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Sex work, as the saying goes, is the world’s oldest profession – but you wouldn’t know it from the way it’s been reported in the press right now. Student sex workers are currently at the centre of media uproar, as Durham University – one of the country’s oldest and most prestigious institutions – announced a safety training course to educate staff on how to support those in sex work.
Of course, very few outlets bothered to actually ask uni students in sex work what they thought about the course. But with an estimated 5 percent of university students now engaging in some kind of sex work, it’s only right they have the chance to share their side of the story.Here’s what five current and former student sex workers want you to know about their industry. Some of their names have been changed in order to protect their identities.Jess Adams is a 23-year old PhD student who does sex work to supplement her studies. She says there is still a huge stigma around student sex workers and sex work in general. “I have an OnlyFans account, I have experience of being a sugar baby and I currently work at a strip club as a VIP dancer,” she says. “In every area of sex work, I have experienced the stigma around it. “My family doesn’t know about any of this due to the stigmas around sex work. Although I am sure they would eventually understand and accept me, I fear I will lose those close to me. So I live in secrecy.”Jess believes that it is “absolutely necessary” to educate young people about the realities of sex work and that any effort to do so should be welcomed by universities.
“I have a double bachelors degree in Criminology and Sociology with a focus on sex work and have also taken several self-defence classes to ensure my safety,” she says. “Anyone who cares about the safety of sex workers – and everyone should – should support the training offered.”In 2018, the Student Sex Worker Briefing published by the National Union of Students (NUS) showed that students used sex work to pay for living expenses, bills and food, rent, and other necessities such as clothes and books for education. Another motivating factor is the rising cost of university tuition fees, which now exceed £9,000. The latest figures estimate that graduates leave university with an average of £45,000 in student debt.Lauren, 26, decided to finance her Master's degree by doing sex work. She believes that, unless greater measures are taken to support students in higher education, more will turn to sex work as a way of generating income. “I didn’t want to pursue a career in my undergraduate degree, so whilst travelling I started doing sex work in order to save money to finance a second degree as I didn’t want to get myself into even more debt,” she explains. “I was doing sex work full time in the run-up to starting my Masters and now do it very occasionally to support my savings when I have the time, which is rarely!”
Lauren charges £400 an hour for her services and makes on average £2,000 a month doing sex work, which she uses to cover rent and living costs while at university.“I would have to do at least ten hours of a normal job to make what I can do in one hour of sex work,” she says, adding, “I am essentially doing sex work so that I can stop doing sex work.”Margot, a 26-year-old sex worker who describes her job as that of an “elite companion”, is also completing a Master’s degree. She finds the assumption that women become sex workers because “they have no other choice” incredibly insulting.“I would personally rather be taken out for a beautiful meal and enjoy an evening of sex for £2,000 than work in a cafe all day long for £100 with no choice to leave as I am too broke,” she says. “We need to stop the idea that women only do this because they have no other choice. It is basically saying women are too stupid to make the right decisions for themselves.“The idea that people should not do anything they don't want to for money is a labour issue and not a sex work issue. I frankly love sex and I am great at it.”Like Margot, student nurse and Off The Record cam girl Gabriella Matthews, 31, has found sex work to be a positive experience – particularly as she needed to juggle work with university placements and parenting duties.“Camming is really flexible so I can work it around my schedule – as a single mum striving to become a nurse, that’s huge,” she says. “It has also really empowered me; I’ve never been more confident in myself. I wish I'd discovered this in my 20s, before I had so many commitments. Who knows how much money I could have made!”
Twenty-seven-year-old Audrey has been involved in full-service sex work – where she has sex with her clients – for the last three years. She believes that more universities should be introducing greater measures to protect the safety of their student sex workers.“I know from personal experience that starting sex work can be isolating and dangerous, especially when you lack the advice, experiences and resources to keep yourself safe doing it,” she says. “The student sex worker toolkit is a harm reduction device. It acknowledges that there are students who do sex work whilst at university and gives them resources and advice on how to work in a safer way.”Audrey was especially shocked by the recent media coverage surrounding Durham University, with newspapers like The Times claiming the safety training would actively encourage students to enter the “dangerous industry”.“Sex workers’ stories are frequently misrepresented and sensationalised, often at the expense of sex workers themselves,” she argues. “The way this resource has been reported on tracks with how sex work is reported on more generally.“Denying students access to essential safety tools and advice won’t stop students from entering sex work, it will only increase the likelihood of putting themselves in dangerous situations.”
A 2016 NUS study found that 85 percent of student sex workers feel unsupported by their university, with many citing information about the rights of sex workers as one of the key areas which they need help inNational Ugly Mugs is a UK charity that works with sex workers to carry out research, design and deliver safety tools and provide support services for people in the adult industries. They believe that student sex workers have a right to safety and protection, and that more universities should try to understand the material conditions which lead people into doing sex work.A spokesperson said: “The response to the student sex work training at Durham is yet another example of the ways in which the media can maliciously or carelessly misrepresent information in ways that cause harm to sex workers. “Every student deserves to have an environment at university where they are safe, supported and able to learn. The toolkit has been produced by student sex workers based on their experiences and needs.“It is vital that students have someone who is safe, understanding and respectful to go to when experiencing difficulties, who can signpost them to appropriate resources and who will not re-traumatise or further harm them.”@DarceyEdkins