The story obviously discusses this season of Orange is the New Black, so don't complain if we spoiled a subplot.
The panty-selling business is hardly a new idea; most have heard of the used women's underwear vending machines in Japan, and people all over the world have been selling their dirty unmentionables on the internet for years.
But due to a plot line containing a ring of panty-selling convicts in the latest season of the popular Netflix series Orange Is the New Black (OITNB), set in a women's prison in upstate New York, the biz has been experiencing a surge of new buyers and sellers.
Google trends shows the search term "sell used panties" experienced the biggest global spike ever following June 12 when Orange Is the New Black's third season premiered.
On top of that, a spokesperson for Pantydeal.com (one of the largest used-panty selling websites), Paul Richter, told VICE that the company he works for saw a dramatic increase in registration and traffic soon after Orange Is the New Black's season three premiere. While its number of new registers per day is usually about 150, shortly after the premiere of the season in June, about 1,000 people signed up in a single day.
"Because of Orange Is the New Black, it's crazy right now," Richter said. "It's a great second income." On average, Richter said, sellers on the company's group of sites make about $500-700 US per month.
I spoke with a 22-year-old guy who recently began selling a female friend's used panties on Reddit for extra cash. His foray into this side hustle began about two weeks ago, following the premiere of OITNB.
"[My friend] always has these weird ideas, but this time she was really insistent upon it," he said. "Honestly, when she brought it up, I didn't think anything of it, but then when I found out it was a thing in Orange Is the New Black, like, it made sense because she watches it... she just finished the last episode of season three."
He assists his female friend by helping to take photos and videos (which he makes into gifs) of her from the waist down in prospective panties, then handles the posting on Reddit, answering and reading X-rated emails from customers, payment, and finally, packaging in wax paper within sealed plastic bags and mailing. They've sold three pairs so far at $30-35 each, and he's taken about a 65 percent cut from each sale.
"I'm sure [my friend] had heard of it before, but seeing it on the show just refreshed her memory—like, 'Oh, I'm broke, I should do this!'" he said.
When I asked what it's like talking to panty-sniffing Redditors online, he said he's read some pretty raunchy emails describing how badly they want to eat and worship his female friend's ass. When replying to the emails of prospective customers, he pretends to be her.
"Talking about this is making me think about what the hell I'm doing with my life," he said at the close of our interview.
For some people, though, panty selling is serious business. MissBeaHaven, a 25-year-old cam model who works on MyFreeCams.com, has sold her panties for over five years and told me a significant amount of her income derives from her worn unmentionables. She sells 10-15 pairs per month at $20 each—about 25 percent of the income she makes in her camming career overall.
"When I watched that episode I thought how accurately they were portraying the dirty panty biz," MissBeaHaven told me. "Sometimes girls will use saliva, snot, or other random substances out of laziness just to sell the panties, so when Piper's (the main character) brother was talking about that fishy-honey substance they made, they were totally right. There's always a scam inside of some market, that is one!"
MissBeaHaven sells her panties privately through a special password-protected gallery on her MyFreeCams profile, which she says is more legit than using Reddit. (She's been catfished on a subreddit where used panties are sold; counterfeit goods are a stark reality in this industry.) Camgirls and porn stars have a special advantage when it comes to the panty-selling business: they have established fan bases, and if they're successful, they've already figured out exactly how to market themselves.
"If someone is watching a girl live getting panties messy right before their eyes, they want them," she said.
For women entering into the bizarre world of selling their dirty delicate laundry online due to OITNB or otherwise, MissBeaHaven says honesty is key—yes, there are ethics even in this pervy underground market.
"If she [makes] an effort to promote herself and actually interact with her panty lovers, they would make more money," she said.
Follow Allison Elkin on Twitter.