This article originally appeared on VICE US.
Some people get off on other people’s dirty underwear. Or socks, tracksuits, or what have you. Some like the strong odor, while others just like the sense of connection that having, or wearing, another person’s intimates creates for them. Regardless of the diverse motives behind them, “panty fetishes” are actually relatively common. From early forums to Craigslist and Reddit and eBay to Twitter and Instagram, fetishists have found a way to use just about every internet tool to find those willing to feed their fetish, easing what might be awkward in-person propositions and transactions.
In recent years, a flood of stories, and an arc in the third season of Orange is the New Black, have insisted that it is so easy for (mostly) women to connect with panty fetishists online that almost anyone can bulk order underwear for pennies, get some stamps, and make tens of thousands of bucks selling their dirty laundry quickly and easily. Some stories make the case you might even be able to find some dude who’ll give you $5,000 for one pair alone.
Despite how easy it supposedly is to find and monetize fetishists online, though, a slew of pay sites were created to facilitate these transactions. A few like PantyTrust date back to the early 2000s, when the online used underwear market was brand spanking new. But many other seemingly popular sites have popped up since 2010: SellYourPanties, 2011; PantyDeal, 2012; SofiaGray, 2015. “There are so many now, I don’t even know them all,” says SellYourPanties co-founder, who goes by Paul. “Every month, I discover another website.”
Some charge a one-time fee, some take a commission on every sale, but most seem to charge regular dues of about $10 to $20 per month. Most boast thousands of active users at any given time. PantyDeal, the self-proclaimed biggest site out there, advertises over 460,000 sellers on its home page, although many of those may be old or dead accounts. “We see many registrations everyday on our platform,” says Elsa Angulo, a PantyDeal spokeswoman.
If the used underwear market is supposedly so easy to crack, why do so many sellers opt to shell out for an ever-growing number of pay-to-use platforms, where they will be one user among thousands? As it turns out, Orange is the New Black lied to a generation. Trying to sell panties in forums or on social media or even with your own dedicated website is actually, many sellers seem to agree, incredibly hard. And sometimes it's unsafe. For most, these sites are the only way to find real buyers and avoid nasty interactions. And it’s still hardly easy for most to sell on these sites.
In theory, it is possible to find fetishists and sell to them using a personal website and social media outreach, or forums and classified ads like Craigslist. Twitter, to take one major potential selling portal, tolerates sales and personal site promotion well, as it does most NSFW activities. Reddit has a dedicated sub with a 51,000-strong community of purported buyers and sellers, which seems bumping. And while Craigslist and many similar sites ban underwear sales, many sellers still use them.
But fishing in these seas of internet randos often just yields “people looking for free chat services, or who get off sending [unsolicited] dick pics,” says Kit, who’s been selling her underwear online since 2016. There are countless horror stories of (usually) women trying to navigate Craigslist or Reddit for months, sinking hours every week into self-promotion, only to field dozens of escorting or hookup propositions or harassing emails. After all of that, they make a few sales and a couple hundred bucks. Buyers as well often get scammed when trying to make deals on big public forums, says Serena, a former used-panty seller who has run PantyTrust since 2007. Even genuine sellers who deliver on time, she adds, can be “hit or miss in delivering the [precise] items buyers were purchasing.”
Most used underwear pay sites are pretty basic economic triage, attempting to address these issues. PantyTrust, for instance, grew out of an early used panty forum in which buyers commiserated about the number of dubious or unreliable sellers and created lists of reliable, friendly, and fair providers. “Several sellers in the forum at the time appreciated the fact that buyers complaining about getting scammed was bad for the business of all sellers,” recalls Serena. So they formed a site to verify that its sellers were legitimate, thus better serving buyers.
Dedicated platforms, argues Serena, also cut down on the overhead of running one’s own site, and the potential security risks of managing sales through an email address or using payment services that could potentially be traced to one’s name. Perhaps most importantly, though, the sites create communities for sellers to share best practices and weed out buyers who have been abusive or waste the time of providers. “We stick together and help each other out with any issues that may arise,” says Mistress Kimberly, who got her start on Craigslist in 2016 before joining Panty Trust, “including [ideas on] payment options, packaging and mailing, photos and videos.’
