Sociology Magazine about students and sex work
On March 2016, Sociology Magazine published an article about students and sex work. An high class escort from Society Service was interviewed. The original article was published in Dutch but an English translation can be found below.
Students and sex work in The Netherlands
Due to higher study expenses increasing numbers of Dutch students go for a well-paid job as a sex worker. “I have to lie a lot to people I care about, like my family and friends”
“More and more students choose a job in prostitution. As a result of increasing study expenses these students prefer a well-paid job in prostitution over a poorly paid job in catering or as cleaners. In the Netherlands no specific numbers are known, but in neighboring countries it’s already been reported on for several years by the media and science. In France 2% of all students (40,000 students) work in prostitution (Van der Wagen and others, 2010; The Guardian, 2006). In England, the number of British students who are working as sex workers has doubled in the last 6 years (Sunday Times, 2006). According to a study by Swansea University in Wales is 4.8% of the students have ever worked in the sex industry and one in every five students concidered to work in prostitution. What holds them back is often the stigma associated with the profession (Sagar, Jones et al. 2015). For this reason, an initial exploratory research at the University of Amsterdam is being carried out in a partnership between teachers and students to see what the situation is with the students working in the sex industry.”
Prostitute or sex worker looks to becoming an increasingly attractive profession for highly skilled men and women in the Netherlands (van der Wagen, Daalder, Bijleveld, 2010). The number of scientific studies on this group of sex workers is still very limited. Research shows that most students reported as the main reason the combination of money, power, pleasure and attention to do this type of work. Many students work at an escortservice or as a self-employed escort. The escort service offers many advantages according to the students: it is well paid (more than all the other student jobs), has more prestige than other forms of sex work, is more invisible, and you’re less dependent on third parties. An important advantage of this form of sex work is that it provides an opportunity as a freelancer to work on a part time basis.
Lyle (21 years), sex work is the ideal part-time job. From the beginning of his studies in political science at the University of Amsterdam, he is self-employed in the escort service. Through a gay website on the internet, he makes contact with his male customers. The reason why he works as an escort is very simple, he says: “It is the only possible way for men in prostitution. Besides the Internet, or to pick up customers in a bar or on the street, there are no other options for male sex workers. This is also because the Internet culture is more developed for homosexual men, Lyle explains. An important advantage of this form of sex work is that you can work for yourself and have more control than in other forms of sex work. Especially when you work for yourself as Lyle: “I am completely independent. I can work independently, can easier say no to a customer, set my own prices and manage my own customer base. “Especially the flexible working hours are ideal” he says. Every month I have a different schedule, and here I do not spend much time with it. It was different when I was working at the store and worked long hours for little money.” An important aspect of the work, he thinks, is that he can do something for a lot of people. One of the major misconceptions that exists about prostitution in the Netherlands is the customer view, Lyle says: “Many people struggle with their sexuality and they have nowhere to go with it. Sometimes customers are looking for students, as a kind of fetish, but usually they are looking for me because they are looking for an intellectual depth. As a sex worker, you need good communication skills. It really is not just about sex. It’s more than that.”
Dynamics and challenges
Despite the fact that prostitution was legalized in 2000, it is still a controversial profession in the Netherlands. One of the problems students encounter are the negative image surrounding the work. The stigma surrounding sex work is high, says Lyle. That’s why he wants to tell his story. “That stigma is much more important than issues surrounding STDs or safety. Through that stigma you can not go anywhere.” He thinks there should be more openness in the Netherlands to discuss clients. “Customers are often very vulnerable. They often have difficulties to give substance to intimacy and sexuality. More openness about this can also contribute to the destimatisering of sex work,” said Lyle. He says he is not very burdened by the stigma. “I’m very open. It depends on the people how they deal with it and if it troubles me. I’m mostly surrounded by progressive people. They deal with this differently from example people in the village in Belgium I am from. Of course I have gone through a personal battle and it has taken some time for me to be at peace with it and dared to be open about it.” This is very different for Roos and Ellen. They prefer to keep their job secret to the outside world. Because of the stigma, many students lead a double life, like Ellen, who prefers not to mention what studies she does and only wants to answer our questions anonymously. “I have to lie a lot to the people I care about, like family and friends, and that’s not only complicated but also very morally wrong. I would prefer not to lie at all.” To prevent a whole in her cv, many students combine sex work with an other job, like Roos: “When I want to have a public function later on and people start digging into my background, that can be dangerous. I could not have a government job because I have a past open to blackmail.”
A separate group within student sex work is the group Chinese students. Since the early 90-ties, more and more Chinese students are working in Chinese massage establishments in The Netherlands. It is estimated at least half of these establishments also provide sexual services, among which the famous happy ending, meaning the manual stimulation of a male client (Bottenberg en Janssen, 2012). When the masseuse provides a happy ending, the money she makes is seen as a tip by many salon owners and it’s hers to keep. This group of female students are between 20 and 28 and come from well off families in China. In most cases, students are mostly financially supported by their families during their studies. The Chinese students work the the massage salons to make some extra cash to travel, go out partying and buy clothing. To most students, the salary is relatively high. What they make as a masseuse compared to other jobs is the most appealing part of the job. Many Chinese students do not openly discuss their work with their family due to the prostitution stigma. They tell them they are working in a Chinese restaurant or spa. Yu tells us: “I tell my parents and my friends I am working as a shampoo girl (hairdresser). I tell them I also provide massage, but always add it’s normal professional Chinese massage.”
The students tell us their work isn’t for everybody: “You need to have a certain personality to do this line of work. You need to be confident, able to deal with clients, know your boundaries and communicate them. That has little to do with age. Of course, the older you are, the easier this is, but personality is more important than age.” The the question which character traits belong to this job the answer is: “It is important to feel what a client wants and what they are like. In addition it’s great if you can talk well and set your own boundaries.” When asking if they think the university would support them, the students mention they think it’s important to enable discussion about sex work, and look at different aspects and views. In addition, they feel feel the need for research for the needs of student sex workers. Is there enough healthcare? Can they talk about t” How can we assure more safety? In addition to providing information about for example legal position in terms of force or abuse, think about creating resilience amongst students and dealing with the stigma. Important issues that will be taken into consideration in the research.