Sex work, while encompassing many different facets, is simply what the term describes: you sell sex.
Sex workers receive in exchange for consensual sexual services. These services can be anything from a sexy phone call to actual intercourse, and everything in between. Sex work isn’t only what we typically think of as “sex”, it includes stripping, erotic massage, and even OnlyFans accounts.
Because sex work is not recognized as real work, and is often criminalized, there’s a lack of good data on it. It’s hard to know exactly how much people are spending and earning in an industry that’s kept mostly underground.
What is sex work?
Sex workers receive money in exchange for consensual sexual services or performances. What these services are depends on the sex worker. Not all sex workers perform all kinds of sex work. Some sex workers work independently, and others use and agency or a platform to sell their services.
Here is a brief list of some of the most popular types of sex work:
- Erotic massage
- Sugar babies
- Phone sex
- Virtual sex
Women choose sex work for all different reasons, and these vary from extremes of being forced into to feeling empowered by it. Many women enjoy doing sex work. Others do it because it is the way they can generate the most income. With the rise of platforms like OnlyFans, many are even choosing sex work because it’s a lucrative side hustle they can do from the comfort of their own home.
Sex work is work. And depending what work it is, it can pay pretty well!
How much do sex workers make?
Not every sex worker has the same income, much like many fields of work. Sex worker’s income is based on the type of sex work they do, their set rates, and whether they’re employed by a sex work organization/escort agency or independently.
Rates per hour, rates by service, and tips all contribute to how much sex workers earn. Unsurprisingly, geography plays a major role as well. A sex worker in a large urban center with wealthy clients is more likely to earn more than a sex worker in a rural town with fewer customers.
Escort agencies hire out sex workers to clients, and therefore they receive a cut of the payment. Many sex workers choose to work with an agency in order to receive more consistent work, reliable work, and protection from clients.
Independent sex workers do not have to pay an agency any amount of what they earn, but they’re also responsible for finding their own work and are extremely vulnerable to abuse. While they get to keep all the income they earn, they also have no recourse against a client that doesn’t pay.
How much do strippers make?
How much strippers make depends on where they’re working, and even then income can vary wildly week to week or even day to day. Stripping is inconsistent income, so a stripper might make $10 one night and $700 the next.
According to PayScale, the average stripper or exotic dancer makes just over $40,000 per year. Not quite as glamorous as Jennifer Lopez made it look on Hustlers, but still better than minimum wage.
How much do escorts make?
The income of escorts varies widely. One outlined how she made almost $2,500 per month working only part-time hours. She made $300 to $500 per call, but also had a slew of expenses from hotel rooms to advertising.
If escorts work for an agency, the agency will take as much as 20% to 30% of income earned in exchange for arranging bookings and offering some security.
Most escorts will not describe sex work as easy money (and who would, really?) but many say it’s preferable to the other jobs available to them.
How much do porn stars make?
Porn star pay is surprisingly low, with newcomers to the industry making as little as $300 per sex scene and even the most sought after actors pulling in up to $2,000.
Like with other celebrity, the big bucks don’t come from the films itself, but from sponsorships, merchandise, and events. A porn star partnering with a sex toy brand stands more to gain from sales of the toys than appearing in another film.
Now many porn stars are leveraging large social media followings to get people to subscribe to exclusive content for a monthly fee, giving them more control over their income than ever before.
The rise of the amateur sex worker: Sugar Babies and OnlyFans
How much do Sugar Babies make?
The average Sugar Baby makes just under $4,000 per month in Canada or nearly $50,000 per year.
That’s not a wholly terrible income, especially if you simply need extra cash to get through school or want to supplement income earned from their full-time job. But since the average age of a Sugar Baby is only 26, this lucrative side hustle might come with an expiration date.
How much do OnlyFans accounts Make?
OnlyFans is the Patreon of porn. It’s a platform where anyone can set up an account and charge subscribers a monthly fee to access exclusive photos and videos. The average OnlyFans account makes only $180/month and OnlyFans takes a 20% cut of the income you earn.
Setting up an OnlyFans account is a newly popular side hustle, especially during the pandemic lockdown. Many women have signed up and are thrilled to make a few extra hundred dollars for selling their nudes. Some women don’t even get naked on the platform. Instead, they do things like read books aloud to subscribers who make requests… which may not even count as sex work if it’s not erotic in nature!
Unfortunately, most accounts on OnlyFans will not generate enough income to live on. Many new sign-ups thought it would be easy money, only to find they have to work really hard to generate content and market themselves on other platforms, like Instagram, in order to drive sign-ups to their OnlyFans account.
Is sex work illegal?
Sex is work is not illegal, but we tend to think it is. What is actually true is certain aspects of certain kinds of sex work is illegal, but others are not.
It’s not illegal to make an OnlyFans account or be a stripper or even be an escort. Sex work is perfectly legal in Canada, but advertising and purchasing it is not.
Criminalizing the purchase of sexual services but not the seller is meant to protect the sex workers. But as you can imagine, laws preventing customers from buying your product can drastically cut into your income.
Is sex work exploiting or empowering women?
Whether or sex work is exploitation or empowering is a complicated question with nuanced answers. It can be one or the other and often it is both. It depends a lot on the circumstance, the work, and how the woman feels about it.
Fundamentally there is nothing wrong with sex work. It’s not shameful or immoral or bad. There is no reason a woman can’t or shouldn’t feel empowered by selling something as lucrative and desirable as sex.
Unfortunately, many women don’t end up in sex work from a positive, empowered place. Many turn to sex work at their most vulnerable, when all other options have been exhausted, or because they are forced to by an abusive man. When a woman is forced to do sex work because she has no other options, it is exploitive.
It’s not necessarily possible to tell from the sex work itself which sex workers are there by choice and which are not. Regardless, it’s important to treat them respect just as you would a worker in any other industry.
Sex work is work
Sex work is work. Despite the frequent lack of respect and protection. Unfortunately, our failure to decriminalize sex work and ongoing stigma foster a culture of disdain and disrespect leaves sex workers economically and physically vulnerable.
Sex workers are not eligible for Employment Insurance or other benefits if they face income disruption. Likewise, there are no labor standards or safety protocols that ensure their health and well-being. We have made some progress in protecting sex workers and legitimizing the sex work industry, but we have a long way to go.