Sex industry

The Business of Sex Work

Published: FEBRUARY 15, 2024 | Updated: APRIL 22, 2024
We often think of sex work as exchanging sex or sexual content for money. It's actually so much more.

The phrase “sex work is work” has been making the rounds for enough years that many of us now have a sense of what that means. But have you ever really thought about all the work that sex work entails? If you’re like I was before dove deep into the world of sex work for this piece - that is, relatively clueless about the business of sex work - then you might think that sex work is just sexual services or sexual content provided to a client or an audience. A stripper performing onstage or a creator making videos for OnlyFans or someone performing sexual services for a client or clients.


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But there’s so much more to it than that. Behind the scenes, when the cameras are off, when the club is closed, when the clients go home, sex workers are still doing a massive amount of work to run their businesses, just like any other entrepreneurs. Because that’s really what they are – entrepreneurs running their own businesses.

Read: Sex Work Is Not Desperation

The Work Behind Sex Work

To understand all the hard work that goes into sex work in all its forms, I spoke to the experts: WeezyWTF, sex educator, co-host of the WHOREible Decisions podcast, and host of the Fuse TV series “Sex Sells;” and Ms. Elliott Marks, a former professional domme who’s reentering the world of sex work after a long hiatus. Their conversations with me made one thing abundantly clear: sex work requires a lot of work that has nothing to do with sexual activities or content.


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“Each [sex work] entrepreneur runs their business their own way, just like any other entrepreneur,” Weezy told me.

And just like any entrepreneur, they clock hours sending emails, making calls, following up with clients, advertising and developing their services.

Read: How Doing Sex Work Helped Me Love Myself


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Keeping Up With Clients

Elaina St James, better known as “That OnlyFans Mom,” revealed in an essay for HuffPost that she, “work[s] around the clock answering messages, posting photos on my subscription sites and free social media accounts, and creating the photos and short-form videos that OnlyFans creators use as advertising. I’m always taking photos and managing my pages - even when I’m on vacation.”

Then, there’s all the time sex workers spend advertising their services. Sex workers have to get their brand out there to get clients, just like any other business. Many create written content – like blogs, newsletters, and email campaigns – as part of their advertising efforts. They also maintain their websites, create posts for multiple social media platforms with engaging captions that won’t get censored, and do all the back-end work involved in uploading and maintaining content on multiple service platforms like OnlyFans, PornHub, IWantClips, SextPanther and more.

Erin, an OnlyFans creator with a smaller following, told Metro, “I post every day on my page and I spend the rest of my time creating new content, replying to subscribers, promoting on Twitter/Instagram. It isn’t as easy as people think and it is important to keep your expectations low, especially if you don’t already have a following on social media. It takes a lot of promotion.”


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Anne, a stay at home mom who’s been creating content for OnlyFans since 2021, told Business Insider that the secret to her success is the time she spends on Reddit, promoting her OnlyFans and interacting with the online community she’s cultivated.

"I don't go out there and say 'subscribe to my OnlyFans,'" Anne told the publication. "I generally want connections with people, especially on Reddit. I love the community on there, and I make sure I respond to every single person that I can that comments on a post that I've done. And I make sure to show them that I appreciate that they've seen my content and that they're important to my day."

And for all that online advertising to be successful, sex workers need to become experts in internet marketing. Weezy told me that she learned things she never knew about search engine optimization (SEO) from a twerk instructor, and that's coming from someone who had a six-figure job in corporate America before she quit to become a sex educator.


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Then, of course, there’s the time sex workers spend actually creating content.

Creating Sex Content

“A lot goes into those flirty, entertaining video clips on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok, from choosing the location, lighting, sounds, makeup and wardrobe to getting into the right mood to exude the happy, smiling, natural Midwest mom people have come to know and expect from me,” St James shared.

Content creators who work with professional photographers spend hours communicating with potential photographers, scheduling photoshoots, and booking locations. Performers and content creators who do their own camera work have to do all that in addition to setting up all their equipment, doing all the shoots and reshoots themselves, and doing a ton of editing to make everything perfect. And then, performers and content creators have to dedicate even more time to creating “clean” content to advertise their services on social media and other platforms.


