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A fascinating new report on student involvement in the UK sex industry

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This fascinating research article was published on 19th September

Student involvement in the UK sex industry: motivations and experiences


The Student Sex Work Project was set up in 2012 in the United Kingdom (UK) to locate students who are involved in the sex industry, to discover their motivations and needs, and in doing so provide an evidence base to consider the development of policy and practice within Higher Education. As part of this initiative, a large survey was undertaken comprising students from throughout the UK. Reporting on the findings from this survey, the article sheds some light on what occupations students take up in the sex industry, what motivates their participation and how they experience the work. The study also offers a much-needed empirical input to the ongoing academic debates on the nature of sex work. The results suggest that there can be little doubt of a student presence within the sex industry in the UK. The motivations and experiences of student sex workers cover elements of agency and choice as well as of force and exploitation and it is suggested that student sex work is best understood from a polymorphous framework which leaves room for a wide variety of experiences and challenges.

For those who are able to get past the paywall to read the whole article (perhaps by visiting their public library) there is a whole slew of interesting findings and observations, some more predictable than others including:

  • Proportionately more male (5.0 per cent) than female respondents (3.4 per cent) were involved in the sex industry. Male participation was significantly higher than female participation for activities referring to direct sex work.  It was a major unexpected finding that male students were proportionately more involved in prostitution than female students. It is possible that the neglect of men in sex work research has led to a general misconception of men’s involvement in the industry.
  • With regard to the positive aspects of the work, 220 respondents completed this question.  Overall, ‘good money’ and ‘flexible hours’ were ticked most often. The elements ‘good money’ and ‘sexual pleasure’ were indicated more often by those selling direct sexual services.
  • The question on negative elements of the work was completed by 211 respondents. Of the 21 options that were offered, ‘secrecy’ was mentioned most often. While ‘fear of violence’ was also mentioned rather frequently, the item ‘violence’ itself was only mentioned by 15.2 per cent
  • Respondents involved in direct sex work (prostitution) were more likely to fear violence, feel unsafe and experience a negative effect on how they viewed sex but they were also more likely to report sexual pleasure, good clients and good money as positive elements
  • The positive and negative experiences of working in the sex industry were related to the underlying motivations for doing the work.
    • Those for whom financial and practical reasons were important for entering the sex industry, were more likely to mention the good money, flexible hours and to a lesser extent freedom of employment regulations as positive elements of their work, but they were also more likely to mention secrecy, negative judgements from friends and family, sexual exploitation and competition with other sex workers as negative elements.
    • For those who were more motivated by intrinsic reasons, especially sexual pleasure, good working conditions and freedom from employment regulations were seen as positive elements and they were less likely to mention negative effects on self-esteem.
    • Those who felt forced were not more likely to mention any positive element but indicated a range of perceived negative elements, especially a negative effect on self esteem and sexual exploitation, followed by lack of employment rights and fear of violence.
  • Shedding some much needed light on the experiences of student sex workers, the data also revealed elements of agency and choice as well as force and exploitation. Importantly therefore, the researchers concluded that "student sex work is best understood through a polymorphous model and not an oppression model".



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