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Illustration by Rosa Kusabbi @rosa_illustration

How the cost-of-living crisis is affecting my income as a full-service sex worker

Perspectives from a member of Hookers Against Hardship

I’ve been in and out of full-service escorting for the last seven years. It’s always something that I’ve done alongside my freelance work within the creative sector. Typically, I haven’t felt comfortable putting all my eggs in either basket because both jobs can be precarious and challenging in different ways. However, since the pandemic and growing austerity under the latest iteration of the UK government, I’ve relied on sex work more than I used to.

The way media represents the ‘driven to prostitutionnarrative often focuses on the initiation part, rather than the nature of the work as it continues. But this glosses over the finer details of what selling sex as a business entails.

I should make it clear here that my interaction with sex work has always been through choice. I’ve been lucky enough to set boundaries on my own terms and I enjoy a lot of the work I do. However, regardless of my reasons for entering the industry, I – like other sex workers, like other self-employed people, and like pretty much everyone else – am being affected by the current economic situation.    

With more people turning to sex work as a means to make ends meet, there’s an increasing number of sex workers offering services to a pool of fewer clients. Consequently, I’m not receiving as many enquiries – and when my inbox gets quiet, the first option I have is to lower my rates. Considering that inflation is currently at a 41-year high, it feels counterintuitive to be decreasing my hourly rate rather than raising it.

Drumming up business is not just about dropping prices though: I’ve also been trying to boost my income by offering acts I wouldn’t normally do. Right now for me, that’s anal sex. About 80% of my inquiries are for anal, and for the next fortnight, I’m exclusively booked with clients interested in obtaining these “A-Levels.”

I normally only say yes to clients I’ve seen previously, and with whom I’ve built up some trust. Since there’s been less work around, I’ve started saying yes to anal with new clients. The penetrating nature of full-service sex work is one of the crude practicalities involved when the body becomes a site of labour and I’d be doing it a disservice to shy away from facts such as these.

I’ve also been posting less-incognito photos and videos of myself online. Clients like to know what they’re getting, understandably. Therefore, one way to entice new potential customers is with clearer photos from more varied angles. This goes against the anonymity I’ve previously tried to uphold because of my day job. I don’t tell my employers about my involvement with the adult industry, nor am I obliged to. Even though it’s legal for me to offer independent escorting services in this way, I feel certain that I would lose my job should they find out. Such is the stigma of sex work.

But now I can’t afford to be so anonymous. I’ve recently posted a video that reaches the limits of what I’m comfortable with being on the internet. Perhaps it’s because you can hear my voice? Maybe it’s because there’s a glimpse of my full face, fleetingly reflected in the mirror? Or, more likely it’s because I feel a lack of control over where this video might end up. Any which way you cut it; these necessary promotional tools can sometimes feel invasive.

What concerns me the most is the idea that money worries are undermining the faith I have in my judgement to vet clients. I do some light ‘submissive’ work, where I position myself as a “pro-sub” for clients who want to explore their dominant side. I believe there’s a place for therapeutic BDSM and often my submissive appointments are some of my most rewarding ones – but there is an obvious element of risk attached to trusting strangers with accessories like blindfolds and restraints. Where I’d feel safer practicing this in a space with other sex workers, because of current UK prostitution laws against brothels, I’m obliged to do this work alone.

My self-imposed safety procedure includes only doing outcalls in hotels, not getting into vehicles with clients, and never going anywhere too remote. Having the opportunity to uphold these principles is a privilege within the world of sex work. But a hotel room is an additional overhead to my clients and limits the number of people who book me. Other than location, I rely on instinct to feel out which customers I’d be happy to see alone.

Just this past weekend, I blocked a client seeking submissive services because his WhatsApp profile picture was of him holding a rifle and it made me feel uncomfortable. The client in question followed this booking up with an email from a new email address even after I’d blocked his mobile number.

However, it also happened to be rent day. And as I checked my bank account, for a flicker of a second, I found myself questioning if I was turning down good money. 

