I’m just as human as the rest of you
Last term, at the ‘THW Legalise the Sex Industry’ Union Debate, a visiting Oxford debater called Imogen Sandler uttered this:
“I was shocked to find out that [sex work] was going on just a hundred yards from where I lived, where I slept, where I ate. This is an issue that touches us all.”
It was painful to see very little reaction in the audience to this blatant demonisation of sex work as something repulsive, unhygienic and infectious.
How dare a prostitute solicit her services within range of our esteemed visiting speaker’s abode? It’s as if she thought the stigma attached to selling your body was something that could scuttle into your house and infect your bedsheets. As if she believed that being a sex worker is on a level with having an STD or terminal disease.
For the entirety of my first year at Cambridge, I was a sex worker – more precisely, a camgirl. I probably sat next to hundreds of you in lectures, ate with you at the Buttery, shared swigs of your wine.
Do you feel repulsed? Contaminated? Dirty? That’s what Ms Sandler would have you feel. I can only hope and pray that this doesn’t hold true for my readers.
Because I promise you, my old occupation is not something that was written across my face. I’m a normal human being, just like you, and taking my clothes off and masturbating to leery old men was not degrading. It was empowering.
My parents are nowhere near poor, but from a young age they wanted to instil in me the value of money, to show me that affording what you want is a privilege to be earned, not a birthright. As a result, from the age of 15 I spent much of my free time working in the service industry – in fact, my entire sixth form education was juggled alongside a full-time, 45-hour catering position.
Long hours and occasionally horrible clients made every £7-an-hour shift a struggle, but it was worth it to know that I didn’t have to depend on my parents to afford cigarettes, make-up, clothes and social outings unlike most of my friends.
Unfortunately, being a teenager, I didn’t think ahead enough to put anything away, and ended up blowing my entire £500-£700 paycheque every month. Not a bad thing, if that’s something you can support or increase as you grow up.
However, coming to Cambridge changed everything. I found out quickly that I wasn’t allowed to have a job – something that hugely frustrated me given the amount of free time I had during that first year. After rent and college bills, I had about £200 spending money per month – a third of what I was used to, whilst the social and petty costs of university life were perhaps 4-5x more than it had been back home.
What could I do? As hard as I tried, I couldn’t curb my spending, my parents didn’t understand why I needed more money, and I had no transferable skills/enough experience to secure a covert job such as online tutoring.
My hands were tied… so I went into a job where tying up my hands on camera earned me a minimum of £100 an hour. That’s nearly FIFTEEN times more than the minimum wage job I’d been slaving away at for 3 years.
My way into it was via a friend who had been thrown out of her house at age 17 and forced to make her own way in life. She’s been a camgirl for the last 5 years, additionally escorting for the first 3, and currently lives in her own flat, pays her own rent, and is going on an all-inclusive holiday to Saudi Arabia at the end of this month with her best friend. Nice life.
As a staunch feminist, I thought the prospect of having to do exactly what I was told by creepy middle-aged men would be something I couldn’t stomach. What I didn’t realise was how little of camming actually involves playing with yourself or even showing your tits.
My 12-month stint as a camgirl was a hugely educational experience. I learnt that 70% of the men willing to pay £3 per MINUTE for intangible female company are just really, really lonely or insecure. I spent more time discussing failed marriages and abused childhoods than I did stripping or pretending to masturbate. I had one regular who just wanted someone to watch him try on his wife’s dresses and tell him how pretty he looked. Over the course of 3 months, he spent £800 on doing just that.
Of course, the other 30% of the time that’s all they wanted. I had clients who didn’t even want to engage in smalltalk, but instantly demanded I put a finger up my ass, or showed my blowjob skills, and would storm offline if I declined. But that’s the thing that empowered me – I always had the power to decline, or boot unpleasant clients.
I was the one who hustled them for their money, convincing them that I was an escort who only saw ‘clients I could trust’ and therefore leeching hundreds and even thousands of pounds off regulars who came online every day or week merely to build trust.
Even those that were rude or aggressive were, at the end of the day, the ones spending their days/nights hunched over their computers spending all their wages whilst I could, at any point, close my laptop, go outside, fuck a stranger, find a boyfriend – for free. My freedom remained intact, and any dominance they asserted was only ever superficial, because I always retained the power.
And the consequence? Total financial freedom. Whilst my friends panicked over the price of Fez entry or Revs cocktails, counting up pennies to afford a Jägerbomb, I ordered what I wanted, when I wanted. When I had a bad day, I could go on a £500 shopping spree. I could keep up with the Old Etonians, the upper-middle-class aristocrats, those of whom there are so painfully many here. If you’ve never felt poor in Cambridge, you’ll never understand the huge amount of confidence suddenly earning up to £2000 a week gives you. I felt like I was flying.
This is why close-minded, thoughtless remarks like Ms Sandler’s cut deep. Because I am not trashy, or STD-ridden, or a ‘victim of the patriarchy’. I chose to exploit it rather than ‘smash’ it, and as a result I have thousands of pounds put away to insure my future, and concurrently can live a decadent life almost completely independent of my parents.
Why did I stop? Because my degree finally got too hard to have enough time to maintain a job on the side, and because I was always paranoid that someone I knew in real life would find my page and photographs online and blackmail me. Now I can focus on building my professional career, acing my degree and securing unpaid internships without a care in the world.
Sex work was never my career – nor was it a cage. It was the best decision for me at the time, one I made of my own free will, and would 100% make again.
According to Sandler, sex work is an issue that “touches us all” because it goes on all around us. Yes, it does – but you CANNOT advocate an opinion on it if you’ve never actually spoken to a camgirl, or prostitute, or exotic dancer, and heard their story.
We’re all real humans, just like you – and our work is not disgusting or taboo, it’s liberating and empowering.