‘We’re shamed for providing a service enjoyed by millions’: Life as a student sex worker

We spoke to three Manchester student sex workers about their experiences

All names have been changed for anonymity 

Thousands of students in the UK have taken part in some form of sex work but The Tab recently revealed only three Russell Group universities have a policy in place to support sex workers, one of which is the University of Manchester.

We spoke to three student sex workers at the University of Manchester about their experiences in the industry and the stigma surrounding it.

From strippers to OnlyFans producers here are just some of the students balancing their studies with sex work and why they do it:

Tiffany- Postgraduate student 

Tiffany is a postgraduate student who started stripping after finishing her undergrad, as a way to fund her master’s degree.

 “I thought it sounded like so much fun and as a performing arts grad I was excited by the opportunity to be in a performance-based role” she tells me.

Tiffany even prefers the work to her previous job. “I’ve worked call centre and retail jobs where I found the pay and working conditions to be exploitative. I love the flexibility” she says. 

But she believes the uni should be doing more to support student sex workers: “I would love to see the university educate themselves on this issue, as many of the people affected will be students.

“The university and students’ union also needs to have people representing the sex worker community who are involved in making decisions. The student community can be a powerful force for change, so with the right education on sex workers rights, they could be a great support to the sex worker community.”

Tiffany claims the biggest downside is the constant threat of losing her job: “Anti-sex worker groups are currently campaigning nationwide to close down our clubs, and it’s exhausting having to worry about this and fight it.”

Olivia, third year student 

Olivia describes herself as a hobbyist cosplayer, “I dress up in a costume of a particular character, usually from an anime or video game. First I set up a Twitter to advertise and later an OnlyFans.

“I started doing it because it was fun and arousing, making money only really came up later when I realised it was an option.” Olivia says the job has a lot of upsides, especially as a disabled person, she can work when she wants, from home and only whenever she feels well enough to do so. 

But she admits there are some downsides as well as self esteem issues, the permanent nature can raise problems, “I would tell anyone considering it to really think about what they’re about to do. If you walk out of a job in a coffee place, people probably won’t DM you years later asking for coffee, the same does not apply here.”

She also believes the stigma around sex work is often toxic, “People will spend a lot of time looking at porn with no respect for the performers involved. There’s very few comparisons to other forms of work wherein the workers are actively shamed and harassed for providing a service enjoyed by millions.”

“An office worker can’t show up to the building they work at and suddenly that building no longer exists and people are sending harassing and threatening messages to them, expressing joy that their office is gone. For sex workers, this is a very real possibility. Big porn industries that benefit from illegal content, revenge porn and assault are considered almost a necessary evil, but independent creators are left in the dust.”

Jessica, second year student

Jessica started selling her content during the first lockdown: “I had a lot more spare time suddenly. I was already posting NSFW (Not Safe For Work) content and had a following, so I thought it could be fun to start selling it, when I did start selling content I was able to earn a lot of money.” 

Jessica described it as an “amazing feeling” to know people were willing to pay to see content and seeing the “number in your bank account go up and up.” Previously Jessica says she was ashamed about her sexuality but that taking part in sex work helped to “reclaim it and turn shame into empowerment”.

Yet Jessica also warned of the difficulties around the work. ”People assume that starting an OnlyFans is easy and the amount of friends who joke about doing it is funny to me because they don’t realise that it really is a full-time job. “People won’t stay subscribed if you don’t post regular, good quality, and varied content. You have to be extremely committed to growing your account and can’t really take breaks without risking losing fans.”

Jessica also feels the atmosphere around sex work can be gruelling: “People say awful things about sex workers. It’s difficult when sex workers come into conversation and their rights become the topic of a debate, because I feel all I can do is sit there and try to ignore them so I don’t get upset. 

“Of course people would never guess that I was a sex worker and I don’t want to put myself at risk. If the wrong person were to find out I was a sex worker, my life could be severely impacted.”

The University of Manchester does offer support for student sex workers, advising students to reach out to groups such as the Support for Student Sex Workers society and MASH.

The University of Manchester has been contacted for comment.

Feature image credit: Maru Lombardo via Unsplash

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