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On top of all that, sex workers who do live performances, in person or online, also have to plan and rehearse each of their performances. And if they do special requests and/or private live shows, they have to communicate with the client, plan and schedule those performances, get any special props, costumes, or materials they might need, and potentially, do a trial run of the performance first.

Business Operations

And if you're assuming all this legwork only applies to sex workers who make their money online, you'd be wrong. People who work in sex clubs have to do all the administrative work independent sex workers do and even more. Sex workers in Nevada, still the only state where exchanging money for sexual services is legal, have to do all the paperwork to get, maintain, and renew their sex work registration cards, including getting tested for STDs on a regular basis. Sex workers that work play parties, professional dommes and subs that work at BDSM clubs, dancers, performers, and all the other sex workers that provide services of all kinds in sex and strip clubs have to be experts in business operations as well as their jobs.

Marks told me that when she was hired as a domme at a BDSM club in Chicago, she spent weeks shadowing each of the employees to learn about their jobs.

“They started me off as a kind of an intern… A lot of it was observing them, learning about the business, how they advertise, what they do every day, like all of that. A lot of it was cleaning the dungeon. They did not treat me like shit, but that was part of what needed to be done. It was hard work!”

Marks added that sex workers need to learn many specialized skills to be successful at their jobs.

“Part of being in the dungeon was learning the number of different fetishes and things that you could offer. There was the school room, there was the medical room, there was the pretty princess bedroom, there was the St. Andrew’s cross dungeon space. The idea of the number of things you can cater to, but the number of skills you have to have to do that well ... Yes, you’re a body and you’re performing a service, often, but you have to be likable, you have to be smart, you have to be charismatic and teasing. There is an absolute art to it.”

Marks even had to learn all the little legal nuances involved in sex work in a country where performing sex acts in exchange for money isn’t legal.

She also learned that sex workers have to be masters of customer service, which is a much bigger part of the job than most people think.

Customer Service

“A lot of it is … how hard you have to work to remind your clients that you’re around,” Marks said. “Return business. How do you maintain client relationships? Yes, you can, of course, work with new people. But if you actually want to last in the business, if you actually want to make money, and if you want to be safer, you form those relationships and you keep them.”

Like any skilled entrepreneur, sex workers know that return business is what keeps the checks coming in on a consistent basis. And even though sex work often pays well, the income can be highly variable. The only way to offset this risk, Marks explained, is consistent bookings. So, sex workers spend a lot of time following up with the clients they’ve previously booked.

“We would be very proactive about reaching out to people that we previously saw,” Marks explained. “There’s emails to respond to, you’re going to call people for hours on end. You’re going to reach out to people you know.”

Weezy echoed what Marks told me. “Most of the sex workers I’ve interviewed seem to have a really good client management tool to keep in touch [with clients], send out newsletters, etcetera.”

Marks added that a significant amount of this follow up time is spent cultivating authentic relationships with their regular clients – learning about their lives, actively listening, and providing support, both during their appointments and outside their appointments.

Destiny Diaz, an OnlyFans creator with a massive following, told GQ, that she likes to send, “spontaneous good morning and good night messages, or invite [followers] to chat with me and ask for their opinions on things. I only charge for inbox messages if they get explicit, and then I offer sexting sessions.”

These additional points of contact let the clients know that they’re valued for more than the money they pay for services, which, of course, keeps them coming back. It’s really not that different from the way account managers at any big business cultivate relationships with their top clients.

Read: Why I Started Doing Online Sex Work During COVID

Emotional Labor

Of course, sex workers have to do a lot more boundary setting than account managers, especially with regular clients. The intimate nature of these business relationships makes it easy for clients to misunderstand the nature of the relationship. So, sex workers are always doing the immense amount of emotional labor required to walk the thin line between professional and personal in a business that thrives on personal connection. All that emotional labor is a critical part of the work behind sex work, and the toll it takes often goes unnoticed.

Half of Sex Work Doesn't Involve Sex

All of this work behind the services and/or content sex workers provide – the administrative work, the customer service work, the advertising, the emotional labor – obviously takes time. But how much time? I was curious about how much time sex workers spend doing behind-the-scenes work compared to how much time they spend providing services directly to clients or creating the content that actually ends up on the client’s screen. So, I put the question to Weezy and Marks.

