Sex work at the collegiate level
By: Rachel O’Brien
Some people make jokes about getting a sugar daddy to pay their tuition, but these women actually did it.
In the era of seeking arrangements and craigslist ads, the sex work industry is more developed than ever, allowing people to make money without ever leaving their bedroom.
At a low in their financial status, college students often go to great lengths to make their rent money. From selling plasma to selling socks, they will do whatever it takes to get their degree and stay off the streets. Some students have resorted to the sex industry. Some strip, while others find a sugar daddy. Whatever their style, these people are making money by marketing off of the sexual desires of others.
One student, who goes by Jane on her sex work accounts, began in the sex industry after accruing over $1,000 in credit card debt. She had no money saved and was not working at the time. She needed a way to make money fast.
After what Jane called an “internet deep dive,” she came across something called “financial domination.” According to the always reliable urban dictionary, financial domination is defined as: “the fetish/fantasy/lifestyle act of one person being submissive with their finances (giving money) and the other person taking or demanding finances (receiving money).”
Some people fantasize about giving their money to a dominant figure. Jane has made thousands of dollars from men with a financial domination kink. To get started, the first thing Jane did was make an alternative twitter account for her new side hustle. Her first interaction in this industry was being on a video chat with a man who wanted her to degrade and humiliate him.
During the call, Jane says she insulted the man and said rude things to him in exchange for cash.
“He sent me 10 dollars after I called him a worthless piece of shit, insulted him and told him he wasn’t worth shit,” Jane says.
“I thought it was really funny, I got a kick out of it,” Jane said in reference to the call.
Jane explains that some of her clients enjoy her taking money right out of their accounts. Through a program called Teamviewer, she is able to access a client’s bank account after putting in an ID and password. After the information is put in, she is able to send herself the desired amount of money into her pay pal.
“I have one guy that’s really into me ruining his marriage, so I talk shit about his wife,” says Jane.
She identifies as being a dominatrix, a woman who is sexually dominant, but she specializes in the field of financial domination. To find clients, Jane mostly uses hashtags on her twitter account.
#findom #paypig #humanATM
Aside from financial domination, Jane sells pictures of her feet and pairs of her socks. Banking off of the foot fetish community, Jane is able to get paid for sending pictures of her dirty feet to customers. Her deal is that she will allow someone to add her private snapchat for $30, allowing them one picture per day.
When it comes to socks, most of her clients request that she work out in them and wear them for multiple days, so the odor is worn in well. She sells a pair for anywhere from $40 to $100. The longer she wears them, the higher the selling point.
As far as her rate for conversation goes, she charges $25 to talk for 30 minutes and then sends the client feet pictures as additional compensation. Her average income per week differs based on how much time she puts into her clients. Some days she makes $500 and other days her income is $0.
Overall, Jane has mixed feelings about being a sex worker. “An upside is that it’s relatively easy money. A lot of time goes into building your platform,” she says. It took Jane a few months to gain a following on what she calls her “hoe twitter.”
A risk for Jane is that she doesn’t want her family to find out. Her boyfriend does not approve of the work that she does, but he tolerates it. The work that she does has caused fights in her relationship.
“I’ve always been fascinated with the field of sex work. I think it’s interesting to be a part of,” Jane says. She finds it comical and entertaining how much money she can make and how quickly she can make it.
Jane currently uses this money for her expenses but plans to stop with sex work after she completes her undergraduate degree.
Another Ames resident that is in this industry is a woman who goes by the name of Ellie on her profiles. She began as an exotic dancer, but eventually moved into the stripping industry. Ellie started stripping in May 2017.
When she began stripping, Ellie was living in Cedar Falls, Iowa, with her boyfriend. She worked as a lifeguard and saved her money for non-essential expenses. Her boyfriend was completely in charge of their finances and paid for all of their living expenses.
Their relationship began falling apart, and Ellie knew she needed to become financially independent. Her boyfriend said that she could never do it — that she needed him. Ellie proved him wrong.
Ellie began making trips to Ames on weekends to strip and do exotic dancing. To hide her work, she would tell her boyfriend that she was visiting her friends in Ames.
Not long after she began dancing, Ellie made an account on Seeking Arrangements. The app connects sugar babies with sugar daddies who will give them an allowance. A sugar baby is someone who receives money from a sugar daddy in exchange for an agreed upon amount of money. Each “arrangement” is each different in its own way. For Ellie, she made sure that she did everything on her own terms.
With the majority of her arrangements, Ellie did not engage in any form of sex. At one point, she had about five men that she was in arrangements with. Some paid her by the hour and others gave her an allowance. Ellie compares these arrangements to a historical marriage, where a man took care of a woman by providing everything financially.
“You’re both holding out for the best deal,” she says. Each person wants to get the most out of the situation for the lowest cost. A big part of this interaction is the negotiation process of the money, or haggling, as Ellie describes it.
Ellie only ever became intimate within one arrangement. She says that with this particular man, the arrangement turned into a close relationship. She has been with him for over a year now and has grown to truly care about him. Currently, she sees this man every other week.
Ellie’s view on being sexualized started at a young age. If you look at Ellie, you would see she is conventionally pretty. She has long, blonde hair and a skinny waist. She’s barbie-esque.
“The very first time I was seen as someone that’s sexually desirable, I was drying myself off at age 13 on the side of the road after going swimming, and this truck of guys pulled up next to us, and they just started catcalling us. No one had ever talked to me like that before,” says Ellie.
