Sex Workers: Stepping Out of the Shadows: Online sex work and stripping prove safer than prostitution

Online sex work and stripping are potentially safer methods of prostitution. Working online or at clubs decreases the chance of sex workers witnessing or being involved with violent crimes. Online platforms like OnlyFans have thousands of young adults making a higher salary in a month than the average American makes in a year. / photo illustration by Lindsey Pacela
Online sex work and stripping are potentially safer methods of prostitution. Working online or at clubs decreases the chance of sex workers witnessing or being involved with violent crimes. Online platforms like OnlyFans have thousands of young adults making a higher salary in a month than the average American makes in a year. / photo illustration by Lindsey Pacela

Sarah Van Buskirk
Editorial Director

Lindsey Pacela
Contributing Editor

*This story contains graphic information of sexual content and violence. Names of those identified in the story have been altered to protect their identities.

“I can make $74,000 in one month,” a 23-year-old OnlyFans online sex worker, who asked her name not be used for safety reasons, said.

OnlyFans is an online subscription service that is primarily used by sex workers to earn money for their content, which may contain photos, videos and personalized chat rooms with one’s favorite creator.

According to a research project conducted in 2018 called “Beyond the Gaze: Summary Briefing on Internet Sex Work”, 65% reported that they would not take part in sex work if it was not for the Internet.

The study finds that online sex work provides safety and convenience for producers and consumers. The producer needs only a smartphone, and receives such benefits of being self-employed like not operating under the control of a pimp and setting their own rates. 

The lack of physical interaction between the sex worker and solicitor prevents so-called John-on-prostitute violence, which is a common occurrence among street sex workers.

Online sex work is not only a safer option for the worker but for the consumers as well who can request specialized services from the comfort of their own home, diminishing the threat of violence, sex trafficking, drugs and STDs.

“It’s safer than reality — there’s no risk of rape or assault,” the OnlyFans worker said.

According to the “Beyond the Gaze” study, all respondents to the survey who were online sex workers had not experienced sexual assault in the past five years.

And many content creators don’t even do most of the work themselves anymore. 

The OnlyFans worker said that she has a team of people, via an agency that found her on social media, which takes the content she makes at home, and posts it for her. She even took a personality test so her team could understand her emotions, traits and quirks to pose as her in private chats with paying fans. They charge a 20% fee of her overall revenue.

She refuses to create fully nude content, and only takes photos and short videos of her topless or in lingerie, which still makes her a monthly income well over what some people make in a year.

The worker plans on using her OnlyFans money to finish her bachelor’s degree in business and to buy property, before quitting sex work in the next three years. 

OnlyFans profits during Pandemic

When COVID-19 hit in 2020 and everyone was subjected to loneliness, OnlyFans made $1.09 billion, compared to the $380 million in 2020.

The peace of mind OnlyFans offered sex workers over street-based sex work, combined with the isolation the pandemic brought, catapultaed the subscription service into a billion dollar industry. 

Stripping pays student debt

Bay, 22, a junior psychology major at the University of La Verne, who asked that only her stage name be used, dances at a club in Downtown Los Angeles and began sex work in 2021, during the pandemic.

She has experience working in a gentleman’s club and an urban club, which are euphemistic names for strip clubs. A gentleman’s club tends to be primarily one-on-one time with the sex-worker, where quotas are necessary to keep the job. The workers prowl the floor and spark up conversations with lonely men. Once they create a connection, they lure them back to a private room in the back for a dance that can cost up to a few hundred dollars. At an urban club, the clientele is more diverse; women can walk in, dance and expect money to be thrown. Bay normally works at the end of the week, from 1 a.m. to 8 a.m..

The street prostitution scene such as pimping and drugs can find its way into these clubs and Bay knows some girls who have now turned prostitutes. She is frequently asked to perform services outside of the club environment by patrons but always refuses.

Bay said stripping is a ‘gateway’ to prostitution, and a lot of women lose themselves early into the game because of their vulnerability.

She says she uses it to her advantage to be tipped more as the men think that she is playing hard to get by saying ‘no’ and that if they continue to pay her, she will finally say ‘yes’.

Bay saves $1,000 every month towards her tuition, around a fifth of what she makes monthly. She finds it hard to balance studying for exams and dancing late nights at the stripclub. She plans on being a school counselor after graduating in May, 2025.

For some strippers, it’s not about the income, but gaining body positivity and self confidence.

One study, “Effects of pole dance on mental wellbeing and the sexual self-concept—a pilot randomized-controlled trial”, by Jalda Lena Pfeiffer et al. in 2023, found that, “…pole dance has become increasingly popular over the past decade… [it has an] empowering and sexually liberating notion, as the increasing de-stigmatization of pole dancing challenges societal norms and constructions of female sexuality.”

Stripping strengthens self-confidence

Ryder, a Generation X sex worker of 14 years, who asked to use her stage name for privacy reasons, currently dances four days a week at Tropical Lei, a strip club in Upland. She started exotic dancing to financially take care of her kids. At first, she needed to drink to get through the night, but then she realized that she had become an alcoholic.

“I either had to quit the drinking or stop dancing,” Ryder said.

Ryder quit the drinking and never touched alcohol again. She didn’t tell her kids about the job until they had grown up, but said they respected her for doing it. Now, she does it because of the joy it brings her.

A few years ago, Ryder got breast implants, she said, to improve her self confidence and make more money in the profession. However, she recently got them removed and has found that she has matured past the need of physical modifications to maintain her self confidence.

Research shows that online sex work and stripping present a safer form of street prostitution. However, safety remains a concern and is not guaranteed in these legal forms of sex work as solicitors continue to push the boundaries, asking for services outside of the club or online spaces, that are not legal.

Sarah Van Buskirk can be reached at sarah.vanbuskirk@laverne.edu.

Lindsey Pacela can be reached at lindsey.pacela@laverne.edu.

Need Help Now?

If you or a loved one have experienced sex trafficking and are looking for help, call or visit:

Project Sister Rape Crisis Hotline: (909) 626-4357

Project Sister Child Abuse Hotline: (626) 966-4155

Project Sister Website: projectsister.org

Project Resilience Number: (909) 643-1635

Project Resilience Website: project-resilience.org

The National Human Trafficking Hotline: (888) 373-7888

Sex Workers: Stepping Out of the Shadows

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Online sex work and stripping prove safer than prostitution

Sarah Van Buskirk is a senior journalism major with a concentration in print and online journalism. She is the Spring 2024 editorial director for the Campus Times and has recently served as editor-in-chief, sports editor and staff writer. She is also currently a staff photographer for the Campus Times and La Verne Magazine, and a staff writer for La Verne Magazine.

Lindsey Pacela, a senior journalism and psychology major, has worked as the editor-in-chief of La Verne Magazine and news editor for the Campus Times. She is currently a staff photographer for both publications.

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