Nearly a quarter of students consider sex work, study finds

Some students are turning to the sex industry to cover basic living expenses and reduce debt, according to Swansea University research

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The Independent Online

Nearly a quarter of students have considered sex work, with some turning to the industry to avoid debt and cover basic living expenses, according to a major research project.

The study by Swansea University suggests that while 22 per cent of students have considered working in the sex industry, one in 20 had worked done so while studying for a degree , and that men were more likely to be involved than women.

More than 6,750 students from across the UK took part in what is thought to be the largest ever study of its kind.

It covered a range of occupations, from prostitution and escorting to indirect sex work such as phone sex chat, glamour modelling and erotic dancing. It also covered students working in “auxiliary and organisational” sex industry work like driving and escort management.

Findings suggest that 39 per cent of students who went in to sex work did so to reduce debt at the end of their course, 64 per cent were motivated by “earning money to fund a lifestyle”, 56 per cent wanted to meet basic living expenses and 45 per cent wanted to avoid debt generally.

In a statement, NUS Wales said it was “concerned” about the number of students apparently turning to sex work as a means of covering basic living expenses.

Rosie Inman, NUS Wales Women’s Officer, said:  “NUS Wales recognises that sex work can be a choice for students, as the nature of the work allows them the flexibility to keep up with the rigours of study, while funding their living costs.

“However we are concerned that so many students reported that covering basic living expenses was a strong factor in their decision to enter sex work.”

“The main priority must be to maintain the wellbeing of students involved in sex work, not to stigmatise them.”

Other motivational factors for joining the sex industry were listed, with 59 per cent saying they would enjoy the work, 54 per cent saying they were curious about working in the industry, 45 per cent wanted to work in the industry and 44 per cent were motivated by sexual pleasure.

But up to a quarter reported that they found it difficult to leave the industry, and one in four did not feel safe in their work.

Tracey Sagar, who co-led the study, said that it was viral that universities better understood student sex work issues.

“We now have firm evidence that students are engaged in the sex industry across the UK. The majority of these keep their occupations secret and this is because of social stigma and fears of being judged by family and friends.”

She said that stereotyping was problematic, because although only a third of those researched were men, 5 per cent of those taking part in the survey were involved in sex work – compared to nearly 3.5 per cent of the women taking part.

“Sex work is widely but wrongly perceived to be an occupation that is predominantly taken up by women and this means that males may fall through the student support net because they are not associated with sex work occupations,” she added.

The study by Swansea University’s Centre for Criminal Justice and Criminology was carried out online, with nearly half of respondents from Wales.