After experiencing this and many other instances of being sexualized, Ellie reflects back and thinks about how she has changed the way she is sexualized in her life.
“It’s so much more empowering to be like, you know what, I’m gonna do this on my terms and I’m gonna benefit from it, instead of someone taking complete control of it.” She now makes money off of the men that find her desirable.
Rather than concerning herself with being over sexualized, Ellie markets off of it to earn her income. In fact, after only a year of doing this on the side, she estimates that she has made $25,000.
“I can make amends myself, even if it means honing in on my sexuality,” Ellie says. She says so many women flirt with the idea of stripping and working in the sex industry. There is a difference between people who talk about it and the ones who actually work in this industry.
“Hoes flirt with the idea, but the whores actually do it,” says Ellie.
Through her work in the sex industry, Ellie feels empowered making her own money and being her own boss. She says that sugaring and stripping gives her an adrenaline rush, a high.
While she enjoys this rush and the excitement of getting money quickly, it has its downsides.
“It’s like a drug. You become accustomed to living this way,” she says. “There are times in my gut where I’m like ‘I don’t wanna do this,’ but it’s like a high where I get the attention and the money and I love doing it.”
After being in the sex industry for over a year, Ellie has realized that this work has made her want to work harder at her nine to five job. She knows she can not be in the sex industry forever and needs to have a more stable job. Four or five months ago, Ellie stopped stripping and is now only in one arrangement.
“You gotta start over somewhere and I’m starting over here,” Ellie says.
Dr. Alissa Stoehr, a lecturer in sociology and the women’s and gender studies department at Iowa State University, teaches a 400 level class that specializes in human trafficking. In the class, she discusses the ways in which sex work and sex trafficking collide.
“We need to look at the underlying issues of sex in general,” Stoehr says, “There’s issues of consent. There’s issues of power and privilege and safety issues as well.”
With sex work, some people, such as Jane and Ellie, get involved voluntarily and on their own terms. While in the case of sex trafficking, there is no consent. Sex trafficking occurs when a victim is forced, coerced or defrauded into non consensual sexual acts.
“Everybody’s different. Not all sex work is the same, because not everyone defines sex work the same way. That’s where the grey area is,” Stoehr says.
The field of sex work is diverse and has many facets and subgroups within it. Many different types of people work and take part in this industry.
“We’re socialized to think it’s [sex workers] poor women, usually of color, maybe with some addiction issues,” says Stoehr. “We still have these stereotypes about women who do consent or choose to do sex work in whatever form that may be.” But the fact is that a sex worker can look like anyone. They can even look like an Iowa State student.
From her research, Stoehr has found that people get involved in this industry for a variety of reasons. One common reason is economic empowerment, which can be especially liberating for sex workers that are women.
“When we talk about women and economic empowerment, for some, that’s really empowering—to use their sexulaity to make money,” she says. While this work can be liberating, there is also some risk associated with it.
“Everybody’s prone to violence. There’s some risk, even if there is consent,” Stoehr says.
Not only is personal safety at risk, but trouble with law enforcement can occur as well. In the state of Iowa, prostitution is illegal. A person who specifically sells sex can be charged with an aggravated misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to two years in prison. However, buying or offering to buy sex is punishable as a class D felony and up to five years in prison. Iowa law states this in regards to the sale of sex, however there are no clear cut laws on the specifics of sex work. This is the grey area that Stoehr talks about.
Prostitution is illegal everywhere in the United States except for certain parts of Nevada. But, when making an arrest, it is often up to each law enforcement officer to interpret these broad prostitution laws. Because sex work is so stigmatized, we do not have a clear definition of all that it entails. It can range from pornography workers to strippers, but our laws fail to acknowledge the differences within this industry and the legal limitations.
“There’s too much gray area to criminalize it,” Stoehr says, “If we criminalize it, we criminalize people’s sexuality, where people can’t express their sexuality in the way that they see fit.”
Since the change of FOSTA, or the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, and SESTA, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, websites with personal ads have been forced to shut down these sections of their site.
This has caused a lot of controversy from sex workers in the United States. Sex workers across the country have been trying to exhibit that this work is how they make their income and that strict law changes hinder the accessibility that they have in this industry. While this was put into place to curb sex trafficking, it also takes away from sex workers who use personal ads to prescreen potential clients.
Mike Goebel, a lecturer in both sociology and women’s and gender studies, says that if all sex work became legalized, it could potentially function just like any other business.
“If we got rid of the stigma of sex, which is something that’s really pervasive, and legalized it and then created oversight and regulation for the industry, then why should it function any different than capitalism?” Goebel ponders.
Goebel, a masculinity researcher, says that, “It is one of the prime drivers of the sex industry.” The impact of masculinity is what drives the sex industry and allows it to thrive. The demand to purchase the services offered by sex workers is there.
“There’s this willingness to use women’s bodies as consumptive objects that one can literally consume, that it absolutely plays a massive role,” Goebel says in reference to the involvement of masculinity in the sex industry.
With the majority of sex workers being women and the majority of consumers being men, we can see what Goebel calls “aggrieved entitlement” of the consumer.
“The reduction of an entire human being to one sexualized body part is so that women can’t occupy a fully human position if they’re continually reduced to just piece of their body, and they’re shown as objects for the consumption of men,” Goebel says. Our culture has a huge impact on the way that women are seen. This culture that we are a part of is what leads to this aggrieved sense of entitlement over a person’s body.
But, as Ellie puts it, “If I’m gonna be seen as a sexual object, I’m gonna turn that into a business.”