What It’s Like to Use Sex Work to Afford Living in Vancouver


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What It’s Like to Use Sex Work to Afford Living in Vancouver

Life inside a Vancouver teardown, where a cohort of friends keep afloat by camming, stripping, and escorting.

Nineteen-year-old Eva* gets a lot of requests when she's camming, most of which she ignores. On principle she says no to anal, fisting, or any ask for her to dance.

"I'm a bad dancer, and I feel really embarrassed," she told VICE. "I'm cool with vibrators and dildos and requests like, 'Can I see your feet?' That's all fine by me. I can't squirt, but if I could, I'd be totally fine with that, too."


For some young women who are just trying to live in Vancouver, masturbating for a virtual audience is just one way to be "resourceful" when minimum wage doesn't meet the cost of living. Eva is part of a cohort of friends and former roommates who see various shades of sex work—from escorting and stripping to camming and sugar dating—as an extra boost to break even in Canada's most expensive city.

Camming wasn't Eva's first Vancouver gig. After moving here from her eastern BC hometown just over a year ago, she found a barista job that had little hope of covering her bills. Her shifts were only three or four hours at a time, and tips were minimal.

"I was definitely living paycheque to paycheque," she recalled of those first few months, living in a teardown with half a dozen friends and an ex-boyfriend. When their $3,000+ rent was split seven (or more) ways, depending on the month, they were at least paying much less than average. But most of the electric outlets didn't work, the plumbing was iffy, and the city eventually condemned the building this past December.

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Even when she hated her job and her house was falling apart, Eva says she never felt desperate. There was always food in the fridge, but some days she found herself skimping on things like bus fare, and by the end of each month, she'd start to see a gap between what she wanted to have and what she could afford.


To close that gap, Eva turned to Chaturbate, one of the world's most popular cam sites. "I always thought it was a reasonable way to make money," Eva told VICE. "I think I've always had a pretty casual outlook on sex."

Along with other friends, she also tried WhatsYourPrice.com, a site that lets you choose a rate to go on an in-person date with a stranger. Not to be confused with an escort service, agreeing to a date usually means going out for dinner or drinks with someone 25 or more years older.

"I've definitely gone on dates for like $300 to $500," she said. "Now that I'm a little more stable, I don't need to do that anymore. It's pretty uncomfortable… I don't want to be around people like that at all."

At first Eva was adding anywhere from $500 to $1,000 a month to her income by having sex on camera—sometimes by herself, sometimes with her boyfriend of the time. She used a camming cheque to buy a new phone when she lost her old one.

Usually the money comes easy, given in the form of online "tokens," but Eva says it's not a guarantee. "Some nights I make $300 or $500 in an hour, and sometimes I do it for two hours and make like $75, which can be discouraging and frustrating, because people can still be active and talking to you and saying rude things while you're not making any money."

Though she hasn't always had a positive experience with camming, Eva found it a comforting alternative to the minimum wage grind that was burning out some of her friends. Its greatest attraction: "more money for less time spent."


Vancouver's real estate prices finally began to cool off in December, but so far the rental market hasn't seen the same drop. According to one rental report, the average one bedroom went for $1,820 in December, with the average two bedroom costing $3,030. January could see renters fall even further behind, as landlords are allowed to raise rent by 3.7 percent this year.

After a long and stressful search through curtained-off living rooms and tiny basements, Eva and friends settled on another temporary teardown for the next few months.

For one of Eva's former roommates, Tamara*, the end of the month—when rent is due and funds are generally lower—is usually when escorting pops into the back of her mind. "I have some clients that I go see. I'll call them up, sometimes."

Through a friend, the 21-year-old was able to access an apartment for sex workers, and she set up her own online ad. For a few hundred dollars, she met with a handful of clients for sex over a few months in the fall.

Though she hasn't escorted in the last month or two, the extra cash helped her cover rent and buy a laptop. She also keeps an eye on her SeekingArrangement.com account for potential sugar daddies. "But that might be more emotional labour than it's worth," she said.

Tamara says she feels a bit of a generational divide between rich boomers and screwed-over milliennials, but also points out a gender split. She says women don't have the same options when it comes to making cash quickly. "If men want to make absurd amounts of money in a short time they can go into construction," Tamara told VICE. "Labour work is more profitable."


Though not as physically draining, Tamara says sex work does start to take an emotional toll. She adds it's only possible for her because her family lives far away. "It's this secret you have, and it does sort of stick with you. You don't realize how much it's going to affect you."

Eva and Tamara say they've never considered any kind of sex-related work for a full-time job. The easily accessible technology and their generation's more open attitude toward sex makes it easier for women like them to step in and out of the industry just to keep afloat. In the summer, Eva found herself a new restaurant gig that has better hours—a job that has allowed her to save and will even start covering medical benefits in May.

Still, Eva keeps camming an occasional part of her life—usually once or twice a month for some extra spending cash. "I like camming because it's a very consensual experience for me," she told VICE. "I feel really cute when I cam. I dress up really nice, I do my makeup, and I have a really comfortable environment for myself in my home."

But for Eva's next financial hurdle, she may need to turn to something else. Right now her laptop doesn't work and needs a $700 repair, which means she can't use camming to make up the difference. "It's definitely been something kind of in the back of my mind. I'm stressing a little."

Though friends' moms have expressed fear over these womens' choices, Eva says it's not a desperate situation at all—just part of being resourceful in an economy that doesn't help young renters. With camming she can afford to treat herself sometimes, to clothes, makeup, art and house plants. One thing she'd like to be able to afford one day is school.

"I think if I was in school I would be camming a lot more, because I don't think I'd be able to work and live in Vancouver," she told VICE. "It's definitely not something I want to be doing forever, but I could see myself doing it for the next few years."

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

Follow Sarah Berman on Twitter.