Sexy sells: Can students continue to capitalize on emerging forms of indirect sex work?

By in Features/Opinions

Emerging forms of sexual labour are becoming more popular and available. As the sex industry becomes even more accessible to enter into, it seems that the student demographic is one that could particularly benefit from its lucrative nature. Considering this current landscape, many might wonder: “Could participating in the grey areas of sex work be the next thing for me?”

Sex work is a broad term that can be used to denote a variety direct or indirect services, sales and performances that are intended for the sexual arousal or pleasure of the paying party — workers receiving commission in exchange for anything from direct sexual acts to the production of pornography to the marketing of worn garments and even some relationship agreements can all be considered forms of sex work.

Sex work is a term that lacks real specificity. This, along with certain ingrained perceptions and stigmas, is what makes it such a widely contentious one.

In Canada, sex work is paradoxically criminalized. Bill C-36, or the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, along with Canada’s Criminal Code, indicates that it is not an offence for any individual to privately solicit and sell their own sexual services. However, it is punishable to purchase, commission or publicly market many of these services.

The intent of this legislation, enacted federally on Dec. 6, 2014, is to combat sexual exploitation. However, many industry advocates argue that Bill C-36 instead puts already vulnerable individuals at greater risk — the threat of punishment to the consumer, rather than the proprietor, can result in a depleted market yielding lower earnings, as well as the greater potential for violence as a means to silence workers who would report abusive clientele.

Generally, sex work is perceived as a means to provide for oneself in a desperate situation or to temporarily supplement income. Seldom is sex work regarded as legitimate labour, and even more rare is the recognition of sex work as a viable career option. Considering the diversity of opportunities available in this particular industry, however, it seems that this perception is misinformed.

More and more, jobs in the sex industry and the potential to market sexual goods and services are becoming appealing to young Canadians, with certain grey-market options for acquiring income rising in popularity.

Sugar daddies, worn-garment sales and online interactions are providing individuals with a means to secure or supplement their livelihood in an indirect, consensual and self-regulated way, and many post-secondary students are already capitalising on these lucrative markets in an effort to curb the debt incurred during their studies.

There are a number of reasons why students in particular might find indirect forms of sex work such as these to be advantageous.

High national tuition rates and underemployment are, arguably, the primary driving forces for individuals in the student demographic to enter into forms of sex work, as cites the popular dating website Seeking Arrangements, which pairs “successful” or “attractive” individuals who are interested in pursuing “mutually beneficial” relationships.

Seeking Arrangements takes care to note that individuals using their service can set as many boundaries as they are comfortable with, and the site does not advertise or endorse the exchange of sexual services for commission. Rather, it aims to facilitate mutual agreements and financially strategic relationships.

Noting this distinction, it should be recognized that camming, one-on-one text or audio conversation, and worn garment sales are more typically categorized as forms of sex work than the sugar-parent relationships that Seeking Arrangements, and other such matchmaking forums, facilitates.

According to the company’s own statistics, more than 50 students at the U of S registered as “attractive” members in 2017, bringing the most current recorded total of students registered on the site to 447. Seeking Arrangements offers some extra features usually only available to paid subscribers free of cost to users who sign up using their university email accounts.

Other motivations for engaging in indirect forms of sex work might include personal empowerment — the individual entering the market might find value and satisfaction in the work or they’re just curious what it’s all about.

Camming allows individuals to have relatively flexible working conditions and the freedom to set their own terms. Through online chat rooms and web hosts, webcam models solicit payment in the form of tips for any range of interaction and activity not limited to the sexual.

Worn-garment sales and camming are often routes taken in tandem, or consecutively pursued, by individuals who are interested in indirect forms of sex work. Hosiery, bras and panties — once you’ve spent a day or more in them — retail in chat rooms, on subreddits, on social media and on hundreds of websites for prices ranging from, based on my own extensive observation, anywhere between $15 and $150.

