A lesson in empowerment, self-discovery
Many students at UC Davis will have an on-campus job or a retail job downtown at some point in their college career, but rarely will the job description make someone do a double take. Some, however, have found adrenaline and empowerment from using nothing but their bodies and crafted personas to make a living — but more importantly to understand their capabilities and the societal boundaries they can push.
A neurobiology, physiology and behavior major recently started stripping after previously working as an escort. They have been working in the sex industry since they were 18 in their hometown and didn’t see any reason to stop when they came to Davis.
“I got used to bringing in a certain amount of income so I couldn’t imagine a lower standard of living besides the one I’d established for myself, especially since I started h-eing right out the gate at 18,” said the NPB major via email. “I like getting paid to workout. I like the performance aspect of it. I like to entertain. I like having eyes on me. It’s empowering. I feel sexy.”
An applied physics major shared that her reasons for choosing to strip are mainly financial.
“It’s the flexibility, the fact that I work as an independent contractor gives me the autonomy to set my own schedule and rates,” she said via email. “I earn more than I ever would working the same hours at a typical minimum wage job.”
Aside from the obvious financial incentives, there’s an avenue for self-exploration and a way to take control of deviance and turn it into something artistic.
“The non-conformity [appealed to me] along with the freedom and independence, the potential to make lots of money, the opportunity to become more confident and become a better performer, and the excuse it gives me to spend money on makeup, nails, shoes, and tiny little outfits that I can also wear to raves!” said the NPB major via email.
They were drawn, in part, to sex work due to frustrations over being forced to live within the gender binary.
“If society at large is going to insist on categorizing me as a girl or woman and prizing me for my attractiveness, I’m going to f-cking [take] charge of it,” they said via email.
The applied physics major recalled her first experience that reflected a willingness to try something unfamiliar.
“The first time I went to a strip club was to apply for my job, and then I started dancing that same night,” she said. “Honestly I learned about it through the internet — lots of random stripper vlogs, I’ve never had any technical dance training or any experience of working in the night industry.”
Societal stigmas can often make sex workers feel that they have to section off their lives, placing a wall between who they are among their friends and family and who they become at work.
“I personally need separation between my work self and my real self, because the me I am at home isn’t ‘sellable,’” the NPB major said via email. “I’m kind of shy, extremely liberal, a total science nerd, queer-identified, and overall an anxious little bean. Maybe some if this is ‘sellable,’ but I’m not willing to put these parts out there to share with customers. It’s self-preservation.”
They said it’s comforting for them to know that they don’t have to be “on” all the time.
“At work, you can usually find me in two high ponytails with fluffy clip-in ears, big eyelashes, and a black O-ring collar,” they said via email. “Until I come home at 4 a.m., jump in the shower, eat a mug full of cereal, and pass the f-ck out; a few hours later, when I’m in class trying not to fall asleep, that’s actually me.”
For others, they want to blend the spectrum of who they are as much as possible. For the applied physics major, everything is out in plain sight, although her profession is a secret from her family.
“Who I am on the job is authentic,” the applied physics major said via email. “Aside from using a different name, I am exactly the same person — I hide nothing about myself such as my career goals, major, or where I go to school. I constantly remind myself that this is a hustle, a means to an end that aids in my professional development, and the money may be good but it’ll never bring me the satisfaction that pursuing higher education will.”
When asked if she would ever drop out of UC Davis to pursue sex work full-time, the applied physics major said “Never!”
“If anything it reassured me of my decision to apply for PhD programs,” she said. “I now know I’ll be able to support myself financially for years to come, but gladly welcome any steady career opportunities that follow.”
The applied physics major also commented on how accepting people have been of her job, given the vast misconceptions around the sex industry.
“I have yet to receive a negative comment about my work, I’ve actually received nothing but support!” she said via email. “My customers find it quite endearing that dancing funds my education.”
A fourth-year viticulture and enology major, who wished to stay anonymous, said he would like to break into the sex work industry at some point in the future.
“I would go into sex work as a college student for the flexible hours,” he said. “I would only be worried about safety.”
Speaking with students who are both sex workers and students, however, shows that the work has the potential to be more empowering and liberating than what might appear at first glance.
Written by: Josh Madrid — firstname.lastname@example.org
The names of students who spoke about their experiences with sex work have been omitted in order to protect their identities.