Sex sells, but does it when the price of almost everything has gone up?
Sex worker Jenna Love is a Sydney, Australia-based escort, and she’s currently watching her industry adapt to these strained financial times.
When you are a sex worker, you are relying on people having a disposable income, so Ms. Love saw the cost of living crisis coming from a mile away.
“We feel the pinch with this stuff quite early on,” she said.
There’s no denying that plenty of people are financially strapped at the moment.
The US also continues to grapple with inflation, with the rate currently at nearly 3%.
People are cutting back on expenses, with a recent CNBC and Morning Consult Poll finding that 92% of US consumers are spending less.
So where does that leave sex workers?
If people can’t justify mince, can they justify paying for intimacy? The answer is complicated.
Ms. Love’s unique job gives her insight into the general vibe of wealth in Australia. For instance, she flagged when the building industry was drying up way before anyone was writing about construction companies collapsing.
She simply noticed she was booking less appointments with tradies paying in cash.
She also flagged early the trend of Gen Z staying at home longer after chatting with her younger clients.
“People in their twenties, they don’t see how they could move out.”
Given Ms Love makes a living by dealing with people — and often people at their most vulnerable — she’s very aware of how the cost of living is impacting her clients, and therefore her and the sex industry in Australia.
Across the broader sex industry, Ms Love knows from speaking with other sex workers that times are tough, and people aren’t making the money they used to.
“People are pretty worried.
“If you have regulars, you will get through, but if you aren’t established, it’s a real struggle,” she told news.com.au.
The nature of sex work is to make yourself seem desirable and in-demand.
It’s basic marketing, but it means you are never going to see an escort reveal she’s having trouble getting enough private bookings to make rent, and that means even when things are tough, the sex industry looks misleadingly glamorous.
“Lots of people in my industry are struggling at the moment, I speak to women who are getting only one booking a month,” she said.
“You aren’t going to put on your marketing that you are doing really poorly. We have got to put out this image that we are really successful.”
For every OnlyFans success story, Ms Love knows plenty of sex workers who are currently “barely making rent.”
A spokesman from Scarlet Alliance, the Australian Sex Workers Association Sex workers, confirmed that sex workers are feeling the “pinch” during the cost of living crisis.
“We face the same inflationary pressures as all other workers – including increasing costs for food, mortgages or rents, electricity, and so on.”
The spokesman said sex workers are in a more vulnerable position than other Aussie workers.
“Due to stigma, discrimination, and criminalization in some states and territories, sex workers may find it harder to access government and other supports. We saw this during the COVID-19 response, and we encourage any sex worker doing it tough to get in touch with their local sex worker organization for support and appropriate referrals.”
Ms Love explains she’s in a “lucky” position in the industry because she’s an established sex worker and has regulars, but even she’s noticed a shift in her demand and bookings.
Yes, she has her regulars, but some have cut back from coming once a week to once a month or fortnight.
“There’s been a reduction,” she tells news.com.au.
“I used to be heavily booked and have a waitlist, and I’m not in that position these days. But I do still have enough bookings.”
A single hour spent with Ms Love will set you back $600 ($420 USD), but she’s not planning to lower her rates.
Remember the price of tomatoes?
While she understands if clients can’t afford to keep visiting her, she’s not prepared to lower her costs at a time when all her personal bills are going up.
She does offer a “cuddles and chat” option, which is only $250 ($165 USD) per hour, but that service involves no sex.
It was an idea that stemmed from the pandemic when she realised how many people were just starved of touch, and something she’s kept on as the cost of living pressures increase.
“It was also in my mind because things were starting to get tough for us all, well, most of us besides the 1 per cent.”
So does she think sex work is drying up? Well, no.
Ms Love thinks there will always be a demand for “intimacy” and “human connection,” but the bigger question is will Aussies keep being able to pay for it?
Sex sells, but you have to be able to afford it.