Though easing restrictions and vaccination rates continue to paint a brighter future all across the country, clocking into work amid
the ongoing coronavirus pandemic continues to be increasingly dangerous for some and entirely impossible for others. Nationwide stay-at-home orders, concerns about virus exposure and transmission, dwindling vaccination rates, and mixed signals from state and local governments regarding it all have made it extremely difficult for sex workers to make a living. And even though digital platforms for sex work provide some relief, COVID-19 has completely upended the lives of sex workers all across the country.
Coupling the pandemic with the fact that as of January 2021, the
United States unemployment rate was 6.3%, 13.5 million adults were behind on rent, and 35% of adults were struggling to pay for regular household expenses has meant many people didn't have the disposable income to visit the strip clubs that were open , or to seek services from sex workers. To make matters even more dire, most sex workers do not qualify for government aid. According to U.S. federal law, those who " present live performances of a prurient sexual nature" are ineligible to receive government disaster loans and grant assistance. The same goes for people earning income "through the sale of products or services, or the presentation of any depictions or displays" of a sexual nature. Many sex workers are ineligible for unemployment benefits because they're independent contractors, and those who are eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance are at the mercy of their state's regulations. As a result, many have turned to the internet to provide their services virtually to a wider audience at a lower cost.
A representative from OnlyFans told Mashable
the total number of user and creator accounts on the platform "nearly doubled" from February to August of 2020. JustFor.Fans, a subscription-based adult content site, has gained popularity in the adult industry for its anti-piracy protections, dedicated storefronts for products and services, and looser kink bans than OnlyFans. And SextPanther — a site that lets models call, sext, and send photos to subscribers from their phones — makes it possible for users to make money on the go.
More than one year into the start of the pandemic, sex workers are still finding innovative ways to fulfill fantasies, create community, empower themselves, and keep a roof over their heads. Here's how seven sex workers have stayed afloat and adapted their lives to the digital-first world of the pandemic.
"I lost about 85% of my income overnight."
I’ve been in the sex industry for almost 10 years. I've performed full-service escorting, I've been a fetish model, and I've been a professional dominatrix. I was also in the porn industry. Prior to the pandemic, 60% of my income came from explicit sexual services. About 40% of my income was non-explicit sex work like intimacy coaching with singles, couples, and non-monogamous configurations, and sexual health and education work. Once the pandemic hit, both of those industries became obsolete, because both [lanes of sex work] required me to be in close physical contact with one or more individuals. I lost about 85% of my income overnight.
Around the second week of March 2020, I started getting
Sanctuary virtual strip club [a digital strip show with several dancers] together. Just like any other sex work, it’s unpredictable at best. Some nights, I walk away making $350 after three hours. Some nights, I walk away with $70. It varies widely and it’s difficult to predict trends, since the state of being under COVID-19 is [still] so [relatively] new.
Andre Shakti, 29
"The pandemic has actually helped me."
I’ve been doing sex work since February 2020. I do OnlyFans,
JustFor.Fans [an "adulting blogging platform and marketplace," similar to OnlyFans], and Sextpanther [an online adult messaging and calling platform]. I also sell custom photo sets and videos, I offer Skype shows, and I do sexting through messenger apps.
Some months have been hit or miss, but overall, I think people are bored, lonely, and horny at home! I’ve made some really great connections. So, personally, the pandemic [and being new to sex work at the beginning of the pandemic] has actually helped me.
But I think as the pandemic went on and people stopped taking it less seriously, things have steadily started to slow down again. I've gained a few regulars who have stuck through and used my services throughout the whole pandemic, so that’s truly been wonderful.
Ivy Moon, 24
"It’s been a huge hit to my income and ability to provide for myself."
I’m a model and dominatrix, and I also
make digital adult content. I’ve been a dominatrix for 10 years, and a nude/fetish model for 12. Due to the pandemic, I’ve relied so much on my online presence and ability to create digitally marketable content to make any semblance of an income at all. The safety of myself and my partner depends on that.
