I sometimes have sex for money. I live in London now and the market is pretty saturated - I wouldn't want to make this my full-time job. I also wouldn't want to live somewhere that meant I was reliant on this income to make the rent. I do it when I feel like it, and when I can find someone willing to pay me. I'm lucky in this respect - I'm a middle-class graduate with a job and prospects. For lots of people sex work is an opportunity for them to earn a decent wage that's denied to them by the current market.”


All names have been changed to protect anonymity.

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