The notion of turning a profit exponentially larger than the initial investment — a handful of thongs at Superstore would set me back about $5 each — piqued my own interest in the business after becoming aware of the opportunity along with so many others during the third season of Orange Is the New Black. With the intent to gain perspective, I decided to give the used-panty market a try.

Most popular web hosts offer users space in the digital marketplace where they can promote their products, share information and facilitate interactions with consumers. Some hosts require a paid membership — I wrote these ones off immediately — but others, like PantyDeal, offer base-level entry at no cost.

Equipped with a no-personal-details-attached new email address, a PayPal account and a meager collection of workable, fairly non-identifiable nudes resulting from five consecutive hours of labour, I made an account. For good measure — though not expecting much success — I uploaded a couple of outtakes to a specific subreddit, using another fake name to create a Reddit account.

At this point, I had read countless threads and blog posts on the subject and was feeling confident, but I had already made two big mistakes.

Reddit, as many know, prominently displays the amount of time that has passed since a user created their account. Unfortunately, this feature does not bode well for panty sellers who prefer to use throwaway identities, such as myself. Reputation means quite a lot in panty selling. To make a sale quickly, I would need to seem as though I was already established in the market.

Realizing that my first big mistake was overestimating how much I could ask for very little, relatively speaking, I had to re-evaluate my options. Without taking time to build up a clientele, shoot varied photosets or personally interact with users who came across my profile in order to solicit their business, I’d lose out on some earnings, and finalizing a sale would prove to be a waiting game.

I had hoped my PantyDeal shop would earn me at least a couple extra bucks. While the offers trickled in over the first few days after my initial posts, it soon became clear that, in order to maintain my — arguably also too high — asking prices, I’d have to start interacting with the buyers on the platform more directly.

The thought of engaging with my audience in this capacity, specifically, made me a little bit uncomfortable — there are still real risks when using services like these, despite how removed from reality they may seem. Because I didn’t feel confident in my own ability to protect my safety in cases where a buyer might threaten it, I didn’t approach any sale with the intention to develop any sort of relationship with the buyer.

My Reddit post, in the whole three days that I kept it active, yielded enough virtual attention and written approval to sufficiently bolster my own self-image, but no financial gain was incurred.

The undoing of my panty sale endeavours was my initial decision to use PayPal to facilitate payment between myself and whoever was willing to buy my drawers. PayPal is notorious for blocking, banning and redistributing funds of individuals suspected of participating in sex work, but unlike Canadian legislation, that penalty usually falls on the proprietor.

At the time of print, my Paypal account has been suspended, and I will, most likely, never see the $50 plus shipping that I eventually negotiated as payment for a pair of “sexy blue peek-a-boo panties, lace,” which I had worn for a couple days prior to my period — an ideal timeframe in which to produce worn panties for sale, according to consumer forums.

Forms of indirect sex work — such as some sugar-parent partnerships, camming and worn-garment sales — differ from direct or plainly classified forms of sex work — like stripping, pornographic acting and performing sexual acts on a client — in that they operate somewhat outside of the scope of legislative regulation. These opportunities for income are appealing to students, as they offer the freedom to define one’s own boundaries and work schedule.

While it’s important to note that these indirect forms of sex work are not the get-rich-quick type of transactions that they may appear to be as it takes time to build the trust of a client base, once trust is established, workers can set their prices higher.

Through my own experience, it seems that, before you can really start selling a sexual product at any rate, some level of interaction — suggestive messages, private photos or even phone calls — is usually necessary. While this may deter some from entering into similar routes, this type of performance is not necessarily negatively impacting.

Running my own little shop of perversions made me feel a little bolder and more powerful — in charge of my sexuality and my own use of it.

For whatever reasons that people might choose to enter into the sex industry, be it through direct or indirect forms of labour, whether for a little extra cash on the side or to finance their entire livelihood, this experience has made me even more firm in the belief that sex work is real work. So would you give it a try?

Emily Migchels / Editor-in-Chief

Graphics: Jaymie Stachyruk / Graphics Editor