Here's the Outrageous Reason Why Students Are Becoming Sex Workers

August 20th 2015

Kyle Jaeger

More students are picking up extra money using sex work—but no, it's not some new trend in the sociology of sex. It's because they want to graduate from college without incurring a massive amount of student loan debt.

The average student borrower enters the professional world with more than $28,000 in debt, according to Institute for College Access and Success. So in an effort to make tuition more manageable and afford basic living expenses, some students are seeking out opportunities to supplement their incomes in ways that some might consider unconventional. Sex work is among those options.

Though continually stigmatized, the number of student sex workers is on the rise: thousands are signing up to entertain clients as "camgirls," women who charge subscribers for live video chats, through online services such as MyGirlFund, Fusion reported. About one third of the more than 10,000 women who work for the site are in college, exchanging custom videos and live-chat sessions for money that goes, in many cases, toward tuition.

"I used to be a manager of an adult store, so I guess I always played around with the idea of camming or any kind of sex work," Valarie (who asked that her real name be withheld) told Fusion. "My family has no money, so when this opportunity came up, I was like, 'Wow this is real, I can do this, I'm comfortable with it, it's really gonna make a difference.'"

MyGirlFund and other online services like it are part of a growing number of sex work options available to students. Camming is only one of several jobs that fall under the "sex work" category, which also includes escort jobs, modeling, porn, and stripping. It is important to avoid drawing conclusions about students sex workers, however, because while there may be broader trends at play, the reasons that a particular person chooses to enter the trade can vary dramatically.

In March, researchers at Swansea University, in the United Kingdom, released a study that analyzed data from the Student Sex Work Project, a UK-based organization that promotes learning and understanding of student sex worker needs. They found that approximately five percent of students in the UK have been employed as sex workers in one capacity or another, and 20 percent (one in five college students) have considered doing sex work as a means of paying their way through college.

"The sex industry is present in the lives of students across the UK, albeit most students who engage in the sex industry do this on a rather irregular and short-term basis," the researchers concluded. "Sex work may become a temporary, quick solution to an urgent money problem but it may also be seen as something that can be pleasurable and exciting."

"The biggest challenge for student sex workers is related to dealing with the stigmatization and managing secrecy. Safety and dealing with unpleasant clients are also important negative aspects of the work while having good clients is an important reason for liking the work. Students engaged in direct sex work are in need of more specialized support."

Between the rising costs of higher education and the difficulty of finding employment that pays a living wage, college students often find themselves in particularly vulnerable and inflexible positions when it comes to balancing studies and work. For some, sex work represents an appealing alternative, allowing students to pursue degrees while also earning enough money to pay the bills.

That's part of what got Miriam Weeks interested in the trade. Inadequate financial aid and limited job prospects left the Duke University undergraduate contemplating dropping out—but after she realized how high the demand was for porn actresses, Weeks assumed an alias (Belle Knox) and gave sex work a shot. When she was outed by a peer who recognized her last year, Weeks did not shy away from the attention; instead, she embraced the press and used it as an opportunity to speak out against inflated tuition costs.

"[E]ven after student aid, I faced a $47,000 bill to attend Duke University," Weeks wrote in an op-ed published by Time. "My turn to porn to close the gap was so famous, in part, due to my reasoning. Faced with either a degree from a less prestigious school or decades of crushing debt, a few hours of work on a porn set revealed itself to be the best way to avoid getting screwed."

"Everyone is focused on my decision to perform in porn to pay my tuition. Let’s start paying attention to what got me here. Sky-high tuition bills result from a culture, from our President on down, telling every kid to go to college, regardless of their future plans or ability to graduate. And they result from schools being all-too-happy to raise prices to catch all the money flowing from the federal spigot."