‘I’m earning money to save for a house’: Why so many young adults are turning to the online sex industry

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With student debt, a non-existent jobs market and low salaries, is it any wonder young people are becoming sex workers, asks Sam Hancock.

Jack Newman is a webcam model. Some might call him a pornstar, others a sex worker, but according to Jack: “I’d always call myself a cam model because that’s someone who strips off in front of a webcam and does what people ask for money – and like, that’s what I do.” At 18 years old, he still lives at home in Dorset with his parents – they don’t know that when Jack tells them he’s going to his room, he is in fact going to perform sex acts on himself for paying customers who find him predominantly through Twitter. When we speak, Jack seems like any other teenager – he’s funny, relaxed, confident but not overconfident, and very open when it comes to explaining what persuaded him to give the online sex industry a go: money. And not just a bit of pocket money, but an annual salary.

The number of teenagers, students and young adults turning to sites such as OnlyFans and JustFor.Fans, social media platforms where users pay to view photos and videos, has grown considerably in the past year. When I speak to Steve Pym, head of marketing at OnlyFans, he confirms that of the community’s more than 450,000 content creators from around the world, almost 33 per cent are between 22 and 25 years old, and 29 per cent are between 18 and 21 years old (there are two further age brackets – both account for significantly lower numbers of members.)

This not only makes these age brackets the site’s most popular, but also its most lucrative. “We’ve seen an influx of content creators across all different ages but it’s definitely the younger ones who find their way to the platform most easily,” Pym says.

“We hope that we can offer an income opportunity to anyone who is facing financial hardship due to the coronavirus.”

Pym says lockdown has seen business boom with “monthly signups increasing from 15 per cent to 75 per cent in the last few months alone”, but thinks there’s more to be said about why younger people join these online communities. “Because we allow creators to earn a living remotely, it’s especially useful for students and young professionals who may not have as many opportunities to earn a living wage.

And if they already have an established fan base through another social media network such as Instagram or TikTok, they now have the opportunity to monetize that following,” he tells me. “There’s also something to be said for content creators being able to create a far deeper interaction with their fans and deliver a richer and more authentic content mix, free from brand endorsements, campaigns and YouTube advertising commissions.”

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