The following article will discuss the uprise of women who willingly partake in many areas of sex work out of their own accord, not those who are pimped or trafficked.
Evidence of sex work can be traced throughout history from as early as the beginning of the third millennium. In a time where men dominated the world (more so than today), women’s bodies belonged to those men who took ownership of them in return for money, housing or even security though marriage; many women believed they didn’t have other options but to sell themselves. Today, there’s an estimated 40-42 million people world wide who work as prostitutes. 1-2 million of these people are present in the United States alone; 82,000 are in the United Kingdom and 8.42 million are male sex workers. Whilst a large portion of these numbers still include people who are forced into sex work, there’s now an increasing amount of people who willingly seek out the profession. Modern sex workers such as escorts, picture sellers and sugar babies are scorned and frowned upon by society for willingly taking part in such activities that ‘diminish a woman’s worth’, and allow her to behave in ways which are ‘unacceptable’ and ‘unladylike’. But why do we ridicule women and not the men who are responsible for funding the industry and sustaining it for centuries?
I became intrigued to investigate the sex work industry when I began to question why the industry appeared to be so attractive to modern women of such a young age. The average modern, female sex worker typically falls between the age bracket of eighteen to thirty years old. It’s easy for society to justify why older women may require some extra money on the side, but much harder for society to grasp the idea of a teenager wanting to partake in sex work. The first thought that comes to any of our minds is that young women seek validation through male attention and financial and material gains, that sex work provides them with. However, through further investigation, a significantly increasing amount of students are simply looking for a means to fund their education, whilst simultaneously living the lifestyle that they have always desired; “being a student often means young women are forced to struggle financially and miss out on having fun like women their age should be doing,” Ashley, a 22 year old psychology student who’s been ‘sugaring’ (active in the sugar dating scene) for three years explained to me.
So what constitutes as sex work according to modern ‘sex workers’? I turned to experienced escorts and sugar babies to find my answer, and believe it or not, sugar babies reject the idea that what they do is sex work, and whilst they respect sex workers, they describe ‘sugaring’ to be vastly different. By definition, sex work is described as providing sex in exchange for goods, however sugar babies focus on selling their company in exchange for goods. Whilst sex is included in many sugar relationships, the terms of each ‘arrangement’ is easily negotiable and nothing is mandatory or set in stone. Escorts on the other hand, are more often compared to prostitutes. However, the significant difference between the two is that escorts are deemed more ‘premium’ and are paid for their time; whilst this time may be used to have sex, they aren’t paid for the act itself. Another sector that’s increasing in popularity is picture selling (which is often compared to the work of ‘cam girls’), in which young women acquire money by selling intimate and non-intimate pictures of themselves (these can range from pictures of their feet, lips or posed in underwear)- but it is near impossible to quantify the amount of people who take part in these activities as the exchange takes place online in a discreet fashion (suggesting that the world wide sex worker statistics are largely flawed). Whilst the men who request these images may be influenced by sexual desire, this is often another activity that we link to sex work that doesn’t actually require any intimacy.
There has been a significant increase in online sugar dating and escorting websites/agencies that connect young women and men to wealthy individuals who are willing to share a fraction of their earnings- typically in the form of ‘allowances’ and luxurious gifts. Not only are these websites easily accessible, but the tremendously popular Seeking Arrangement sugar dating site offers a free premium account to any sugar baby who signs up using a student email address. In 2016, the site had an estimated 2.5 million students across the world signed up with premium accounts.
When presented through the media, modern sex work is often pictured to be an industry funded by wealthy, narcissistic, suited-and-booted men who have wads of cash to throw at the nearest curvy, blonde, airhead- but this is rarely the case. After speaking with men who are familiar with the industry and who claimed their annual incomes ranged from one handed thousand to a whopping thirty million pounds, their attitudes towards female sex workers varied according to the ‘sector’ of sex work that they were active in. Whilst sugar babies are are held in high regards, prostitutes and even escorts are shamed for their promiscuity and are deemed as lower standard. According to David, aged 58 who’s had three long term ‘sugar’ relationships, this judgement is due to the fulfilment that sugar babies provide men with aside from intimacy that other sex workers don’t- that being companionship, dates and even someone for them to mentor and share their wisdom. Whilst this indicates that the sex work industry has evolved greatly from typical prostitution, it nevertheless perpetuates the hypocritical idea that whilst society deems sex work as inappropriate, some sex work is more acceptable than others.
Strippers and prostitutes are often highly focused on and ridiculed in the media because both positions allow women to profit off of the male gaze and embrace the sexual nature that women are taught to suppress or even be ashamed of. On the other hand, there has been a significant increase in the fascination of ‘sugaring’, with articles describing it to be rewarding for both parties and convenient for students. It comes as no surprise that strippers and prostitutes are constantly shamed by the media as they aren’t conforming to the standard that society has set for women. Meanwhile, sugar babies who’s job requires them to ‘present themselves in a neat, tidy and classy manner in order to attract the finest millionaires’ are more welcomed by society. The approval of one and not the other reinforces the harmful idea that women are to be reserved and conservative and not display their sexual natures or allude to promiscuity in the way that men have always been allowed to. Whilst both job descriptions overlap in certain areas, one group are more accepted by society simply because men consider them to be of higher value.
The men who fund the sex work industry that is continuously described to objectify women, aren’t ever ridiculed for their involvement at the magnitude that women who choose to profit from the industry are. This has little to do with people being opposed to modern sex work, but rather that people are opposed to women willingly and openly being sexual beings, and are degrading women for profiting off of work that men create a demand for. Perhaps young women who take part in modern forms of ‘sex work’, refuse to align themselves with the label of a ‘sex worker’ out of fear that they’ll be disparaged by society in the same way that women have been for centuries, due to the stigmas that attach themselves to sex workers. Despite being harder to come across, there are male escorts, male sugar babies, and male strippers that aren’t ever put in the spotlight like their female counterparts are. Do you think it’s right to belittle willing sex workers and not those who consume their labour?
All names mentioned have been changed for privacy