The Coronavirus pandemic shut the world down in April 2020, and businesses across all industries are struggling to keep profits flowing in the aftermath. But, some sectors of the global marketplace are more vulnerable than others.
With a lifestyle that depends on close physical contact, sex workers are experiencing a unique set of struggles.
Slow Business for Sex Workers and Entertainers
While other industries are slowly opening up their doors, others have yet to regain standard operations months after the initial lockdown took place. Many strip clubs, breastaurants , bars, casinos, and entertainment outlets are operating with limited capacity - or they’re shut down entirely.
Sex workers who continue to visit clients are exposed to a higher level of transmission risk. But, lack of legalization and representation leave them vulnerable to these types of workplace hazards.
Local and state restrictions on personal contact have limited operations for strip clubs, entertainment venues, and other sex-dominant businesses. This shift in the market has pushed thousands of independent contractors online.
Sex workers have responded in a few creative ways to continue making a living the the wake of COVID-19. Read on to learn how workers within this delicate market are staying afloat amid the 2020 economic downturn.
COVID-19 and the Economy of Sex Work
Since sex work in many forms is either illegal or highly regulated across the United States, individuals within this sphere fall victim to a variety of prejudices and hurdles. Lack of employment securities and benefits leaves sex workers largely up to their own devices, and even health insurance can be difficult to obtain without the right work authorization.
Housing is another aspect that has been drastically disrupted within this economy. Dealing in under-the-table or cash transactions can make it difficult for sex workers to apply for financing, or even an apartment lease.
Many legal (and illegal) sex workers continue to experience stigmatization across all aspects of daily life. As a result, the Coronavirus-induced market brash hit this sector even harder.
How the Sex Entertainment Industry Has Adapted
Just like restaurants and commercials businesses have adjusted their operational plans to welcome contactless transactions, many brands within the sex industry have followed suit.
Drive-Through Strip Clubs and Contactless Lap Dances
What if you could order a masked lap dance in the time it would take to drive through the carwash? To help dancers continue to earn an income after strip clubs were forced to close, this Portland-based strip club revolutionized the “one-song dance.”
This setup features a plastic-lined stage and masked dancers as cars drive through the middle of the outdoor tent-like structure. Drivers can safely enjoy the view from their vehicles, and dancers can solicit tips safely using buckets and extendable trays.
Although this type of establishment is a legal gray area for many cities, a few clubs around the nation have adopted a similar business model.
To a lesser degree, some clubs in more lenient states are offering distanced lap dances to improve safety for dancers and customers. Although this measure limits contact for both parties, the distance has also added a buffer in the connection between entertainer and patron.
This personal connection is one of the main reasons why many individuals go to strip clubs or sex-based venues in the first place. Limiting social contact has impacted this corner of the entertainment industry in more ways than one.
OnlyFans, Camming, and Sexy Streaming
For displaced strippers, escorts, and other sex workers looking for a quarantine-friendly way to make an income, the internet has provided the perfect marketplace for safe, contactless entertainment.
From YouTube to Twitch to CamSoda, sexual content is everywhere in virtually every online sphere. All content creators need is a camera or smartphone and something to talk about (or show off) that will attract a loyal fanbase.
Viewers who are looking for a more personal connection with the content they’re consuming can request custom videos, shout outs, or even personalized messages for an added fee. This form of adult content has become so popular that top providers report a payout of more than $725 million in the last year alone.
Online sex workers are also able to target their niches with ease, using social media platforms to market their craft to a specific audience. Regardless of what you’re into (or into performing) you can find someone who wants to reciprocate the service.
The explosion of camming sites and subscription platforms like OnlyFans has also attracted more newbies with the enticement of fast money and viral fame. One popular cam model website saw a 69% increase in new signups during the start of the pandemic.
Nude Food Delivery and Bikini-Clad Coffee
Who wouldn’t want their morning coffee to come with a side of boobs? Coffee huts across the west coast (and beyond) are tapping into this growing consumer base.
Incorporating sex is another way restaurants and customer-based companies have kept profits going during the COVID-19 downturn. Strip clubs are highlighting their menus more than ever before, and some have added auxiliary services to spice up the experience.
This club in Portland fell into hot water with a popular rideshare app with their innovative topless service. But, the concept of breastaurants certainly isn’t new and this realm is only expected to grow after the pandemic comes to an end.
Rise of Stripfluencers and De-Stigmatization
Similar to the rise in streaming services and home-based sex work, those who were in the industry pre-pandemic have found another way to reach a client base.
A growing number of strippers have taken their lifestyle public, building an online following for sharing their daily routines online. From grooming to outfit hauls to money-making tips, these stripfluencers are reaching the mass market by providing a lens into a previously taboo and clandestine topic.
IRL vlogs and tutorials give thousands (or millions) of viewers a first-hand look at what goes on in the background in the life of a bonafide sex worker. These videos also candidly show off the less-glamorous aspects of stripper life, such as cooking videos and errands. Aspiring dancers and those new to the profession can also use these channels as a resource to improve their skills and make more money on the job.
By providing a higher level of transparency into this “fringe” lifestyle, public personalities like Yamilah Nguyen and Cristina Villegas are helping to dissolve the stigma that surrounds exotic entertainers. Giving more access to a mass market audience is one way these influencers are bridging the gap between outsiders and the industry.
Sex Work After Coronavirus
Empty tip rails and locked club entrances have left a hole in the hearts of many people who work in, or patronize, this undercover industry. Opening up their craft to the universality of the internet has made sex work more mainstream, but this level of visibility also has its drawbacks. Using the internet as a tool, sex workers are continuing to make an income by marketing their talents in a new and innovative way.
Those who continue to operate under normal working conditions run the risk of exposure - and economic devastation. But, whether they’re online or in the real world, sex workers have to struggle to navigate a never-before-seen landscape. Thanks to viral popularity and the accessibility of the internet, this world is becoming more and more uncovered everyday.
Whether or not things return to the way they were before, the world of sex work is sure to change forever. From online relationships to fetish-friendly content, COVID-19 has completely transformed this growing (but economically fragile) industry.