In September 2010, The Times published a report by journalist Tammy Cohen identifying a rise in young females turning to the sex industry in order to fund their degrees. Cohen’s report singled out so-called Sugardaddy websites as the newest form of internet dating, where young girls search for wealthy older gentlemen whose income is a major aspect of their profile. The Times is not the only newspaper to publish such a report; between August 2010 and February 2011 similar articles appeared in The Guardian, The Independent and The Mirror.
Although evidence suggests this situation is not unknown at Lancaster, due to its sensitive nature we have been unable to find specific examples. However, we carried out a survey to find out 50 fandom students’ thoughts. Whilst 46% indicated that they believe students will be more tempted to consider a career in the sex industry with the imminent rise in tuition fees, 82% would never consider becoming involved themselves and none of our respondents knew anybody who was involved in any way in the sex industry.
According to SCAN’s survey 40% of students were aware that the Sugardaddy relationship described by Cohen existed. One of the leading Sugardaddy websites defined it as a “close yet non committed relationship with an affluent man who is a mentor/benefactor or friend to a woman.” The relationship does not have to be sexual and some use the websites simply for companionship. However, our investigations showed that you must pay to receive e-mails and chat which raises questions as to why cash-strapped students would opt for this £35-a-month service as opposed to social networks which cost nothing.
It is apparent from the results of the survey that the sex industry has two images – one glamorous and one extremely negative. One student spoke of the “negative connotations” and discussed how you “immediately associate [the sex industry] with ‘druggies’, probably with the recent news reports and serial killings of prostitutes, which have also occurred in the past.”
On the other hand, 56% of students surveyed suggested that shows such as Secret Diary of a Call Girl have glamorised the sex industry as “it makes it seem fun and doesn’t highlight the risks involved.” Another respondent felt that it “normalised [the industry] and desensitises people to what was previously considered taboo.”
Beyond our survey, we discovered a student who does not study at Lancaster who has turned to the sex industry to help fund his lifestyle. Working as a gay male escort, he strongly believes that students will begin working in his profession to help pay for their fees.
“I know people already do it to fund their university fees and with the prices going up it’s so easy to get large amounts of money,” he revealed.
He went on to describe how easy it was to get involved in the industry: “I met a few older guys who were willing to pay and they told me about other websites where you could advertise.”
During an interview with two Lancaster students, one said that they would consider becoming an escort as it “sounds like easy money and I enjoy flirting with people” whilst the other felt that being an escort could lead to dangerous situations as clients “could expect more from you at the end of the date.”
As well as working within the sex industry, SCAN’s survey also discovered that, with the cost of student living and tuition fees on the rise, students are finding more unconventional ways to fund their education. Students knew of people earning money through other outlets including drug dealing, gambling, “butler in the buff – male topless waiters” and selling underwear on eBay. One student pointed out that whilst these methods of financial support were diverse and unconventional, “it takes all sorts to make a world – there’s only so many jobs at Central.”
Overall, the general consensus amongst Lancaster students seems to be that the sex industry is not the best or most appealing way to help pay for a university education. When asked what they thought of it as a method of financial support, students’ opinions included “degrading,” “desperate,” “immoral, unreasonable and stupid” and described joining the industry as “an extreme measure of a minority.” It became apparent from the survey that students had particular concerns about the risks; 92% believed that the sex industry was a dangerous profession. This was summarised by one student who said working in the industry could lead to “life diseases, a lack of self respect and psychological damage.”