According to research published in Frontiers in Psychology, there are no differences in happiness between student sex workers and non-sex workers. However, the most frequent emotions reported by non-sex workers toward sex-working students were compassion and dismay.
Sex work is commonly labeled “the world’s oldest profession” and is a taboo phenomenon in most societies. Sex work among students in particular is an understudied phenomenon, with some existing research suggesting that students involved in the sex industry experience severe stigmatization and prejudice.
A total of 4,386 students (227 who identified as sex workers) enrolled in a bachelor’s, master’s or PhD program were recruited from four major Berlin universities. Participants completed a two-part online questionnaire. In the first section, they provided demographic information, such as age, gender, religion, and area of study.
In the second part, if participants indicated they were sex workers, they responded to questions relating to the characteristics of their job (e.g., services offered, paying conditions), their motivations for entering the sex industry, the potential risks they face (e.g., violence), as well as their feelings following intercourse, and happiness in the past 3 months.
Non-sex workers were asked about their awareness of, and attitudes toward student sex workers, and the problems they suspect student sex workers experience. Likewise, they provided a rating of their happiness in the last 3 months.
Felicitas Ernst and colleagues found that the potential to obtain a higher income than offered by other jobs was the primary motivation for most students (35.7%) in the sex industry. Some students (20.3%) reported financial hardship as their primary motivator, while others indicated this was not important to them (15.9%).
Most (54.1%) indicated working less than five hours per week, with a slight majority earning less than €300 per month. Among sex-working students, only 5.7% reported experiencing violence. This could be due to the fact that most students (43.6%) also reported being protected by someone while working.
Turning to non-sex working students, over 62% reported being aware of student sex workers via media coverage. However, 22.9% of non-sex working students were unaware of this phenomenon. The researchers argue that most sex workers are perceived as victims. Supporting this, they highlight that the majority of non-sex working students felt compassion and dismay while thinking of students in the sex industry. No differences in happiness were observed between the two groups of students.
The authors note a few potential limitations. Given students who are involved in sex work or who know someone involved in the sex industry may be more willing to partake in this research, there could be sampling bias. Further, because participants were recruited from a metropolitan city (i.e., Berlin), the prevalence of sex workers in the current sample may be distorted.
As well, the questionnaires were not validated, which is partly a product of the limited number of validated instruments available to study sex work. Lastly, given the high occurrence of missing data, incomplete questionnaires (i.e., partial data) were maintained for analyses.
The study, “Students in the Sex Industry: Motivations, Feelings, Risks, and Judgments”, was authored by Felicitas Ernst, Nina Romanczuk-Seiferth, Stephan Köhler, Till Amelung and Felix Betzler.