Twice as many university students are turning to sex work than in 2017, according to a new report, with a lack of financial security being blamed for the rise.
The study found that 4% of undergraduates in the UK admitted to trying sex work, suggesting a figure of around 70,000. Roughly one in 25 students have attempted to work in this field, with one in 4 being male. Some of the types of sex work students reported trying included sending provocative images and videos, sugar dating, and partaking in sexual acts for money.
The study was undertaken by Save the Student, the UK’s largest student money website, who polled 3,385 university students in the UK for their National Student Money Survey 2019 .
The most common forms of sex work, at 18% and 16%, were the exchange of intimate photos and used clothing respectively, while the least common was the involvement in porn at 2%. An additional 6% of students responded to the survey revealing they would consider turning to adult work in emergency financial situations.
Save the Student found that this increase is in direct correlation to the increase cost of living for university students. They reported that the average monthly living costs this year came to £807, in comparison to £770 last year.
A money expert from Save the Student said: “Living costs continue to grossly outweigh the amount of funding available, leaving on average a shortfall of £267 a month according to our latest research”.
Kiki*, a recent graduate from the University of Manchester, worked as a call girl for a few months during her studies. She told The Mancunion that she believes the changing financial and social climate in the UK are the reason for the increase in student sex workers:
“I think it’s becoming more legitimised so there’s less shame surrounding it; students are leaving home and there are a lot more opportunities to experiment and do different things without their parents being around.
“But at the same time there’s an increase in debt. I think combined with the cost of living increasing, the more we separate from the welfare state and go into the market economy, there’s this huge idea that you have to be responsible for yourself and if you get ill it’s your own problem. So there’s more pressure to be independent and it’s also becoming more normal and more acceptable to go into that kind of work, although the downside of that is that the laws aren’t changing alongside that.”
Abbey*, a Fashion Buying student in Manchester, became involved with sex work during her first year in university. Speaking to Save the Student, she said: “My student loan came in and I still couldn’t cover my rent, credit card, or overdraft. I desperately needed the money, and was just about to start my exams so didn’t have time for a ‘proper’ job.
“I sold photos/videos online as this was the easiest way I found for making money quickly. I also offered live chat and webcam chat services. I found the whole thing more and more draining and degrading but carried on as I needed the money. It was a vicious cycle.”
Selina*, a recent Genetics graduate has postponed further education to pursue her career in sex work: “I started adult work at the end of my first year, so I’ve been in it 2 years and am now making sex work my primary income. There are jobs available in Genetics but they’re very competitive. Working 9-5 for a low wage, when I could earn a lot more in a lot less time doing work I enjoy, seemed like a no-brainer.”
*Names have been changed on request.