Sex work during the pandemic is definitely completely different and very difficult. Seeing clients in person is impossible, or at the very least, hard to coordinate with COVID-19 testing, isolation, and proper preventative measures. It’s been a huge hit to my income and ability to provide for myself, but we're all making do with what we can at the moment.
Justine Marie, 31
"We’re all desperate for that human connection that the stage allows us."
I am a burlesque performer and have been for 10 years.
I also create online content and perform in virtual strip club shows. It’s really been a mixed bag with how this pandemic has changed my life. La Petite Mystique, a Portland burlesque performer and producer, told me about her idea to create a burlesque show where followers on Instagram could vote on what performers will wear, how they’ll do their makeup, and what music to use.
Together we started working on what is now
“Build-Your-Own Burlesque,” a regular burlesque show where the audience makes the choices... Finding a way to connect with performers and the audience became incredibly important, since we’re all desperate for that human connection that the stage allows us.
Kinky Slippers, 28
"I was forced to go into sex work survival mode."
I currently participate in selling online goods and services, along with custom content, predominantly
through OnlyFans. But I've been doing this work for 10 years now. Before the pandemic, my sex work actually took a backseat for some of my other work — including starting my own business, which became successful but was completely destroyed by the pandemic. I was forced to somewhat go into sex work survival mode for the first time in years.
As of now, I'm not fully ready to meet in person, as I believe there are still some risks. I am lucky enough to be predominantly based online and making a comfortable living this way.
Ms. Gigggles, 29
"The pandemic has required that we get very creative."
I'm a live and virtual dominatrix and fetish trainer. I do
camming on OnlyFans and all the sites! I'm also a licensed clinical psychotherapist. I have been practicing for over 16 years and have a private practice, Blue Pearl Therapy. Life as a sex worker prior to the pandemic included a lot of traveling, live shows, and sessioning with clients all over the world. [My business and romantic partner, King Noire, and I] were on tour for our workshops, seminars, and college lectures, and the tour came to an abrupt stop at the end of February 2020, so I have been self-isolating since that time with my family.
The pandemic has called for us to pivot
to 100% virtual work. It has required that we get very creative with managing all the moving parts in our household and business demands. It has been challenging to find the time and space, but also very much a testament to our ability to work as a team and be totally resilient.
[In running my production company, Royal Fetish Films], we are utilizing testing, very small quarantine pods, and a COVID compliance officer to mitigate risk in an intimate setting. We are also feeling more confident with having the vaccine available.
Jet Setting Jasmine, 40
"I'm finally able to achieve my goals."
I do kink modeling,
nude photography, stripping, burlesque, and camming. I've been a sex worker for about a year and a half, and I love it. I see what non-binary and trans-masc representation brings to folks, and it pushes me forward. The stripping scene has gotten better for me because brick-and-mortar strip clubs in my area are very cis/hetero-focused. Places like Sanctuary have opened doors for me... I've started producing virtual shows as well. Giving a platform for mainly queer, trans, and BIPOC performers has always been a goal of mine and I'm finally able to achieve it.
Eli , 24
If you're interested in aiding sex workers who are struggling to make ends meet, follow and subscribe to those whose content you enjoy. You can also donate to sex work advocacy organizations like
GLITS, LysistrataMCCF, the Sex Worker Outreach Project, SWOP Behind Bars, and SNAPCO (Solutions Not Punishment Collective). Take the time to see if there are sex worker advocacy and resources in your region — such as DECRIM NY, DECRIM NOW DC, the Chicago Sex Worker Emergency Mutual Aid Fund, or the Atlanta-based Homeless Black Trans Woman Fun.
Remember: Sex work is work, period. The only way to really de-stigmatize it is by supporting sex workers, advocating for their rights, and respecting their businesses. Donating is a great way to do just that.