- From stripping to webcam modeling, sex workers are feeling the pain of an uncertain economy.
- Research shows the sex industry is in recession as customers hold back on spending.
- Workers say they are feeling exhausted as customers looking for a compassionate ear are paying less.
Loading Something is loading.
Thanks for signing up!
Access your favorite topics in a personalized feed on the go. download app
Recession or no recession in America this year, but sex workers are feeling the economic anxiety.
From stripping to webcam modelling, industry workers say business is hard to come by as inflation remains high. This is taking an emotional – in addition to financial – toll, as sex workers are often expected to lend a compassionate ear to their clients.
“In the last months, people’s own stress and anxiety is palpable,” said sex worker Tripp Richards, 32, who asked to be known by her stage name for security reasons, although the insider verified her identity.
Richards makes most of his income through subscription-based content on OnlyFans, and he said that people often admit their financial struggles to explain why they are unable to subscribe to his work. In addition to working hard to maintain his income, he is finding more emotionally taxing work with clients.
“Unfortunately, as sex workers, we bear the brunt of the stress of what people have going on in their lives,” she said.
Although the US sex economy is largely unrecorded in official statistics, cracks in the industry are beginning to appear. The Sex Workers Outreach Project-USA, or SWOP, told Insider that it has seen a 15% to 20% increase in sex workers seeking financial assistance like grocery money, laundry money, or free supplies like condoms over the past year.
The legal sphere of sex work is also showing signs of struggle as customers are turning their backs on one of the world’s oldest industries. For example, the total value of the US strip-club market is expected to decline 1.9% in 2023 from five years ago, according to data from IBISWorld, with wages in the industry declining 0.7% over the same period. Is.
It’s another blow after the US strip-club market plunged 17% in the first year of the pandemic-induced recession, IBISWorld estimates, while wages fell 12% across the industry. For the most part, those figures have not recovered.
“It’s very disappointing, to be honest,” Phoenix Kalida, a representative for SWOP, told Insider. “It has hit people who were barely alive before.”
Sex workers say recession means more work for less money
Lillian Junglieb, a sociology professor at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, told Insider that the sex industry could be one of the first indicators of a recession, as consumers scale back their discretionary spending during times of hardship.
A stripper in Portland, Oregon, who goes by the stage name Elle Stanger, who dabbles in a variety of sex work, says the current economic climate is the most challenging she has seen in her 14-year career. She couldn’t provide specific numbers, but estimates are that she’s making about 40% less than she was before 2018 — a pay cut she considers fairly generous, considering others have cut their clients in the past. have described losing 90% of the Year. The insider also verified Stanger’s identity.
Meanwhile, Richards estimates that his income has remained roughly the same, although his work hours have doubled. Lately, he says his clients have turned away from “big-ticket purchases” that involve more intimate experiences, such as private sessions or custom videos, and more toward lower-budget items, such as simply Just subscribing to their OnlyFans profile for a few dollars.
“It looks like a similar number of transactions have happened over the past several months, but it contrasts with being more small-scale transactions,” Richards said.
This is in line with other research about sex work during economic downturns. An analysis by The Economist found that in the years following the 2008 recession, the price of sex work went from $340 an hour with a female prostitute in 2006 to just $260 an hour in 2014 in 12 countries.
Another study by Tourism and Hospitality Research found that before the Great Recession, exotic dancers surveyed in Las Vegas reported earning salaries ranging from $3,000 to $12,000 per month, with 63% of respondents banking more than $5,000 per month. Did. But in 2012, wages were still well below the recession: reported salaries fell to a range of $1,000 to $5,600 per month, with nearly 100% of workers earning less than $5,000.
A pay cut of that magnitude forces sex workers to become jack of all trades, dabbling in all kinds of gigs rather than a single trade like stripping. Sex work saw a special diaspora during the pandemic downturn, which saw a huge influx of people interested in online sex work, said Janglib.
But because the market is now saturated, profits are mostly reserved for top sex workers, and the downturn hits newer, smaller-name workers hardest.
“The employees who earn less are employees who weren’t earning much initially, and the top earners are still earning well,” Janglib said. “So you see a kind of increased stratification of income.”
The recession could create an even more dangerous situation for sex workers, Janglib said, as workers may skip screening and security procedures when in financial straits and feel more pressured to go to work. For example, Stanger said she has grown to tolerate “less polite” behavior when customers are in greater need. Richards says that the conditions of the industry have motivated him to return to doing webcam shows, although he feels less comfortable with it than with other forms of sex.
“It’s one of those things where it’s like, OK, I’ve got to make money one way or another,” he said. “I would consider myself privileged in the sense that I haven’t had to do anything particularly risky, although I do think I take a little more chances than I would otherwise.”
emotional support becomes part of the job
Stanger says her mental health has taken a hit—not only from the mounting pressure to pay her bills, but also from the chronic stress of her clients.
For example, she recalled, giving a lap dance to a man who told her he had recently lost his house in a fire.
“A lot of clients want to relax, unload emotionally, make you feel better,” Stanger said, adding that if clients have lost jobs or are having relationship issues, she can “really run out of money.” Dealing with more stress for.”
This may be because sex work is inherently about providing intimacy and an emotional connection, but it is also sociological, Janglib said, because sex workers inherently have less power than their clients during a recession. it occurs. That power dynamic can be reflected in their interactions with customers as well as with workers carrying the emotional burden of negotiation.
Janglib said that during economic downturns, “customers have increasingly more power and sex workers have increasingly less based on supply and demand.”
Stanger says the current climate reminds him of 2009, when he first started stripping in the midst of the Great Depression. After that, she said, industry veterans told her the sex business was “the worst.”
But in his opinion, recent years have been more difficult, as he and his colleagues are making less despite working even harder.
“I find it gets harder every year,” Stanger said, “even though I’m more effective and good at what I do.”