A growing trend amongst students: turning to sex work to pay for university costs


Freya is a 22 year old who claims that becoming a sugar baby was a “no brainer” after struggling with two jobs to pay for university, which inevitably interfered with her studies. She recounts her experience with ease, as she explains that one sugar daddy would give her between £1,000 a night and her divorced one between £1,000 and £2,000 in allowance. Indeed Freya is, one example amongst many debt-ridden students, who has turned to sugar dating for money.[1]

In 2015 Swansea University conducted the Student Sex Work Project interviewing 6,750 students across the UK. Out of the students who participated in the survey, 5% of men and 3.5% of women responded having worked in the sex industry, and an overall 22% admitted to having considered it. [2] This research raises attention to the fact that both male and female students are concerned by the phenomenon, with in fact contrary to prejudice, more male students participating in the sex industry than female students.

While some advocates defend sex work as a legitimate form of work, allowing individuals the freedom to choose to participate in the sex industry; evidence suggests that a majority of students fall into sex work out of economic necessity. Indeed, while some students’ motivation to participate in sex work relied on the ‘pro-choice’ discourse, with 46% of students citing sexual pleasure as a motivation; an overall 83% of students identified good money as a key incentive, with 64% working to sustain a lifestyle, nearly 57% wanting to fund higher education, 56% wanting to cover basic living costs, 45% wanting to avoid debt and 39% wanting to reduce debt at the end of their course. [3]

Indeed most students join the industry, considering it to be the ‘easiest option’. The sex industry provides flexibility and higher wages for few hours; unlike classic student jobs, which involve long shifts, tiring hours for little pay. However prior to involvement students ignore the unpleasant aspects of the job, which involve harm, violence, objectification, dehumanisation, heightened chances of drug consumption and difficulty in leaving the industry. [4]

This disillusionment can be accounted for by the increased prominence of sexual pleasure and sexual exploitation in today’s society, leading to a normalisation of sexual consumption in mainstream culture [5]; as well as a development in communication. Internet makes accessibility to sex work easier, shifting away from the undesirable forms of classic sex work, street prostitution, by instead glamourizing the industry, promoting direct intercourse as ‘aspired to’ rather than required. [6] It is, therefore, no surprise that students fall into, what seems to be, a very tempting, easy and safe alternative to making money.

However, a paradox ensues; whilst society has become more sexualised, stigmatization towards sex workers remains. [7] Indeed the fear of stigmatization leads most sex workers to hide their work from, fellow students, friends, and family, developing their sense of isolation and vulnerability. This taboo leads to practical issues, concerning research and data gathering. Indeed Roberts et al started a research project on student sex work in the United Kingdom. On ethical grounds, the Board of Ethics deemed their research survey inappropriate, leaving their project unaccomplished. [8] This lack of accessibility to information further perpetuates the cycle of stigmatisation.

These overall findings have implications for policy. Indeed future policy regarding student finances and quality of life should consider carefully the relationship between student finance and the supply route into the sex industry. [9] However in reality little concern has been attributed to this issue, as government plans to allow universities to increase their tuition fees proportionally to the quality of the institution, ranking universities based on student satisfaction, teaching quality and employment outcomes. [10] Therefore the government is actively participating in the developing relationship between sex work, student financial strategies and debt, as they push for the implementation of such initiatives.

“In my day, people went to University in order to avoid this kind of life, but now they lead this kind of life in order to go to University.” [11]


[1]Kirby, E.J., “The women seeking richer older men to pay their university fees”, BBC News, June 17, 2015.

[2] Student Sex Work Project: Findings Revealed, Swansea University (hereafter SSWP)

[3] Ibid.

[4] Roberts, R., Bergström, S. and La Rooy, D. “UK Students and Sex Work: Current Knowledge and Research Issues”, Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 17 (2007): 141-146.

[5] Roberts, R., Sanders, T., Myers, E. & Smith, D. “Participation in sex work: students’ views”, Sex Education, Issue 10, No. 2 (2010): 145-156.

[6] Kirby, E.J., “The women seeking richer older men to pay their university fees”, BBC News, June 17, 2015.

[7] Roberts, Sanders et al.

[8] Roberts, R., Bergström, et al.

[9] Roberts, Sanders et al.

[10]Adams, R., “Government plan to allow ‘better’ universities to raise fees”, Guardian, November 6th, 2015.

[11] Female Massage Parlour Owner in Leeds, BBC World Service interview with RR, 2001, In Roberts, R., Bergström, S. and La Rooy, D. “UK Students and Sex Work: Current Knowledge and Research Issues”, Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 17 (2007): 141-146.



About School of Politics and International Relations

This blog has been set up for the students of PO665, Advanced Topics in Politics and International Relations: Global Gender Justice, which is a course for final year Honours students in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent. As part of their participation in the course, students submit blog posts that examine issues pertaining to gender justice within the family, the community, the state and global society. We aim to explore the extent to which gender inequality within the state has an impact on state behaviour, with a specific focus on state development and state security, and further aim to analyse the effectiveness and limits of international organisations, international human rights instruments, NGOs and activists to bring about greater gender justice.
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