Students are turning to sex work to deal with unexpected costs at university, the National Student Money Survey has found. For most, it’s because support from Student Finance, parents and universities falls short.
The survey, by money advice site Save the Student , asked 3,167 students how they cope with finances at university.
The reality, however, is that the majority aren’t coping: 78% say they’re struggling to get by.
The average* student receives around £600/month in maintenance loan plus £138.50/month from their parents. But with living costs coming in at £770/month, many regularly don’t have enough to make ends meet.
Unsurprisingly, most students (76%) rely on part-time work to bring in extra cash. Of those, 5% say they use their bodies to earn a living: that includes things like medical trials and life modelling, as well as sex, sugar dating and webcamming. However, the figure is twice as high (11%) when students are faced with emergency or unexpected costs.
The survey also found that students in the latter group typically have higher living costs, get less cash support from parents, and find it harder to get help from their university:
We talked to three students about why and how they got into sex work – and we learned that social media makes getting started a lot easier.
Siobhan: “I tweeted about wanting money…”
1st year, University of Liverpool
“I never really meant to get started! I had tweeted about wanting money so I could go to an event and afford to eat. The next day I woke up to a direct message from a stranger offering to pay me in exchange for ignoring and insulting him online. He called himself a ‘pay pig’, which is like a sugar daddy but without the sexual aspect. Since then I have used both Twitter and Seeking Arrangement to find pay pigs and sugar daddies. The best thing is that it’s not really work. I don’t have to get a part time job to be able to afford to live, which means I have more time to focus on my degree. I typically get around £50 a week, plus an extra £5-£10 per photo of my feet or socks, if I choose to do that. I have also been offered upwards of £150 to send people my used shoes, but I love my shoes too much to part with them! The money helps with being able to go on nights out – now I can stay out later and drink more. I have also used the money in emergencies, like when I accidentally lost my keys and had to pay £30 to replace them all.”
Matthew: “I was offered money for a photo of my feet” 1st year, Canterbury Christ Church
“Someone messaged me on Instagram and offered me money for a photo of my feet. They’d seen a picture from my photostream of me on holiday wearing flip flops, and that’s apparently all it took! I was struggling with money at the time so I obviously wasn’t gonna turn it down. After that I used Tumblr to do it a few more times. I’ve made about £200 overall. It helped me when I was really struggling with food and stuff; that’s when I would turn to doing it. The best thing is it’s so easy to do. The worst thing is having to pretend I’m into it so people actually buy photos. They don’t ask for specific things, just different angles and close-ups, really.”
Carmen: “I could be making a grand a week” 2nd year, University of Kent
“I got involved in webcamming when I heard a friend of a friend was doing it and making substantial amounts of money. The agency I used does training via WhatsApp: they send text, video and voice notes about how to set up your account, along with everything you need to do before you begin camming. They also offer ongoing support via a group chat, where they answer questions and offer advice and scripts. I have very few uni contact hours, so it’s easy to fit around my studies. If I worked consistently, I’d be making a grand a week easily. My earnings have dropped dramatically after taking time out for exams – now I’m making just under £100/week – but the money helps regardless. It’s reassuring to know I’ll always have a back-up option and never be completely stuck without any source of income, especially since I’m almost entirely independent from my parents. I get all kinds of requests: smoking fetish, which consists of blowing smoke at the camera or on a dildo, ‘sploshing’ (pouring food over yourself, like baked beans or yoghurt), or taboo – such as when someone wants you to pretend to be their sister. For the most part, it’s just groping your boobs a bit. I’ve even had a few calls where I’ve sat fully clothed and just spoke to them about nothing sex-related whatsoever.”
As told to Save the Student – all names have been changed on request. Jake Butler, Save the Student’s money expert:
“Every year, our survey reveals students are involved in sex work, whether by choice or because they’ve run out of options. They, along with other students struggling to get by, should be able to get the information or support they need. The statistic that fewer than half find it easy to get help from their university is a concern. It’s true that there’s been an improvement in recent years but sex workers still face an unfair stigma, and many may fear repercussions from their university over their choice of work. Universities need to continue their efforts to provide support and create spaces in which students feel safe accessing advice, to ensure all students are aware of their rights and can practice their work safely. Finally, this once again raises my concerns about the gap between living costs and the Maintenance Loan. It’s simply not the case that all parents or students can find that much extra cash.”
Sarah Lasoye, NUS UK Women’s Officer:
“These findings show that student sex-workers are much more likely to struggle financially whilst studying at university than some of their peers. This is in no small part due to rising living costs coupled with a financial support package which is, quite frankly, not fit for purpose. The cost to live and study in the UK makes sex work, and the rights of workers involved in it, just as much a student issue as tuition fees or student housing. That’s why more should be done to defend and extend these rights. To do so, we will be working closely with organisations such as the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) and Sex Worker Advocacy and Resistance Movement (SWARM) to advocate for the decriminalisation of sex work, and to oppose further legislation, such as the recent US FOSTA-SESTA style legislation, which would place many student sex workers in considerable danger.”
Full results from the National Student Money Survey 2018 can be viewed at https://www.savethestudent.org/money/student-money-survey-2018.html