Students and sex work

Research conducted by Kingston University, London shows that more students are turning to sex work to pay their fees and meet the costs of student living. The study claims that the figure has risen by 50% in the past seven years, coinciding with the introduction of tuition fees. The article (and the reader comments that follow it) assume that it is only female students who are working in the sex industry. I’m not sure if the study also looked at male students. If it didn’t, it should have done. (For what it’s worth, I reckon uncovering that kind of data would be harder, since working as a male prostitute is surely even more taboo than being a female sex worker.) Read more here.

9 thoughts on “Students and sex work

  1. Interestingly, the only student I’ve had who told me about doing work of broadly this sort was a male stripper.

  2. I don’t want to suggest that it’s not a genuine concern that some students are entering sex work in order to pay for their degrees. It’s obviously a very bad thing if any student feels forced to do so. But I do have some questions about the methodology of the study (admittedly, as it is reported in the Times article, not in the study itself, which I have not read).

    The researchers are said to have asked 500 students whether they had any friends working in the sex industry, fairly broadly construed. In 1999 4% said yes, 2006 6%, and the figure is expected to go up to 8% this year. But it’s not clear to me how much we can conclude about the total numbers by this method. Suppose you have a highly sociable young student who works as a lapdancer, believes this to be empowering of women, and is consequently entirely upfront about it. If this student is big into clubbing or whatever, she could easily have scores of people ready to count her as a friend, well upwards of a hundred in fact. Nor need she have told each one about the lapdancing personally, or anything like that number, as the information would soon go round once more than a few people knew. Thus this individual could be responsible for loads of hits on Roberts’ survey, but would only be a single individual, and would not even be involved in prostitution as it has traditionally been understood.

    Compare: when I was student there was a bloke on the periphery of my social circle who was known to inject heroin. I would probably have counted him as a friend if asked by some researcher, so if Roberts and co had been doing a ‘student heroin use’ survey at the time- ‘Are you friends with any student who injects heroin?’- I would have come up as a ‘hit’, as it were, as would many other people I knew. But anyone concluding from this that Lancaster had a big student heroin problem in the early 90s would have been totally wrong. Hardly anyone was doing it, and there was little danger of this unwise activity spreading from those who were, since more or less everyone else I knew considered it to be exactly that.

    Incidentally, there’s a shocking non-sequitur in the Times article, since it asserts that the ‘6% of students have a student friend in sex work’ 2006 figure licenses a projection that 8% of are expected to be in sex work in 2008. I take it this is just a mistake, since nothing could justify such an inference, and anyway, I refuse to believe that there is one sex worker on average in every tutorial group I teach. But anyone hastily reading the article could come away with a totally inflated sense of the problem.

    Admittedly, Roberts and co seem to be primarily concerned by the projected doubling in the number of students reporting knowing a student sex worker. This may track a doubling in the number of student sex workers. But it might not. It might track an increased willingness to be upfront about sex work, or some combination of the two. Out of the whole article, the thing that made me most inclined to believe in a significant increase in number was the anecdotal evidence from Cari Mitchell of the English Collective of Prostitutes, since people approaching them will presumably be giving serious consideration to entering sex work themselves. Other than that, I’d want to see a study with a more rigorous methodology before revising my beliefs about the extent of the problem. (Though since I haven’t read it, I concede that perhaps the Roberts study is that study, if the Times article has downplayed its sophistication.)

  3. Very good points there, Seiriol. I had also wondered if the Roberts survey had taken into account such things as gossip and bragging. (But hadn’t gotten round to reading the survey itself to find out.) It’s easy to imagine false rumours circulating that such-and-such a person has done so-and-so for money. It’s also easy to imagine people bragging about things they have done (I once knew a woman who bragged about having given an old man a blowjob for £20 – it was unclear whether or not this was true), or people they know (people brag about how crazy their friends are all the time). Again, this kind of thing would completely skew the results of the questionnaire.

  4. I am student and I do sex work as male escort. But I would do even with cheaper fees. The problem is nos about sex work but about expensive fees.

  5. Can someone tell me what is the emotional damage going into such work? Surely these students are naive to it. Ok so they might enjoy the sex (!) so say they do, they might need the money but besides that – are their not damaging emotional effects in the long run?

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