If you want to learn about UK sex work, Birmingham is the place to start, with truly startling numbers of sex workers for a city of its size. But what’s the reality of life as a sex worker? Not the lurid details of customers who want to buy or wear their underwear, or the glitz of casino liaisons and monied clients who offer to whisk them away from a life of sexual labour, but the mundane, day to day, 9 to 5 reality of sex work.
Well, the first thing to realise is that ‘9 to 5’ is wildly inaccurate. According to a report by Birmingham Live, sex work more commonly takes place at night, with sex workers expecting at least one overnight shift a week as part of their schedule. That schedule can vary wildly. Working in 2020 might necessitate an understanding of the gig economy, but that’s always been the case for Birmingham escorts, who tend to work according to appointments. With no fee except a percentage of that provided by each client, sex workers have always walked the thin line of profitability, attempting to arrange disparate clients into a sensible working timetable.
Interviewed by the Birmingham Mail, one Birmingham escort says that a usual working week of four to five days of work reliably makes £3000 to £4000. Interesting, she reports that an agency’s ‘stable’ can include anything from 5 to 50 women, with clients choosing according to personal taste and worker availability. Obviously, at a certain point escorts are vying for work, but it tends to be a self-regulating field – when there are fewer escorts in a given area, clients are less picky, but when those clients are able to specify the exact type of women whose time they’d like to hire, they’re also willing to pay more, helping to make the cost to time investment of escort work more stable.
Similarly, unusual tastes can lead to extreme price hikes, with even something as mundane as a foot fetish adding a potential £3000 to the final bill. Again, in the right market, escorts can set whatever prices they like.
Of course, ‘normal’ rules go out of the window in unexpected times. According to the young escort interviewed by the Mail, ‘The World Cup was crazy or maybe just one week I’ll have clients who tip a lot. One time in two days I made £4,000 because one client was very happy with me so he gave me £2,000 in cash.’ It’s also the case that escorts can use similar blocks of time in very different ways – individual clients are one way to go, but many escorts work with couples or groups, increasing their payment with no change in time invested.
All in all, sex workers operate very much like other freelance workers, constantly juggling potential jobs to try and get the best outcome for their time and effort. Still, what seems to be uniformly true is that, in terms of wages per hour at least, sex work beats most other opportunities for workers of the same skill level. For those forces hoping to abolish sex work, that’s a factor that needs to be answered before any progress can be made