Money! Money! Money!
Thousands of words in this blog and not enough about money! Too much research into sexual health in the industry and not enough about the economics. Sex work is work, like all work we choose it for many reasons, but like all work, a big factor in those reasons is often our personal financial considerations. For me the primary reason I choose sex work over other work options is the autonomy it offers me. I can work for myself with little overheads.. so I do. I would still choose sex work even if it paid the same or slightly less than other work options. But if it were to pay considerably less, sex work would no longer become an attractive option to me. Like in any industry, obviously, money comes into it.
Due to sex work being so incredibly stigmatised and not to mention criminalised, it’s likely that I may never have entered the industry if it weren’t for economic reasons, I needed the money. I choose to keep coming back for so many more reasons but to begin with, it was almost purely economics.
Yet all the surveys being distributed from naive and voyeuristic psychology students asking about our daddy issues and drug use histories trying to figure out how someone could consider selling sex, rarely ever ask about my economic situation, or my spending habits, my savings and investments. I’m not talking about questions like ‘how much money do you spend on drugs?’ ‘was your mother on welfare?’ or ‘hookers should pay tax’, I mean, meaningful enquiry into the economic situation of sex workers before, during and after working in the sex industry and the barriers for sex workers becoming financially secure etc.
Sex work is not a gold mine, most of us are not making more than we can spend, but a lot of us are making enough and not enough of us have as much as we could. I’m not saying we should all aspire to have 3 properties and an investment portfolio, or that some of us don’t already, or whether acquiring wealth is even a worthy goal to have, and I dont want to imply that I think there is any particular ‘good’ way to use our money. This post is more about representation. I am suggesting based on my own limited experiences that, compared to people on similar incomes in other indsutries, there arent enough rich hookers.
And I wonder how much stigma and discrimination has to do with it. Do sex workers’ financial situations in decriminalised Sydney more accurately represent their income than sex workers in criminalised South Australia. Or for an even starker contrast, what would a comparison of sex workers financial situations and the level of stigma and criminalisation that they live with globally look like.
I’ve never been good with money, but then I never had money before I was a hooker, so who knows which came first. My parents weren’t good with money either, probably has more relevance to my career choices than the fact that my father didn’t love me enough. Not as interesting to psychology students though.
I think sex work has given me less respect for money, the money I earn in sex work doesn’t always equate to the effort I put in. I could get paid $700 for a two hour booking and then go home straight after it, or I could sit around all day answering the phone for 12 hours and only do one half hour job for $150. Sometimes its easy come easy go. You can’t plan for it, so it’s easier to spend. Common phrases that run through my mind are ‘oh, well I might not have done that last job, I didn’t know i was going to get that booking, so it doesn’t really matter if i spend that money on… (insert vice of choice)’ or ‘ohh, i can just work an extra day and make that money back, no worries’. It sure does make it easier for money to slip through my fingers, but it must be similar to any independent contract worker in any industry.
Being paid daily and even hourly doesn’t help either. Dribs and drabs of money is much easier to be irresponsible with than large sums once a week. I’m not complaining though, I love dribs and drabs of money. And in an industry where your boss’s business could be shut down by the cops any second, who would tolerate having their pay withheld for a week!
Perhaps I’m just too generous. Having come from not much money, a lot of my non hooker friends still don’t have lots of money. I don’t know about you, but when im going out for dinner, I don’t want to go alone, so I might pay for my friends. If im doing well enough to be able to afford a holiday, I don’t want to go alone, so I might take my sister. Are other hookers as generous?
On the other hand there have been times when I led a double life, no one knew that I was a sex worker and so I almost had to be careful to not have too much money. There was never any pressure or expectation for me to be ready for home ownership when I was meant to be making $15 an hour as a waitress.
And when I’m not telling anyone about my job or the income, who do I talk to for financial advice? It’s not like financial institutions are marketing their services to me. And working somewhere or somehow in a criminalised way, like many of us are it’s hard to know where to begin, who to trust, and whether its even worth it. Paying super seems a pretty far stretch for a lot of us.
Maybe there is an element of dirty money? I don’t think this plays into it for me at all. But maybe for some people, especially those new to the industry, there is an element of perceived risk taking or doing the wrong thing which impacts on the way people view the money they make from it? Like internalised stigma stuff. Or maybe not? I’m not sure.
For me there is an element of freedom that I get from sex work which impacts on the way I spend money. I feel like sex work allows me to live in the moment, and I spend accordingly. Live day to day, place to place, no savings but confident Ill have a roof over my head. Not to mention sex work makes me a rule breaker, I already live on the fringes. Avoiding authority, not much in my real name and I get paid and play with cash. Paying tax on my sex work money is a relatively new concept and I actually have no idea what an investment portfolio is.
It’s hard to build assets in a criminalised environment when you know that the cops could possibly seize everything you have as proceeds of crime, or even worse, here in SA you could be charged with illegal possession if the cops can prove you made your money from sex work.
Then it seems that there are some people out there who see us as easy targets as well. watching us making money, busy justifying the reasons they should take it from us. Sometimes they see it as easy money, sometimes its jealousy, sometimes they convince themselves that we owe it to them. And i bet some people are counting on the belief that lots of us are not in a position to do anything about it when they rip us off. We might be scared to go to the cops, we might not know who to tell, we might not have any proof that we had the money in the first place, we might be scared of blowing our cover.
I guess another consideration is that due to the stigma and criminalisation and the discrimination we face from others, sex work is not always seen as a career by many, sometimes it’s just something to do right now. There isn’t much incentive to plan ahead if its seen as a short term option.
I guess for some there is the belief that the bigger the risk of discrimination that you face in doing sex work, the better the rewards should be, but for myself I feel like the more out and proud of my work I become, the greater my expectation that I’ll have access to the same financial security as other employed/ independent workers on decent incomes. I feel entitled to my seat at the grown ups table, and I want this money to work for me…