The questions of why and how sexworkers or companions charge the rates we do is one that I hear on both sides of the provider/client fence.
In a November 2015 Medium article, Andre Shakti comments that, “Sex workers have no health insurance, no workers compensation or vacation pay, and generating money is a constant hustle not unlike that experienced in other sales or freelance positions. We have no steady paychecks, no hourly reimbursement for the time we spend developing our brands, generating promotional copy, responding to inquiries, and maintaining relationships.” These are all valuable points.
Some academics have also weighed in on characteristics of the sexual marketplace that drive exchange prices (Giusta, 2010):
- Edlund and Korn (2002) have contentiously modelled prostitution as a highly paid, low skill female occupation alternative to marriage, explaining high wages in terms of a loss of position in the marriage market.
- Cameron (2002) provides a more sophisticated explanation for high wages in terms of compensation for social exclusion, risk (assault, disease, arrest, punishment), front loading in wage profile (informal pension scheme or insurance), boredom and physical effort, distaste (potential psychological and physical costs), loss of recreational sex pleasure, anti-social and inconvenient hours, possible excess demand and prices used to screen quality, taboos, and agent fees.
- Moffatt and Peters (2001) find that prices are affected by duration of the transaction, location, and age of the prostitute, but that other factors affect client satisfaction.
Within the industry, a common theme is that clients “pay for an escort’s time,” but the reality of what that means is more nuanced than it may initially seem. While a lady’s rates may reflect her strategy for addressing issues of supply and demand, as well as the varied reasons provided above, there are also hard costs associated with being an independent provider (pun intended?). Here, I’m expanding the discussion of sexual marketplace economics to include more micro-level factors than the macro-levels one provided by the academics above. Although I’ve undoubtedly fallen short of a comprehensive list, below is a cursory account of what some of those costs amount to.
- Website: Even those of us who create and maintain our own content incur ongoing website hosting and maintenance costs (not to mention the usually thousands-of-dollars investment in the initial website development). I budget $650/year for basic maintenance (keeping my URL up and running), plus $50/hour for any developer support.
- Advertising on escort sites: Eros charges different rates in different cities, but the least expensive and therefore most basic ad in Las Vegas is $150/month. The most simple VIP ad runs $330/month. If an escort wants extras such as premium placement for her ad, that’s extra, and those extras add up quickly.
- Photos: We all know how important photos are! A quality photoshoot that provides 6-8 edited photos can easily run about $1200 in Las Vegas. Even with social media, where we can share selfies galore, most providers still recognize the importance of updating their professional photos at least once or twice a year.
Monthly costs of maintaining the product, or what might otherwise be called the physical manifestations of cultural capital:
- Gym membership: Depending on the gym, anywhere from $40 per month to $25 per visit.
- Manicure / pedicure: About $85 per trip to the salon.
- Hair: At the least, this includes a monthly cut/style, which runs me about $80. For women who dye/highlight their hair, use extensions or wigs, and/or utilize professional styling for date nights/events, this investment can be much higher.
- STI testing: As much as I wish this was free and easily accessible for all humans on the planet, that’s not the case. While some cities (such as San Francisco) have more free or low-cost clinics, the rest of us usually pay hundreds of dollars a month to make sure we’re keeping abreast of our sexual health.
- Lingerie: Have you seen the cost of quality lingerie?! It’s easy for a bra/underwear/garter/stockings set to run upwards of $1,000. Even if I’m being thrifty and piecemealing sexy sale pieces together, we’re talking at least $300.
- Clothes / shoes
- Personal coach / therapist: This is something I think every escort (probably every person) could benefit from, so I make it a priority in my life. At $150/appointment, that’s at least $300 per month (usually more).
- Yes, time is money. As someone who has held non-escorting positions paying over 6 figures a year, I am no stranger to working hard for what I have. Although I don’t consider escorting “easy money,” I certainly do prefer being able to “own” my own time–something that hasn’t been true in previous positions. However, having this flexibility doesn’t mean that my time is any less valuable. There is a lot of work that has to go on behind the scenes in order to make escorting a successful business; much more than a few hours of time on a date, which is really just the tip of the iceberg. Screening, correspondence, networking, shopping, finance management, marketing, etc. all take time and energy.
Screening & Safety
- Membership or pay-per-use fees for screening services
- The ability to traverse a range of intellectual topics doesn’t come cheap. While some men may not prioritize a sense of intellectual acumen associated with formal academic education, the frank reality is that most of my clients do. (My God that sounds incredibly classist! But it’s also the reality of my experience as a provider. When I am not available and offer to provide inquiring clients with suggestions for other providers, it is not uncommon for them to specify “preferably with at least a Master’s degree.”) So when a client pays me, part of what he’s paying for are the advanced education I invested in before we crossed paths.
- Taxes! Yes, I claim my income and pay taxes on it. That means nearly 30% of every envelope goes straight into a bank account I never access, except to pay Big Brother.
- Monthly rent and maintenance/utilities on an incall location, for ladies who employ this strategy
- Overhead (travel expenses, hotel costs) when touring, for ladies who employ this strategy
Although I’ve never had a gentleman try to negotiate my rates, I know it happens in the industry, unfortunately. This can be especially frustrating for low volume (moonlighting) providers like myself, because our costs are not offset by increased appointments. Gentleman, please keep these things in mind the next time you find yourself asking, “Why are escorts so expensive?!” And ladies, remind yourself of these things when constructing your rates.
Cameron, Samuel. The economics of sin: rational choice or no choice at all? Edward Elgar Publishing, 2002.
Della Giusta, Marina. “Simulating the impact of regulation changes on the market for prostitution services.” European Journal of Law and Economics 29, no. 1 (2010): 1-14.
Edlund, Lena, and Evelyn Korn. An economic theory of prostitution. Wirtschaftswiss. Fak. der Eberhard-Karls-Univ., 2000.
Moffatt, P. G., and S. A. Peters. The pricing of personal services. mimeo, 2001.