A new report released this week by The Economist has provided a stark look into sex work globally to reveal some surprising new economic trends about the world’s oldest profession. After analyzing 190,000 profiles of sex workers in over 12 countries and 84 cities since 1999, the report found that the hourly price of sex with a female sex worker has been declining steadily in recent years. In 2006, the average cost of sex was approximately $340, yet almost a decade on, sex can now be purchased for about $260 an hour on average.
While this reduction has in part been blamed on the financial crisis, here’s a list of eight additional factors cited in the report that have influenced the going rate of commercial sex work today – for better and for worse.
1. Increased Migration
According to The Economist report, large-scale migration is perhaps the greatest reason why sex worker prices have decreased in recent times. The growing number of sex workers from the Baltic region, Eastern Europe, Nigeria and Thailand has seen the price of sex work fall world-wide as poorer immigrants moving into rich cities tend to demand less money for sex services, especially where the market is closed. In turn, this has made the going rate harder to sustain.
In Germany, for example, sex worker prices have been dropping since prostitution became legalized in 2002. This largely unregulated market which draws some 1.2 million customers daily has seen an influx of migrants mostly from Eastern Europe which has pushed down the hourly rate of pay, making it difficult for locals to compete. Interestingly, the report contends that once foreign sex workers adapt to the local cost of living, their rates do tend to increase.
2. Physical Appearance
Not surprisingly, physical attraction matter a great deal when it comes to the purchase of sex, with those who conform to the “stereotypical Western beauty” able to charge the highest hourly rates overall, according to the study. The Economist reports that the highest earners have a slim to athletic build with long blond hair and full breasts. In fact, going from flat chested to a D-Cup increases a sex worker’s hourly rate by approximately $40.
Interestingly, hair that is bleached or looks unnatural attracted a lower rate, but was still overall more marketable than brunettes and redheads. Ethnicity also plays a role when it comes to price, which differs based on location. For example in America, black women earn less than white women, whereas in Kuala Lumpur, black women command higher rates.
Obtaining a university degree tends to increase a sex worker’s earnings, just as it does for those who work in the conventional labor market. The report shows that graduates earn on average 31 percent more than non-graduates due to more lucrative working patterns rather than high hourly rates.
“Although sex workers with degrees are less likely to work than others in any given week, suggesting that they are more likely to regard prostitution as a sideline, when they do work they see more clients and for longer. Their clients tend to be older men who seek longer sessions and intimacy, rather than a brief encounter,” the study states.
Now here’s an interesting factor: “newbies” who arrive in the U.S sex industry have a tendency of underpricing themselves due to their novice status. Consequently, this has dragged down premiums. In this regard, the report states that in 1988 the price for standard sex services – fellatio and vaginal sex – in Nevada cost around $200 an hour, which with inflation amounts to around $395 today. Yet, according to sex worker and founder of Erotic Service Providers, Maxine Doogan, new sex workers are still charging $200 for those services today and doing far more risky work such as oral sex without condoms, but without charging for the additional services.
Online sex websites have bloomed all over the world in the digital age allowing sex workers to sell their services from home with the added bonus of anonymity making sex work easier to facilitate from home: indoor sex is safer than street walking and has reduced the risk of arrest in those countries where prostitution remains illegal. This has boosted supply by drawing more locals into the sex trade including those who are better educated and more likely to consider entering the biz when it can be arranged discreetly online.
On the other hand, the effect of the Internet is that “traditional forms of prostitution” have suffered such as the red light district in The Netherlands where in the decade preceding 2010 the number of licensed sex workers fell by more than 50 percent due to the growth of sex work advertised online. Although, we suspect this may also have something to do with the increasing human trafficking narrative, which has dominated headlines in recent years and led to many countries tightening their licensing regulations forcing many sex workers underground.
6. Niche Services
Evidently, niche services worldwide attract a higher premium among sex workers than standards sex acts. Those who are willing to take two male clients at once or do threesomes with other women are able to command a higher premium than those who do not, according to the report. What’s more, sex workers who offer anal sex or spanking earn on average $25 or $50 more per hour. Of course, local markets offer their own individual quirks, which racks up higher prices. For example, Japanese sex workers in the red light district offer services such as bubble baths and technical massages which foreigners are willing to pay up to $600 a session.
There is no question that online advertising has reduced the need for the middleman like pimps and brothels, allowing sex workers to work independently with more flexible hours and allowing them to keep more of their earnings. Yet, it has also raised new costs associated with demand such as hiring managers or assistants to take care of bookings and social media, which are certainly not inexpensive, as the study explains:
“Clients contact sex workers via their websites, by e-mail, through Facebook and Twitter. Some websites allow prostitutes to tell clients whether they are currently available; but that means going online frequently to update their status. Such work is time-consuming, so some prostitutes may end up paying someone to do it for them. For sex workers as much as anyone, time really is money.”
8. Societal Changes
On a larger scale, the changes in social values have also reduced demand to a certain degree. It is now much easier to find casual and adulterous sex than previously. In fact, the cheaters’ dating website, Ashley Madison boasts over 27 million members blaring the motto: “Life is Short, Have an Affair.”
In addition, pre-marital sex is no longer taboo and contemporary no-fault divorce laws have made it much simpler to leave an unhappy marriage, which means fewer unsatisfied people are drawn to purchase sex. No-strings attached encounters have also become a whole lot easier to find thanks to phone applications like Tinder, which enables quick hookups, or Peppr in Berlin where users can search for sex by location and browse sex workers by age, bust or dress size.
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