Duke University freshman Belle Knox made big waves this month after announcing to the world that she was doing porn to put herself through college. In an effort to reduce the “significant financial burden” on her family, Knox took up sex work and has never been happier. As Knox wrote at xoJane, “My experience in porn has been nothing but supportive, exciting, thrilling, and empowering.”
But maybe the picture isn’t as bright as Knox says for most college student sex workers. At The Atlantic, Noah Berlatsky interviewed multiple college-aged sex workers, and one of the young women he interviewed didn’t feel as if porn was a particularly empowering experience.
The young woman, identified only as “L,” entered sex work as a way to “reclaim [her] sexuality and sexual presentation after a series of sexual assaults,” but things didn’t go as well as she’d hoped. “I applied for every job I could find and rarely got a phone call. I couldn’t make enough money through modeling without taking on jobs I wasn’t comfortable with. I was desperate and down to the wire on rent payment when I answered an ad to ‘become a dominatrix.’ I’ve been working in the industry ever since. My experience hasn’t been positive, and I’d rather leave sooner than later.”
As with most things in life, it looks as if sex work for young women is very much a your-mileage-may-vary type situation. Not every woman in sex work is going to have a great experience, but then not all women are going to enjoy their jobs as models, accountants, or teachers. It’s ridiculous to assume that because some women have had negative experiences in the sex work industry, that all women who are sex workers hate their lives and wish they had better job options. In fact, it’s quite the opposite for many.
Berlatsky spoke with sex worker and University of Nevada Ph.d candidate Christina Perreira, who pointed out that for her, sex work was just a common sense economic decision. She said:
“I could have probably been just fine without sex work and scraped by on meager assistantships, but I like money. I associate money with security, and I like not having to worry. I especially like that I can focus on school without having to work an extra 10 hours a week for low pay. Sex work was a logical decision for me, and a way to work on a Ph.D. while also being financially comfortable.”
Unfortunately, cultural factors mean that sex workers face a lot of stigma, whether or not they decide to out themselves. Belle Knox faced thousands of threats of death and violence after coming out, and police really didn’t seem to care. One can imagine that the stigma is much worse for less-privileged women — those who aren’t young, white, and attending Duke.
Whatever a young woman's financial situation, she should be able to choose work that empowers her, and if that work is prostitution, being a professional dominatrix, or hosting a weekly webcam show, that's her prerogative. The people who are clutching their pearls over such "promising" young women doing porn should probably be proud of these young women for taking their personal economic destiny into their own hands.