Sex Work & Recession: A Melbourne Escort's Perceptive Insight
Originally posted March 1, 2021
I'm no economist, but it doesn't take a rocket surgeon to know that two things happen to the sex industry when a recession hits. There is an influx of people into the sex industry and there is a drop in buyer confidence and client spending.
Sex workers tend to be the canary in the coal mine for many of the failures of late capitalism and poorly thought out government policy - take the FOSTA/SESTA bills that were introduced in 2018 to "stop child sex trafficking", for example. We were the first and hardest hit by the laws which now effectively censor influencers, models, dancers, sex and sexual health educators, medical discussions and much more. Sex workers as luxury service providers tend to feel the pinch of hard times before everyone else does. This is not true for every sex worker, of course. As we know this pandemic has greatly increased the wealth of already wealthy people and the few and far between sex workers whose main client base sit in the incredibly wealthy tax bracket are probably doing better now than before. However, most sex workers whose clients are the steadily disappearing middle class or struggling working class will be feeling this recession more than anyone.
So where does this leave sex workers who relied on this once plentiful cornucopia that is no longer so plentiful?
If you haven't seen the movie Hustlers (2019) you've missed out on what I thought was a very insightful take on what happens for most sex workers when an economic downturn occurs. The film explores the story of strippers who have to figure out how to make bank during the 07-08 Global Financial Crisis. Their eventual solution and undoing was drugging and robbing clients, but I want to talk about that beautiful little scene where we see Jennifer Lopez working retail.
You might have seen it happening like I have. It feels like every other day another sex worker on twitter is either announcing their retirement or announcing a new part-time job that they're taking on. Sex workers are shedding their alter egos and the potentially great but frequently unreliable nature of sex work for the safe haven of a guaranteed income and some kind of financial stability, even if the hourly rate is pitiful in comparison. Some are even taking on study to fill in the time between bookings, grasping at AusStudy payments for help. Many have shut up shop on their incalls, had to get a housemate, are being forced to work from their own homes or occasionally rent out a hotel room when they have prebookings with deposits. As someone who has been running another business for several years and have been a pre-booking and deposit only sex worker, I notice it coming up more and more. "I'm now only available for x days/x amount of bookings" or "You must prebook with at least x amount of notice" or "I now require deposits for all bookings" or "Finally announcing my onlyfans".
A stigmatising line of rhetoric that people like to throw at sex workers is "What are you going to do when your pussy dries up? Or your clients run out of the money you scam from them?" etc. We are witnessing first hand what sex workers do when it dries up. While it may not seem so, what with neo nazism and economic liberterianism ruling the west at the moment, humans have this amazing ability that helps them survive. It's called adapting and I see sex workers do it every day. I'd argue, in fact, that sex workers are some of the most adaptable people in existence. Our work in and of itself requires us to be able to fit in and engage with people from all walks of life. It requires a slew of transferable people skills, admin skills, safety skills, marketing skills and so so much more. And look at us go, using our fucking brilliance in order to make do in a shitty situation.
So what does this mean for clients?
When sex work is your only job - making you a survival sex worker - it can be really hard to turn down work. When it rains, it pours in sex work, but there are also incredible dry spells. You can go months without a booking immediately after making 20k in a month. You can go months without a booking immediately after barely making rent. Many sex workers without a backup income take on as much work as is available. They are are more likely to need to make more accommodations, work harder at making a sale, or take more risks in order to ensure they can put a little something away in the stores for dry season.
I don't mean to gloss over the experiences of survival sex workers, but as I haven't been a survival sex worker for several years and have never been a survival sex worker during a recession, I can't exactly offer much insight into what things must be like for them at the moment. Being able to turn my phone off to much of the ridiculousness that has been coming through since the start of the pandemic or block number after number has been a blessing for my mental health, but I fully appreciate many are not in the privileged position to do that and must sift through the shit to find the tiny gold nuggets. I fully understand it's not something most would choose to blog about on client facing accounts too and acknowledge my own privilege in being able to write about my experience and perception from this lofty platform.
With more and more sex workers finding other sources of steady, reliable income, and going back to their other careers, the need and the ability to be available all the time or compromise on their sleep, health, or safety is disappearing. With the compromises many are needing to make in order to minimise their outgoings, plenty just wont have the ability to be as flexible. What you'll find is that it will be harder than ever to actually book in a sex worker. You'll find that it's more impossible to get a same day or last minute convenience booking. You'll find that it's harder to get a booking without having to screen or pay a deposit. While there are still many survival sex workers abounds, more and more of us have our feet half in and half out of the industry and you might just have to work a little harder to gain access to us.
This is a trend I enjoy seeing. Not the financial hardship, of course, but the empowerment within your business to work on our own terms instead of living by the whims of some of the more unreasonable clients out there. The empowering part of sex work is not sex work itself, but the freedom from poverty it can facilitate. Thus, in my opinion, when sex work no longer serves to financially free people or the output is no longer worth the input, it can be quite disempowering considering the stigma and danger we face as well as the bullshit we sometimes have to grit our teeth through. Those with the ability to do so will seek some semblance of empowerment through other means and other income streams as we are seeing.
I guess, the point of all this is that it's a better time than ever to put on your big boy pants and start respecting sex workers as whole, human individuals. I adore the clients who already do this and are absolutely wonderful in our interactions. For the rest of you, it's time to start reading the ad if you want any response at all. Time to think ahead and not just with your other head. Time to accept that deposits and screening are becoming the norm and being a bit nicer to us. Or I guess... you'll just have to go fuck yourselves.