This still doesn’t guarantee the easy time or big cash many articles seem to suggest selling used underwear can net, though. Panty selling is a logistically limited practice to start with. Most buyers only want intimates that have been worn for at least one to three days, and there are “only so many pairs of knickers you can wear per week,” says Miss Smith XXX, a British seller active on PantyTrust and her own website since 2013. Some providers, eager to up their sales figures, or avoid the yeast and bacteria risks of not changing undies, try to mass-produce artificially scented pairs. But seasoned sellers agree this rarely works. “Buyers are sophisticated fetishists,” says Goddess Virgin, a dominatrix who has sold used underwear on PantyDeal since 2015. “They… will know if you’re trying to take a short cut. They are true connoisseurs, [and have noses] much like the trained senses of a sommelier.”
More importantly, the number of panty fetishists in the world is likely stable, says Paul Bleakley, who studies digital sex markets. But the number of sites trying to tap them just keeps growing. “People say, ‘That’s so fun, you can make a website selling worn panties, and it’s easy!’” says Paul of SellYourPanties. Everyone, he adds, thinks they can do it better, or find an underserved portion of the market.
Simultaneously, notes Miss Smith XXX, every few months a new wave of sellers crashes onto the sites, “usually following articles in the media claiming you can make $65,000 a year selling used panties, or sell pairs for $125 [each].” Summers are especially busy, adds Goddess Virgin, likely because college students decide to look for quick ways of making extra cash. These waves, even the one that followed the Orange is the New Black panty-selling arc, says Angulo, do subside for the most part. But some stay, and waves are common enough that overall, acknowledges Serena, “we may be reaching a tipping point wherein the number of sellers outnumber the buyers.”
This oversaturation and clear willingness to negotiate creates a buyer’s market, in which (usually) men all too often feel entitled to ask for whatever extras they want, from photos of girls wearing the panties to phone calls to Skype sessions to see the girls masturbating in the panties they’re selling.
This saturation makes sales a slog, but, believes Serena, “It is possible to make serious money once a regular clientele is established." Angulo adds that sellers who stick it out for at least two months tend to do well. But buyers still demand a certain amount of rapport from sellers. And even sellers with reliable customers note that their orders fluctuate radically from month to month. They can never stop hustling for new business. Making more per pair often requires special fetish touches—like piss, cum, or period blood.
And to really make good money, some sellers have to hybridize their panty sales with other forms of digital sex work, like selling custom videos or web camming. Paul of SellYourPanties notes that these services seem to be growing faster than outright panty sales. This makes sense, as non-fetishists are increasingly using these sites, sellers and operators agree, just to form ties with online sex workers. Goddess Virgin says she is able to make a good living, not just pocket change, off of her digital sex work, but largely because she had already done clips and domination services, then integrated them with her panty sales.
“If they wanted to make a career out of selling used panties,” says P.J. Patella-Rey, who studies digital sex work, “then yes,” sellers would have to fuse it with other forms of sex work today. And they couldn’t even do that casually, he says. They’d have to commit to it like a real job.
Most panty-focused sites seem to be slowly adjusting to facilitate other forms of digital sex work. This may put them on a collision course with camming and clip sites, which increasingly facilitate things like panty sales themselves, as a way for performers to make extra revenue. But the sites probably won’t fully converge into homogenous, all-purpose sexual services platforms. For some buyers and sellers alike, Patella-Rey points out, starting with a focus on panties is a good way to dip a toe into the digital sex industry without feeling too exposed or at risk. People can then decide to stick with panty-focused services, or expand from there. Many more cannot deal with these extra demands.
Still, it's pretty clear anyone serious about selling panties online has to do business through these pay sites, lest they get lost in a miserable sea of scamming dicks and their unsolicited pricks. Even then, only the most entrepreneurial and willing survive on these platforms, which provide a hard-won part-time income at best, unless providers are willing to go down the rabbit hole of additional digital sex services. All things told, says Mistress Kimberly, if folks are hoping to make quick cash on these sites, “they should find another craft, so to speak."