You know… Maybe this guy’s ok? I started to reason. Then I came to, and resolved: No way!

This isn’t something I’d normally feel tempted to do; the pressure only existed as other options were thin on the ground.

I rely on seemingly arbitrary factors such as profile pictures to judge my clients because there’s no other way of screening them. The only times I’ve ever experienced abuse of any sort in my time as a sex worker is when I’ve been barrel-scraping for appointments during a dry patch. I’ve learnt to follow my gut instinct, but it can be hard to keep a clear head when there are bills to pay. 

It’s well known that in times of financial hardship, more people especially womenturn to sex work. This is something that’s already happening, and we can anticipate that this will increase as the cost of living crisis is felt more keenly once winter properly sets in. In my opinion, it’s neglectful for our government to be ignoring something that is a reality for so many. 

I’m a member of the Hookers against Hardship campaign (HAH) which recently launched as a response to the current climate. We’re making demands of the government to introduce measures that will support those facing imminent poverty. Therefore, mitigating the reasons people might feel pushed into sex work, HAH calls for:

1)  An end to benefit sanctions

2) Access to benefits for all, at living wage

3) A moratorium on evictions

4) Rent controls for the whole of the UK

5) Amnesty from arrest and fines for sex workers

These fundamental demands aren’t solely unique to sex workers and include universal factors like renters’ rights. In a time when rent is sky-rocketing far above the rate of inflation, a rent cap might be the difference between someone entering prostitution or not. Moreover, sex workers can find it especially hard to find new leases and face greater risk of eviction if a landlord suspects they’ve been working from home.

I’ve personally had to put up with private landlords going through my bank statements – something that, shockingly, they’re able to do when vetting tenants – and querying “suspicious” payments into my account. This is not only degrading, but also alarming considering foretold rent-hikes.

Our final demand and overall aim – a call which predates the cost of living crisis – is for full decriminalisation of sex work in the UK.

In Britain, sex workers can be penalised for a variety of reasons such as street solicitation and ‘brothel keeping’, a loosely defined term which makes it illegal for two or more sex workers to work under one roof. Individuals violating these laws face fines which they often can’t pay by any means other than further sex work because of criminal records that impinge their opportunities for employment outside the adult industry. It begs the question: who are these laws in place to protect? Our latest petition to decriminalise sex work seeks to mitigate and reduce some of the harm that sex workers are experiencing. Simple factors, like not having to work alone, would improve the situation vastly for all of us. 

It’s my belief that challenging the stigma around sex work is one stepping-stone to attaining decriminalisation. The more voices heard; the more people will understand the hurdles sex workers face. When it’s been good, I’ve felt supported by my ability to make money in this way. When I’ve been doing it for conflicting reasons, it’s taken on a completely different emotional weight.

All jobs have bad days at work, but what’s unique to sex work is how personal that can feel. The link between poverty and prostitution needs to be broken. 

What can you do?

  • Check out Lotte’s website
  • Sign the HAH petition to lobby the government to decriminalise sex work, to help keep sex workers safe.
  • Get informed by reading books such as Revolting Prostitutes by Juno Mac and Molly Smith.
  • Share information about the HAH campaign with your family and friends so that they understand the situation for sex workers.
  • If you’re able to, donate here so that sex worker-led organisations can continue to support the sex workers who are struggling the most.
  • Email your MP to ask them to support our fight to combat poverty and to decriminalise sex work. We’re calling for rent controls across the whole of the UK and a moratorium on evictions; an amnesty on arrests of sex workers; living wage benefits for all, and an end to benefits sanctions.
Illustration by Rosa Kusabbi @rosa_illustration who says: “The piece is portraying a sex worker finding it difficult to find work, speaking to customers she’s barely vetted asking for services such as anal. The screen at the top represents the switch to online sex work from the lights to the computer or phone screen and hints how the switch has made this time during the cost of living crisis particularly difficult , especially with the influx of people turning to sex work with platforms like OnlyFans which is represented by the lock on the the phone screen.”
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