There is something quite intoxicating about being given a handful of cash, all yours, to take away at the end of a shift. A tangible reward for your work, instant gratification that is directly correlated to the services you just did.
You end up counting your finances in terms of men and acts. If I give three blowjobs plus two full service clients that will be enough to cover my living expenses for the week.
Sometimes sex work is incredibly lucrative. I have walked out of a nine hour shift with $2700. I have also walked out of a nine hour shift with $0. Just my condom bag, and no money to cover the taxi ride home. The peaks and lulls of sex work follow no rhyme or reason. You can send yourself mad attempting to follow patterns, chart the high earning points.
Unfortunately the cash flow when work is good can—especially when you are new to the industry—trick you into a false sense of security around your future income, and give you the idea that you’ll always have money at hand.
Sex workers in establishments fall in a weird legal grey area in Australia, where I work. We are meant to be independent contractors yet are fined for obligatory shifts we don’t show up to, and are accountable to our “bosses.” In many ways are treated like employees, yet we don’t have the benefits or protections of being employees. No sick pay. No workers compensation. No work cover. No superannuation or 401(k) as it’s called in the US.
Because our job falls outside of the norm, and it’s often not viewed as legitimate, we’re not taught about these things. It can be easy—especially in a society and industry that pushes women to spend on clothes, beauty, and plastic surgery under the guise of empowerment and self-care—to think of all your income as “disposable” because there is always more men, more money, where that came from.
When I first started sex work at age 20, I worked with a woman in her 40s who had been working for 20 years and was a single mum supporting her three children. She had no savings, was living week to week, and as she aged and the appeal of youth left her, her earning powers were diminishing. It is a tough industry for women who are no longer “young.” As are all industries that are partly predicated on women’s looks, like modeling or acting.
This woman used to say to me, often, that she wished she could go back to when she was my age—when she earned money more easily because of her youth—and this time, she would save money, rather than spend under the assumption that she would always earn at the same rate.
I listened to her, and I saved.
If I had a good week I would try to save 50 percent of my income, which I was only able to do because I was lucky enough to not have any dependents. I started a retirement account and contributed to it myself. I squirreled away money as a nest egg to safeguard against economic downturn, the industry being over-saturated and personal injury.
A friend of mine once broke her ankle and had to have two months off work. She had to borrow money off me to make it through that period in which she couldn’t work. She was earning as much as me but had nothing saved. Why?
I believe it’s because women are encouraged to dispose of our incomes, because we are not taught to be financially savvy, to invest, to protect ourselves; even though we are the ones who are living in poverty in greater numbers come our old age. Who often have far, far less savings accumulated at the end of a lifetime than men, because of the gender pay gap and the devaluing of traditionally feminine labor.
These things compound when it comes to sex work, because of the dismissal of our work as legitimate work, and the fact that it can be very difficult to operate in the system. In South Australia, where sex work is illegal, you can’t declare your earnings without lying about where they come from.
Women who don’t want people to know they do sex work keep their cash hidden at home, rather than investing it and drawing attention to their income. Banks decline our home loans because our job isn’t seen as real and dependable.
I love my job—because of the financial access and stability it has given me, because of the free time it allows me, and the independence that comes along with both of those. I love that if I have something happen that requires an amount of cash I don’t have, I can call up a brothel and work every day for a week and make the money that I need. I love feeling that the effort I expend with a client is directly translated into cash for my life, tit for tat.
I am grateful for that older working woman for drilling into me the importance of saving money though, because without that— working within infrastructure that doesn’t acknowledge or support sex workers—I could be living stressfully from week to week after five years of work, in the same way many of my friends are.
When the economy isn’t set up to support women and sex workers, we need to support ourselves through proactively saving money. Because God knows no one else is going to look out for us.
You can learn more about the legal rights and social inequality of sex workers by visiting and supporting the work of The Sex Workers Project in the US, and The Scarlett Alliance in Australia.