Weezy told me, “I think everyone pretty much doubles the time they spend in person with something behind the scenes.”

Marks agreed, saying that every hour she spends providing direct services to clients requires multiple hours of behind-the-scenes work. Although she’ll be re-entering sex work as a side hustle, Marks told me she still plans to dedicate one full day a week to the behind-the-scenes work for her sex work and a few hours a few days a week to providing direct services to her clients.

Don't Forget: The Workers Who Support Sex Work

In addition to the sex workers who provide services or content directly to clients or an audience, there’s an entire network of skilled workers who facilitate that work. These support workers all have crucial jobs, but their work is often overlooked or even completely invisible to those of us interacting with the people we identify as sex workers. Like the people who clean sex clubs.

“One of the coolest jobs, or, I will say, most provocative jobs I’ve ever heard of in the sex industry,” Weezy told me, “was someone that basically works as a cleaner for sex clubs, that cleans up condoms and semen. And it sounds like it’s disgusting, but it’s their kink and they get paid for it!”

Then there’s the more visible support workers: bartenders, hosts, security staff, sex club tour guides and consent monitors, among others. Although these people aren’t providing sexual services to clients, their jobs are essential to making sex work possible and safe. These support workers create a comfortable and welcoming environment for clients and audiences, look out for the wellbeing of the people providing services or performing, ensure that everyone involved is aware of the expectations and boundaries, and enforce those expectations and boundaries so that sex work is conducted in a safe and ethical manner.

We might not think of these support workers as sex workers, but Weezy suggested that perhaps we need to change our idea of what it means to be a sex worker.

“I used to say that I wasn’t partaking in sex work because I wasn’t having sex for money,” she told me. “But I think anything that pushes the idea of sexual content, anything that’s sexual entertainment… it’s not just maybe, let’s say a stripper, but also a sex podcaster. So, if you’re indulging in sexual conversation, promoting it, selling things that have to do with the enjoyment of sex, I would say you’re in sex work.”

That was the lens Weezy took into production for the third season of “Sex Sells,” which focuses on the people who work behind the scenes in the sex industry. She interviewed engineers who program and manufacture lifelike sex dolls, the Madame of Nevada’s most famous legal brothel, the man who negotiated the sale of the Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian sex tapes, and many more of the professionals who make sex work possible to reveal the inner workings of the sex industry and how much skilled labor is involved. She decided to focus on this behind-the-scenes work for her latest season to bust the myth that sex work “is just someone giving a blowjob on OnlyFans.”

“We don’t realize how many different types of jobs and certifications that people have that are working on some of the products, some of the films we see,” Weezy emphasized. “I [went] to a place where they make lifelike sex dolls. And literally the people they hire work in special effects. It’s super hard work. Like construction and engineering, and it’s something that the average person wouldn’t assume would require such skill. And to me, that’s the most interesting part of sex work.”

We often think of sex work as fairly one-dimensional. In fact, it’s a complex enterprise within a vast industry that serves an essential and meaningful function in society – the fulfillment of pleasure. Each sex worker, regardless of the type of sex work they do or how they deliver their services, is a businessperson, engaging in all the same work that it takes to run any business based on delivering a service. And each of those sex workers, even the independent ones who work for themselves, are supported by a broad network of people who make their work possible.

So, the next time you watch porn, visit someone’s OnlyFans page, go to a strip club or a sex club, or masturbate to a sex worker’s picture on social media, take a moment to think about and appreciate all of the hard work that went into gratifying your sexual pleasure. Maybe after the fact, though, so you don’t ruin the moment.

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Robin Zabiegalski

Robin Zabiegalski (they/them) is a queer, non-binary writer, editor, and movement instructor. They've been writing for Kinkly since 2017, and joined Kinkly's Editorial Team in early 2024. Their writing has also been published on xoJane, Heavy.com, Health Digest, Glam, Women.com, The Establishment, Sexual Being, The Tempest, and several other digital media publications. When Robin isn't writing they can be found practicing or teaching yoga, training or teaching Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, playing Fortnite with their partner...

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