LOS ANGELES—As Duke gets its dainty panties in a twist over its porn-making female undergrad who may at the moment be the most invisibly visible student in America, it might be a good time to remember that covering college tuition by way of sex work is the world's second oldest profession; admittedly a kissing cousin of the first, but different enough to warrant its own place on the list of world's oldest professions.
This is said not to mitigate the travails that our now infamous undergrad says she has had to endure as a student at Duke, about which she told the college paper earlier this month, "I think that being a woman at Duke is extremely difficult. I think that being a sexual woman at Duke is extremely difficult." No, as AVN noted yesterday, [unnamed undergrad] has thus far acquitted herself with enviable poise and rare eloquence as the inevitable media storm swirls around her.
But the fact remains that she is engaged in time-honored conduct, and not something particularly unusual or noteworthy. And while it may be true that most college students who decide to earn money through sex work probably don't go straight to porn, it is hardly unheard of. Be that as it may, the larger point is that you don't have to look far to find other stories about the intersection of university and sex work, both here and abroad.
There is, for example, the story of the six San Francisco-area strip clubs that just placed an ad in The Daily Californian—UC Berkeley's student newspaper—"looking for college students who want to cover their tuition costs and pick their own work hours," reported the New York Daily News. "The ad directs interested parties to call or apply in person at Garden of Eden, Condor, Roaring 20s, Centerfolds, Little Darlings or Hungry I."
The ad reads, “Are you fun, flirty and a little adventurous? Then we are interested in meeting you! You don’t need experience. Make your own schedule. Great money to be made — in CASH. Professional management teams are in place at these SF locations to help you achieve your financial goals while in school.” No, it isn't porn, but as far as proximity to the industry goes, adult performers regularly, and increasingly, feature at these sorts of clubs, if not these actual clubs.
And in case you're thinking the clubs are spinning their wheels and will attract only a minuscule percentage of people in college, or even interested in college, a new study out of the United Kingdom might alter that assumption.
According to Times Higher Education, "Almost a third of strip club dancers are students, with many using the cash earned to support themselves throughout their studies, according to research by University of Leeds academics, who interviewed about 200 dancers in towns and cities across the UK."
Interestingly, the co-author of the study, Teela Sanders, a reader in sociology at Leeds, said that many of the students are from affluent backgrounds and appear "not to be motivated by the potentially high financial gains of the industry."
Rather, she told the site, they saw themselves as "dancers, not sex workers," adding, “They enjoyed dressing up to go out and many say it wasn’t too different to heading out on a night out."
However, the study also found that "students recruited to work in such venues often faced financial exploitation, with 70 per cent reporting that they had sometimes earned nothing from a night’s work owing to charges imposed by the clubs."
According to Sanders, “They were often willing to wait for that one big client when they might earn £500 in one night."
She added that "many students continued to work in strip clubs after leaving university because they struggled to get by on low-paid graduate jobs," but only a minority said they morphed into hardcore sex work or prostitution. She also claimed that students represent the “core supply group into the sex industries," and that the clubs have increased their efforts to target students, even going so far as to attend "freshers’ week events with recruitment leaflets."
The effort to directly target college-aged individuals who actually happen to attend college is not the purview of just strip clubs, however. Sugar Daddy website SeekingArrangement.com last month released a list of the nation's "Top 20 Fastest Growing Sugar Baby Schools," and the LA Weekly was quick to point out that one of Southern California's most expensive schools—the University of Southern California—ranked number 8. With annual tuition hovering around the $60,000 mark, USC is definitely in the same ballpark as Duke, by the way.
But the SeekingArrangement.com list, if accurate, also indicates a dramatic increase in the number of women who have jumped on the "sugar daddy" bandwagon. According to the Weekly, "The site says 1 million students tried it out in 2013, and that the average take-home for a successful 'sugar baby' is $3,000 a month (if you can believe that)." It also claimed "54 percent growth, with students making up 42 percent of its users."
We're not sure we do believe all of SeekingArrangement's claims, but neither do we doubt that colleges have been and will remain viable recruitment centers for sex work. Neither is it an American phenomenon, as indicated by the U.K. study. Indeed, as the percentage of people who go to college increases along with tuition, the lure of sex work will remain an attractive alternative to traditional jobs for many students. But changing attitudes will also profoundly alter the landscape in terms of what is considered an acceptable way to pay for school, even for those who already have the money! It's already changing, though the Duke episode indicates we have a way to go on some campuses.
Duke, by the way, was nowhere to be seen on the SeekingArrangement.com list.
Oh, and lest we forget, college students have long been known to conjure creative ways to pay for their education. Second oldest profession, baby.